25+ of Danny’s Favorite Multimedia Tools

Many handymen have a favorite wrench or drill they adore and always keep with them. Well, journo-geeks are no exception.

Below is a shortlist of more than 25 of my favorite (and mostly free) multimedia tools. I put together this list for a session on new media tools that I led Saturday at a multimedia workshop hosted by the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors.

Hate my picks? Love em? I’d love to hear your favorites, so please share in the comments!

Here’s a peek at some of my personal favorites:

VIDEO

UStream.TV – http://www.ustream.tv
Streams live video from your laptop and camera and creates an embeddable player with chats.

Mogulus – http://www.mogulus.com
A live streaming service similar to Ustream.TV that allows you to have multiple producers at a time creating a live show.

Qik – http://qik.com
A service that allows you to easily stream live from many video-enabled cell phones. Hook up an external microphone or audio pool feed to it, and you’ll have reporters recording live video like a rock star.

SOCIAL NETWORKING/BOOKMARKING

Twitter – http://twitter.com
A constant conversation and a great place to build audience. Use Twitter Grader to find who are the top Twitterers in your area.
(I’m at twitter.com/dannysanchez)

Twhirl and Tweetdeck – http://www.twhirl.org http://www.tweetdeck.com
Desktop applications that let you manage Twitter much more easily (I prefer Twhirl).

Facebook and MySpace- http://www.facebook.com and http://www.myspace.com
Centers around personal details and friends. Features groups where you can share content.

Becoming a power user on some of these social bookmarking sites can bring big traffic to your content if it strikes a chord with your “friends” on these sites. These are just some of the top services:

Digg – http://digg.com/
StumbleUpon (Make sure to try the toolbar!) – http://www.stumbleupon.com/
Reddit - http://www.reddit.com/
NewsVine – http://www.newsvine.com/
Delicious (Try the Firefox plugin) – http://delicious.com/
Tailrank – http://tailrank.com/

TIMELINES/SLIDESHOWS

VuVox – http://www.vuvox.com
Creates stunning multimedia timelines that let you embed slideshows, video and more.

Dipity – http://www.dipity.com
An embeddable timeline app that is great for timelines with a lot of points and detail.

Soundslides – http://soundslides.com
A great and inexpensive tool for creating impressive audio slideshows.

PHOTO EDITING

Picnik – http://www.picnik.com
A free, simple web-based photo editor that is perfect for turning your whole newsroom into web producers without dropping $200 for Photoshop Elements. Has a nice Firefox plugin and syncs up to Flickr.

Pixlr – http://www.pixlr.com
A web-based photo editor that is extremely robust and similar to Photoshop.

Photoshop Express – https://www.photoshop.com/express
Provides many of Photoshop’s features in a free web-based editing tool.

More great image editors reviewed here: http://sixrevisions.com/tools/web-based-image-editors

Flickr – http://www.flickr.com
Not just a great place to share and promote your photo work, it’s also my top source for Creative Commons photos used on this blog.

WEB DESIGN

Firefox Web Developer Toolbar – https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/60
Has a pixel ruler (how wide is that box?), element inspector, CSS editor and much more.

Firebug – https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/1843
A Firefox plugin that can pick apart a Web site and let you edit HTML/CSS on the fly to fiddle with a design. Try with Yslow.

FireFTP – http://fireftp.mozdev.org/
An easy and free FTP client that works right inside Firefox.

You have noticed all this stuff is for the Firefox web browser, right? Just making sure!

Notepad++ (For PCs) – http://notepad-plus.sourceforge.net
A much better text editor for working with HTML/CSS and virtually any kind of code such as PHP, Python, Ruby and more. Adds colors to your code and features tabs and macros. I refuse to use crash-prone, resource-hoggin’ Dreamweaver to write any code!

