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. Follow MurrayNow for more information.

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 (newest online dating sites 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?

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]

Overcome evil article pagination with Firefox add-on

Hard-core news junkies hate it. Matt Drudge hates it. You surely hate it too: article pagination. This:

Some folks have learned to hit that “Print” button to get just the text. However, other sites just call a printer stylesheet. Lucky for you, Firefox has a nifty plug-in called Repagination that lets you stitch together all those separate pages into one long document.

Just right-click on the pagination links, trigger the repagination plug-in and voila!

You get to read by just scrolling. The advertising department still gets to serve ads on those pages. We can all get along, can’t we?

[Firefox Repagination plugin via Lifehacker]

HowJSay: A lifesaver for voiceovers

Photo by Seven Morris

You’re getting ready to do a voiceover for a Soundslide or video, when suddenly, you stumble across a word in your script you don’t know how to pronounce. At this point you can:

1) Guess, and hope you don’t embarrass yourself and your entire news organization to thousands of readers.

2) Suck it up, and ask a colleague, wherein said person will secretly snicker at you forevermore for not knowing how to pronounce [INSERT NOUN HERE]

3) Admit defeat, and rewrite the damn thing.

4) Use HowJSay.com

HowJSay has audio pronunciations for words in English, even for obscuro terms such as Nebuchadnezzar, crysantheum and Hippolyta. Sorry, no Krzyzewski or Django (And that’s JANG-O, not DEE-JAN-GO. Not a word, Alex…)

Being a dude from Hialeah, Fla., a place where most folks pronounce “cheeseburger” as “cheeebelgeh”, HowJSay will find plenty of use in my ol’ bookmarks…

Do you love working with your voice, do you like and are you passionate about editing and post production of music? good, but better to protect your family from being bankrupt. that’s why you take out life insurance. Surely you wonder how much does life insurance cost? you know? You will be surprised that it has extremely accessible prices and high economic returns.

[Hat tip to Lifehacker]

Journalistopia online crime maps directory

crime maps

Crime maps of all flavors are the rage nowadays ever since developer/journalist Adrian Holovaty created the now-famous ChicagoCrime.org in May, 2005.

These days, everyone from independent designers to large newspaper companies are creating crime maps, causing severe headaches for police PIOs nationwide. So for all your crime map perusing needs, below is a directory of maps pulled together with tremendous help from the denizens of the Online News Association listserv. If you know of any other neat crime maps, drop a note in the comments. Or if you’re shy, just message me at dansanufATyahoo.com.

Some maps, such as the LA Times’ homicide map, only map killings but go into extraordinary detail for each incident. Others, such as Oakland Crimespotting, pull in a broad range of data. Many of the crime maps –and some of the slickest– were put together by small publications and designers not directly affiliated with news organizations. (NOTE: I did not list online maps created by police agencies.)

You’ll find maps here that have been created using the Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft Virtual Earth mapping APIs. You’ll also find maps that are created using anything from Ruby on Rails, Python/Django and PHP to using WYSIWYG tools such as Google My Maps, ZeeMaps and CommunityWalk.

(And on a personal note, please make sure to follow good search engine optimization practices if you build a crime map. Some of these maps are really hard to find without a direct link!)


Auto Crime Map & Alcohol Violations: Minors in Possession Map
Lawrence Journal-World

And the award for most booze sold to minors in Lawrence, Kansas goes to The Hawk at 1340 Ohio St. See it on a map of venues that got busted selling alochol to minors. And, see a Google Map of auto thefts/burglaries, broken down by item value, car type and more.

Arizona Crime Reports
Arizona Republic
Uses a search-form based interface with the Google API

Anniston Crime Map
Anniston Star
Interactive map made with ZeeMaps

Bakersfield.com Homicide Map
Bakersfield Californian
ZeeMaps-based Google Map of homicides with sidebar and multi-colored points

Berkeley CA Crime Log
ChicagoCrime.org-style interface with multiple pages of Google Maps


Northwest Florida Daily News
Google Map with color-coded markers, filtering options and text from police reports

Boston Crime
Boston Online
Violent crime map with nice detail-view pages and ability to comment

Adrian Holovaty
The original gangsta that started it all

Copenhagen Crime Map
Features a beautiful fullscreen map of crime data. This is one of the most visually engaging crime maps.

