Toolbox Newsletter, Issue XVIII

Jan. 26, 2021

Welcome! I’m Jeremy Caplan, stepping in for Mike today. I’m a former Time Magazine reporter, now director of teaching and learning for CUNY’s Newmark Graduate School of Journalism in New York City. I write about the most useful tools I find in a free newsletter called Wonder Tools

Subscribe here to get the 2021 posts I’ll be sharing in January and beyond. Upcoming posts will spotlight the most useful journalism newsletters; a new note-taking platform I use  called Roam that’s terrific for journalists; and privacy tools for keeping your journalism work secure, among other topics. 

Here are a few quick tools to start us off: 

This federal site lets you find every company that received PPP funding and see how much they received. 

No one wants to watch a lengthy Zoom recording. Instead,  share Zoom excerpts with Grain. It transcribes your Zoom meeting, then lets you highlight just the part of the transcribed text you want to share. You can then share a link to that meeting moment. 

These days I like Around for private video meetings. Other video conference tools take up your entire screen. Around puts people’s faces in small circles so you can still see whatever else is on your screen. And it has a built-in note-taking tool so you can take collaborative meeting notes. Circles is similar but works with your existing Zoom account.

Here are three tools you can add to your toolkit in 2021:

Design stellar social media images, presentations and PDFs

A lot of journalists assume they have to leave visual design to professional designers. Or that they have to know Photoshop or Illustrator to design visuals for social media. But a new generation of visual presentation tools has changed the game. Projector, for example, is a terrific resource for designing impactful graphics for any social media platform. It’s free. 

You can use it in place of Google Slides to create a presentation that wows, or you can use a social-size template to create striking images for an Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook stream. You can even export your designs as GIFs or as short videos for YouTube, TikTok, WhatsApp or whatever other platform you like. Social images are even hitting LinkedIn these days. Unlike a lot of slide creation tools, Projector has templates designed by pros for both slides and social. And you can collaborate in real time with colleagues just like in a Google Doc. One other feature I love: without having to hunt around on other sites for assets, you have unlimited access within Projector to media from Unsplash, Giphy, Noun Project, and Shutterstock.

Projector, which I wrote about here, received $10 million in December funding, so it’s poised to grow in 2021. And it’s not alone in this arena. Pitch.com is another excellent new platform for designing fantastic slides — see this writeup for more— and Canva has added lots of excellent presentation features, including the ability to present live. 

Create a slick form people will actually want to fill out

Typeform is the most elegant tool for designing an input form to gather info from readers, colleagues or sources. Google Forms is functional and free, but if you want a form you can embed on your site, or one that looks so good people will be eager to fill it out, Typeform is hard to beat. You can try it out with a few forms for free before deciding whether to invest in a subscription. 

How you design your survey is a reflection of your personality, your brand, and your style. So it makes sense to make them look a little nicer when you can. Typeform surveys also increase the likelihood that respondents will actually stick around to answer your questions thoughtfully, because unlike GForms, Typeform displays one question at a time for a cleaner look. Typeform surveys also work great on mobile devices and in email. And you can link them to Slack or other tools you use — like Google Spreadsheets or Airtable— so the results show up where you want them. Here’s my full post about Typeform, and a one-minute video demo: 

Make an app exploring local crime data— or any other data

Glide is a simple, free Web service that lets you convert a spreadsheet into an app. Mike referenced it in this summer post, and I wrote about it here in more detail. 

Step 1: Select data of interest to you from the FBI’s free Crime Data Explorer or whatever other data set you choose. 

Step 2: Drop the data into a Google spreadsheet. [Shortcut Tip: Type sheet.new into a Chrome browser to magically open a new spreadsheet to import data into]

Step 3: Open Glide and follow the site’s prompts to create your own app. 

Step 4: Link your spreadsheet to Glide and adjust the settings to your liking. 

Step 5: Hit publish, and share the link. That’s it! 

Thanks for reading, and have a great start to 2021. 


In Quotes …

“The duty of journalists is to tell the truth. Journalism means you go back to the actual facts, you look at the documents, you discover what the record is, and you report it that way.”

— Noam Chomsky interview in Wang, Joy (December 2004). "Lecture: Noam Chomsky"

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