OTHER

PollDaddy and MicroPoll – http://polldaddy.com and http://www.micropoll.com
Create embeddable polls for your site with no hassle.
(Plus: Shelley Acoca of the Miami Herald recommends Vizu for polls)

WordPress – http://wordpress.org
IMHO, the best blogging platform out there (used here on Journalistopia). It’s free and has thousands of great plugins built by a large network of developers.

Tableizer! – http://tableizer.journalistopia.com
Quickly turns spreadsheets into HTML tables you can put online. Built by yours truly!

Wordle – http://www.wordle.net
Create beautiful “tag clouds” out of a block of text.

Cover It Live – http://www.coveritlive.com
Provide liveblogging updates and host web chats with an embeddable widget. Lets multiple producers help with a chat.

Bloglines Beta and Google Reader – http://beta.bloglines.com and http://www.google.com/reader
Don’t hop from site to site. Use an RSS reader to bring the news to you. I’m a Bloglines Beta user, but Google Reader is also an excellent choice.

Audacity – http://audacity.sourceforge.net
A powerful, free audio-editing suite used by many multimedia producers.

Media-Convert – http://media-convert.com
Converts an enormous array of files. Perfect for mysterious video or audio formats.

Joomla and Drupal -
Two of the top free, open-source content-management sytems available to creators who want more than just a blog. Some major sites are using these tools. You can tweak them as much as you like, or use them right out of the box, depending on your needs.

(PLUS: Bill Mitchell of Poynter Online convinced me Saturday that a defined framework for making ethical decisions is as important a “tool” as any web app. Hence, I give you the Poynter Ethics Tool and Ethics Hotline, which is like having your personal, on-call anti-stupid-decision counselor.)

Posted in blogging, social media, tutorials, web design, web development, writing and editing | 11 Comments

5 Ways to Monitor Your News Competition Online

Being a sharp online editor often means keeping a close watch on your competitors.Being a sharp online editor means keeping a close watch on your competitors. [Photo by Pkabz]

Do you want to explain to your editor why you didn’t know about the huge news that’s been on your competition’s site for more than an hour now? Using these five methods, you won’t have to dream up excuses; you’ll already have been on top of any big news reported in your area:

1) Subscribe to competitors’ e-mail and SMS text alerts
Have you checked to see if the local newspapers and TV stations have breaking news alerts? Getting a heads up via e-mail or SMS alert is one of the best ways to ensure you don’t miss breaking news, especially since most newsroom workers keep their e-mail clients and cell phones on throughout the day.

PLUS: You can also get other kinds of alerts, such as severe weather text alerts from the National Weather Service or earthquake alerts from U.S. Geological Survey.

2) Set up Google Alerts and Twitter Alerts for keywords on your beat

Google Alerts is a powerful way of letting Google do online digging for you. Are you a reporter covering county government? Set up an alert to watch for the name of the county mayor. Do you cover local business? Set up Google Alerts for the major companies in your city.

Google Alerts will shoot you an e-mail whenever Google finds a new item on the Internet containing the keywords you designate. You could even set up an alert for a competing reporter’s byline to find out when he or she has a new story up.

Lastly, you can also monitor Twitter for keywords using TweetBeep.com, which sends e-mail alerts (yes, that’s how those marketers find you and reply to you the nanosecond you tweet something nasty about their products).

3) Cultivate a Twitter community
The newsroom in which I work has been tipped off to various breaking news stories thanks to some producer or reporter hearing about the news through Twitter. The larger your personal community grows on Twitter, the better this method works.

While Twitter isn’t great for depth, it sure is fast. When word leaked that Tim Russert died in June, the news spread first via Wikipedia and Twitter. Our newsroom in Orlando was able to prepare content and get good positioning in search engines before any announcement came out from NBC.

Additionally, many news organizations are getting on Twitter, so you can watch competitors there too.

4) Use an RSS reader to aggregate local news and save time
Old school online editors hop around local web sites to see if there’s anything new. Save yourself the grief and start reading your news competitors’ top headlines via RSS using a feed reader such as Google Reader or Bloglines (though I much prefer Bloglines Beta).