Crime in D.C. (Washington)
Some guy called Tom

Crime Watch Newport News
Daily Press (Newport News, Va.)
Searchable database and interactive map with way cool tag cloud features

Delaware Crime Map
DelwareOnline/The News Journal
Crime map with various search parameters and polygons delineating neighborhood boundaries

Duval County Homicide Data Search
Florida Times-Union
Uses a search-form based interface with the Yahoo Maps API. Maps homicide data only

EvanstonNow Crime Map
Google map with detail record view

Adrian Holovaty and company
Another Holovaty production, this time including highly browseable crime data, inspections, news stories and much more about Chicago, San Francisco and New York.

FresnoBee.com Crime Map
Frenso Bee
Google Map with multi-colored points and a polished interface

Grand Rapids, Michigan Crime Map
John Winkelman
Google Map of crime incidents in Grand Rapids, Michigan created via XML file

Houston Crime Maps
ChicagoCrime.org-style interface with multiple pages of Google Maps

Kansas City Crime
Kansas City Star
A near-exact duplicate of the Fresno Bee crime map (both are McClatchy papers)

Indy 911 Calls
Indianapolis Star
Yahoo Map of recent 911 calls with description abbreviations and nice police badge icons

LakelandLocal.com Crime Map
Lakeland Local, using CommunityWalk
Weekly links to CommunityWalk Google maps with unique icons

LA Times.com The Homicide Map, Lost Angeles County victims
Los Angeles Times
An intensely statistical look at homicide information in Los Angeles complete with photos and short bios about many of the victims

Memphis Crime Tracker
Commercial Appeal
Browseable crime data with somewhat of a clunky search/browse interface. Uses the Yahoo! Maps API.

A series of searchable Google Maps using slick icons

Monitor Cuidadano

Interactive crime map of the city of Corboda, Argentina (in Spanish) done using Flash

Nashville Crime Locator
The Tennessean
Simple Google map with date search and limit by crime type functionality.

Newark Crime
The Star-Ledger
An in-depth crime map with loads of interesting statistical graphics. Built using the ASP.NET framework.

New Haven Crime Log
New Haven Independent
Drills down deep into crime categories with multiple Google Maps, a color-based severity scale and an hour-by-hour time slider

Oakland Crimespotting
Stamen Design
A slickly designed map using Microsoft Virtual Earth, featuring a chronological slider and e-mail alerts http://oakland.crimespotting.org/

Orlando Crime Map
Orlando Sentinel
Crime map of Orlando incidents, updated weekly, with two ways to search: via Google Map menu or via ChicagoCrime.org-style browsing.

Paso Robles Crime Map
The Tribune
Easy-to-use searchable map with crime details and IRC-channel-esque color palette.

Joshua B. Plotkin with Amir Karger
Uses data from the Philadelphia Inquirer to map searchable data from 2006 and 1996

Philadelphia Homicides
Philadelphia Inquirer
Flash-based interactive map containing age and weapon data

Gathers crime reports for various cities and actively encourages users to help catch criminals. Displays mugshots.


Uses search forms to navigate a series of Google Maps; also has an interesting crime graph generator http://richmondcrime.org/

Richmond-Area Homicide Report
Richmond Times-Dispatch
Capsio-built map of homicides in the Richmond area

Sacramento Bee CrimeMapper
Sacramento Bee
Crime map with proximity search (nice!) and various other search criteria (funky police bee mascot included).

San Joaquin County Crime Map
San Joaquin Media Group
Nearly duplicates the navigation and look of ChicagoCrime.org (but in a darker hue)

Seattle 911 Calls
Plots the latest 911 calls on a Google map

Spec’s Police Blotter
Hamilton Spectator
A weekly Google My Maps map of the Spectator’s police blotter
Blotter Link (Click The Spec’s Police Blotter” link under “What’s Hot” at http://www.thespec.com/)

Springfield (Ore.) crime map
The Register-Guard, Eugene, Ore.
Google Map with hand-edited incident descriptions covering the previous week

A national aggregator of mapped crime data featuring reports from nearly every U.S. city.

TBO Crime Tracker
Tampa Tribune
A map of law enforcement calls using a Django-based back end

Toronto Marijuana Grow Operations & Homicides Since 2005
Toronto Star
Two Google Map-based plotting killings and marijuana houses with some custom Javascript in the sidebar.

