Toolbox Newsletter, Issue XVII

Jan. 12, 2020

Best Tools I Used in 2020, Part II

Let’s face it, 2020 was a dumpster fire of a year, a blemish on our calendars. But some good came out of it.

Billy O’Keefe and I redesigned Journalist’s Toolbox, I added this newsletter and a YouTube channel with more than 60 training videos.

It also provided an opportunity to work on online teaching skills (I teach data journalism at UIC) and pick up some new skills.

So here are four tools I worked with in 2020 that I thought were most useful. Some are new. Some are old, but I rediscovered something new about them:

VN Video Editor Phone App

A free video editing app that lets you layer text and audio (including rights-free music) over the top of your video. I find it superior in many ways to other video editors, both in cost, ease-of-use and fonts/templates available. And you can’t beat the price. Learn more in this training video:

Tableau Public

I used Tableau a lot from 2012 to 2015 but drifted away from it as Google and Datawrapper produced better mapping tools that were responsive, an area where Tableau struggled. But with the advent of COVID-19 dashboards, I found Tableau to be a great option. This playlist of training videos covers how to create graphics and maps dashboards in Tableau Public and Tableau Desktop.


Whiteboard videos have been around for a while now, but the election brought forth some new opportunities to use it. I trained my students on VideoScribe, which runs around $150 for a pro version of the software. It has built-in icons, images, rights-free music and an easy-to-use interface.

We used them to explain mail-in voting, visualize key issues for voters and a promotional video for Journalist’s Toolbox.

Here’s how to use it:

Around the Web

A few free tools to explore in early 2021 …

Winter weather: The Journalist’s Toolbox weather vertical has hundreds of resources for covering winter weather, blizzards, flooding, etc.

Klaxon: A tool that alerts journalists when online content changes. It’s great for tracking specific websites you use regularly.

Who Posted What is a non-public Facebook keyword search tool.

Documenting COVID-19 is a repository of searchable documents related to the COVID-19 pandemic obtained through state open-records laws and the Freedom of Information Act.

In Quotes …

"And, yes, words matter. They may reflect reality, but they also have the power to change reality - the power to uplift and to abase."

— William Raspberry


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