When you subscribe to a site’s feed, your RSS reader will indicate when there’s a new item. RSS readers also let you read a group of Web sites with just one click. You can even subscribe to wire service feeds (Breitbart.com has a huge assortment). No more burning cycles hopping around from site to site checking for updates.

5) Keep TVs in your peripheral vision and learn how to not let them drive you insane
This one took me a while, but I eventually became quite good at it. Many local TV sites are still faster to get news on air than they are at getting it online. Keeping an eye and/or ear on the tube can help you spot big breaking news in the event you’re playing Minesweeper instead of watching your e-mail and feeds.

The trick with this is to learn to go about your tasks and not actively listen but still be able to hone in on the tone and key phrases broadcasters use when something particularly big happens. The cue might be a sudden interruption in the flow of the newscast as the anchor diverts to breaking news. Anchors also speak  differently when they go off the teleprompter. Or, the cue might be the use of a certain graphic (usually a gaudy, brightly-colored one) that you’ll learn to notice.

A couple of years ago, I used to set the volume low and keep an ear on a TV that was perched behind me. I seldom failed to hear a big news story when it broke once I learned the “breaking news sounds.” Nowadays, we have a jumbo monitor that sits in my peripheral vision just at the edge of my computer monitor. Though I found the audio method was more effective and less distracting for me personally, keeping the tube at the edge of my sight also helps me catch big news during the day.

***

What are your favorite methods for monitoring breaking news or your beat? What works best for you and your team?

Posted in blogging, newspapers, tutorials, writing and editing | 13 Comments

New Tableizer! Tool Turns Spreadsheets into HTML Charts

Web producers here in our newsroom often have to throw up quick charts of data online, but hand-editing a table from a spreadsheet or exporting it from Office or Dreamweaver can be a time-consuming endeavor.

Well, now you have Tableize!, a time-saving tool that lets you copy/paste spreadsheet cells, click a button and –voila!– instant HTML tables you can quickly put online.

I put together Tableize! mostly in my spare time with PHP and a bit of script.aculo.us. The tool is a more modern version of the very talented Ray Villalobos’s long-standing Table Tango tool, which saved our butts plenty of times here in the Orlando newsroom, so much credit and respect to Ray for his original idea.

If you like Tableize!, please share it with others who might benefit. And do let me know if you spot any bugs or have suggestions for the tool. Enjoy!

[Tableize! - A quick tool for creating HTML tables out of spreadsheet data]

Posted in data, random stuff, tutorials, web design, web development | 10 Comments

CPJ: 45% of Jailed Media Workers are Online Journalists

The Committee to Protect Journalists released an eye-opening report, which says that 56 of the 125 accounted-for jailed journalists in the world are bloggers and other online workers. It is the first year that online journalists account for the largest category of journalists being imprisoned in the world — a fact that underscores how governments in countries such as China and Cuba are increasingly cracking down on online media as people use readily available online tools to report on and critique the government.

CPJ executive director sums it up well:

“The image of the solitary blogger working at home in pajamas may be appealing, but when the knock comes on the door they are alone and vulnerable,” said Simon. “All of us must stand up for their rights–from Internet companies to journalists and press freedom groups. The future of journalism is online and we are now in a battle with the enemies of press freedom who are using imprisonment to define the limits of public discourse.”

I believe it’s time for organizations such as the Online News Association and bloggers such as ourselves to raise more awareness of these people who are being jailed, many without any form of due process. We must become more aware of the dangers faced by our colleagues overseas.

[PJ's 2008 prison census: Online and in jail - Committee to Protect Journalists]

[Thanks to Steve Yelvington via Twitter for the link]

Posted in blogging, citizen journalism, ethics, social media | Comments Off

How Blogs are Doing in 2008

Blog seach engine Technorati has released its 2008 State of the Blogosphere, a study that surveys 1,079 bloggers regarding their posting habits, demographics, use of advertising and numerous other topics.

Mindy McAdams over at Teaching Online Journalism has done a fantastic job of boiling down some of the most interesting facts from the blog report, including:

-One in four bloggers spends 10 hours or more blogging each week
-77 percent of the bloggers surveyed comment on other blogs
-Technorati “top authority bloggers” post often — more than half of them post five times a day or more; and they are also twice as likely as other bloggers to tag their blog posts

[Technorati State of the Blogosphere 2008]
[What we knog about blogs - Teaching Online Journalism]

Posted in blogging | 1 Comment

Free Pro Blog Accounts for Journalists at TypePad

The folks over at TypePad are offering free pro blogging accounts to journalists and former journalists under the moniker of a “Journalist Bailout Program” (har, very funny fellas). The free plan –which typically costs $14.95 a month– offers technical support, hosting and use of TypePad’s blogging platform (we make heavy use of TypePad for OrlandoSentinel.com’s many blogs, and it’s pretty darn good). While I imagine this behooves TypePad since they’ll get good writers for their ad affiliate program, it’s still a fantastic deal for folks who can’t tell FTP and PHP from the IRS and M&Ms.

Here’s a chance to get a free blog account with technical support on a domain name that YOU own, as opposed to getting a blog on Blogger.com or WordPress.com.

[UPDATE: Six Apart's Anil Dash's thoughts on the blog offer]

[Free pro TypePad accounts for journos]

[Hat tip to William Beem for the link]

Posted in blogging | Comments Off

When is Working for Free OK?

The New York Times Shifting Careers blog has an article that should be of interest to writers and web designers who are thinking of going the freelance route. Michelle Goodman, author of ‘My So-Called Freelance Life,’ has written a guest post outlining how doing freelance work for free –in certain instances– can benefit your freelance career. She also describes how to spot the many junk offers.

Goodman is by no means an advocate of not being compensated for work. But with the slew of non-paid work-just-for-exposure-or-experience offers floating around out there, Goodman has identified what some of the good opportunities are:

You have no clients or portfolio. If you left your staff position without any customer testimonials or work samples, you may have to do a freebie or three for a worthy small business to prove to paying clients that you’ve done this before. Pick short-term projects (several days, tops) so you’re not stuck working pro bono until the next decade.

There’s a wealth of more excellent freelance advice at Goodman’s article.

Posted in random stuff | 2 Comments

Journalistopia is off to España, Greece

I’m taking a break! As you may recall, yours truly got married back in July, but Mrs. Journalistopia and I never got to go on our honeymoon. So we’re off on a two-week romp through Europe! We’re flying tomorrow to Venice for a night, then on to a week-long cruise of the Greek Isles topped off with three days in Barcelona and four days in Madrid. And the wife actually convinced me to leave the ol’ laptop behind…*shudder*.

So if you know of any must-see spots in Madrid or Barcelona (and recommendations for the best newspapers and magazines to read while I’m there), drop me a line in the comments! We’ll be staying in Las Ramblas in Barcelona and in the heart of downtown Madrid. Definitely looking forward to churros for breakfast.

Hasta luegos mi amigos! See you in November!

[Photo of downtown Madrid by cuellar]

Posted in random stuff | Comments Off

Multimedia Job Openings in Orlando, Fort Lauderdale

Hey Journalistopians, opportunity is a-knockin’! The Orlando Sentinel, my esteemed employer, has a job opening for a rockin’ Flashionista multimedia artist (who just so happens to share the cube next to me). Additionally, the Sun-Sentinel, our sister paper down in South Florida, has an opening for a web developer.

So if you want to rock your multimedia skills in a couple of towns where the weather calls for shorts all year long, then drop me a line at dsanchezATorlandosentinel.com. If you’d rather not e-mail, drop me a line at the office at 407-418-5984. On to the job descriptions:

Re: Flash designer job description

Orlando Sentinel Multimedia Artist
The Orlando Sentinel is seeking a multimedia artist to create explanatory graphics across publishing platforms. We’re looking for a visual ambassador for the newsroom, someone who can move easily between print and online teams. We’ll be counting on you to foster an experimental mindset in others, maximizing the interactive potential of both daily stories and long-term projects.

Candidates must posses:
• Proficiency in Flash and Adobe’s Creative Suite. Design, photography, audio/video editing or coding skills are a plus.
• The ability to conduct interviews, gather research and report breaking news onsite.
• A bachelor’s degree, preferably in journalism or new media studies, or equivalent related experience.
• One to three years of experience as an artist for a medium or large circulation daily newspaper

****

Sun-Sentinel Web Developer
The Sun-Sentinel, a subsidiary of Tribune Company, is seeking a full time Web Content and Applications Developer to develop, operate and maintain multiple websites, including portals, e-commerce, and content management systems (CMS).

This person will develop database applications, e-commerce solutions and templates for Sun-Sentinel online products.

Working in the product-development department, the successful candidate will work on a wide variety of projects with a team of local designers, journalists and a central technology staff.

Position Responsibilities:

Participates in product-development project teams by providing technical expertise. Creates and develops relational databases that serve the information needs of our Web users. Creates and supports e-commerce projects.

Qualifications & Requirements:

Strong skills in HTML and CSS, internet file formats and web coding concepts.

Working knowledge of relational databases and how they are used on the Web.

Working knowledge of prototyping tools and scripting languages including JSP, PHP, Java and XML.

Good understanding of Web usability and user information interface, with a strong user/consumer orientation.

Expertise in the following areas is a major plus: e-commerce solutions; various programming languages, including Perl or Python; Google Maps JavaScript API.

Experience developing Flash multimedia projects, including actionscripting, a plus.

Ability to handle multiple projects in a fast-paced environment with a high level of service orientation.

Communicates technical concepts clearly and effectively and enjoys working in a collaborative environment with non-technical staff members.

Translate strategy, business requirements and consumer research findings into products that lead to exceptional customer experiences.

Keeps up to date on technological advances.

Bachelor Degree in design, journalism, computer science, business administration, engineering or related discipline.

***

Interested? Shoot me a note at dsanchezATorlandosentinel.com. Or if you’d rather not e-mail, drop me a line at 407-418-5984.

Posted in random stuff | 4 Comments

Garbage SEO journalism

I’m a big fan of optimizing headlines for search engines so they can be found, but sometimes sites go too far. At the moment, there are unverified rumors crawling around the Internet that actor James Earl Jones died. So I did a search on Google News. Check out this piece of work I found on a news site called the Post-Chronicle:

The “story” simply speculates on his death without offering any actual facts. Check out the use of “died,” “death,” “dead” and –yes– “no longer living” in the headline to goose search engine traffic.

Folks, don’t become desperate for page views and do bottom-of-the-barrel stuff like this.

(And no, I’m not linking to the story; there’s no way I’m lending any Google juice to that thing.)

Posted in search engines | 3 Comments

News Sites’ Next Killer App for Comments

Any of you developers want to get cracking on this idea for news site comments?  Pretty please? Original comic from XKCD here.

[XKCD - Listen to Yourself]

Posted in communities, random stuff, web development | 1 Comment

Screencasts: Learning Django from the Ground Up

If at some point you peeked over at my reading list on the right rail of this blog, you’ll have noticed that I’m currently engaged in learning the Django web development framework for Python (with invaluable help from some talented folks). To that end, I subscribed to the This Week in Django blog, where I just stumbled upon what promises to be an excellent series of screencasts for beginner’s using Django.

What separates these screencasts from, say, the Django book, is that they also delve into important stuff like setting up a version control system and creating a proper development environment. So if you’re leaping into the Django fray, make sure to keep an eye on these screencasts.

[This Week in Django: Django From the Ground Up: Episodes 1 & 2]

Posted in web development | 2 Comments