WashingtonPost.com LocalExplorer
Washington Post

Interactive map with very useful marker clustering and loads of other community data

Wichita Crime Map
Wichita Eagle
Simple Google map showing the last day’s crime reports


More geotopia in the Maps category. More lists and tutorials in the Journalistopia Tutorials category.

80 awesome Photoshop text tutorials

photoshop-text.jpg I just love it when someone does the work for me of compiling awesome tutorials. Check out this list of 80 Photoshop text tutorials that covers everything from text written in the sand to the Superman effect.

And yes, these are great for the display type on those interactive graphics I was just writing about. While you’re at it, check out this huuuuuuge collection of totally free Photoshop brushes.

[Via Lifehacker and Planet of the Web]

Test designs in multiple browsers with IE NetRenderer

netrenderer screenshotOh, the consternation Microsoft has caused us web designers by not allowing us to run multiple versions of Internet Explorer. I’ve been checking around for some time now, and it appears the only way to run IE6 and IE7 at the same time is to muck around with your registry. Not necessarily great for your system’s stability, especially if you accidentally zap the wrong registry file.

So along comes IE NetRenderer to save the day. Although a bit slow to load (perhaps because of all the Lifehacker traffic?), NetRenderer will call up a URL and show you an image of what the page looks like in your choice of Internet Explorers 5.5, 6 and 7. While it won’t show you the behavior of dynamic items, it’s still a great tool to have.

Visit the tutorials section for more tools and useful stuff.

[Via Lifehacker]

Online tools for freelancers

toolboxLifehacker highlights a great list of 100 free or low-cost tools especially made for freelancers. The list includes project management tools, financial services, online storage/data transfer space and professional social networking sites.

Missing from this list are a good RSS reader (I recommend Bloglines or Google Reader), Media Convert, a site that easily converts all sorts of file formats (text, images, audio, video), and Emurse, a powerful resume-building site.

I’ve also been on the lookout for some free or inexpensive project management software. If anyone has any recommendations, please share! You can drop a suggestion in the comments or message me at dansanufATyahoo.com.

[Via Lifehacker]
[Photo by Zak Hubbard]

10-minute tutorials for the Flash-impaired

Flashionista and University of Florida professor extraordinaire Mindy McAdams has published some long-awaited tutorials on how to use Flash.


The tutorials, each 10 minutes long, are geared toward those of you who have yet to crack Flash open or are only just getting started. Having been through the good professor’s Flash boot camp myself, I highly recommend her teachings. So check out those tutorials!

And if you’re already comfortable with Flash, check out these rockin’ advanced Flash tutorials by Ray Villalobos (the diabolical mind behind Table Tango).

More Flashy Resources:



Tutorial Outpost

Tutorial: Speedy text edits with Microsoft Word hidden characters

microsoftwordicon.gifEver had a really long block of text that needed an extra line after every mark? Or are there random extra spaces littered throughout some text you received? Are Word macros a mystery to you?

Being a busy Web producer in a busy newsroom, I get text from reporters all the time spaced in all sorts of weird ways. Don’t burn you finger muscles. Instead, try using the hidden characters in Microsoft Word.

In Word, you can work with hidden paragraph marks, tabbed breaks and even spaces using the Find/Replace function and some special symbols:

^p will target a paragraph mark

^l will target a line break (you make these by hitting Enter while holding the Shift key)

Typing a space will target spaces in the text.

So let’s say you need an extra empty line after each line of text. In the Find/Replace… window, you would type ^p in the Search field. Then, in the Replace field, enter ^p^p. This will replace one paragraph mark with two. Hit Replace All, and you’re done!

If you want to eliminate all double spaces in the body of text, just type two spaces into the Find field and type one into the Replace field.

You can also view these hidden characters if you want. In the Options menu, choose View and click “All” under the non-printing characters to display them.

Just the other day, I had to convert a Google Earth KML file to XML for a map (I know, I know — don’t ask me why), and I thought I was doomed because my KML file didn’t have a single line break in it. Oy. Microsoft Word’s hidden characters, of all things, saved the day and made the file much more manageable.

I simply targeted each of the tags in the file and did a Replace All adding a ^p after it. I copy/pasted it back into my XML editor, and the file was ready to be worked with.


For more useful tools and tips, check out the Tutorials category.

Typetester: Tool to compare fonts online

typetester.gifTypetester is a wonderful little online tool that lets you quickly compare just about every aspect of type that can be altered using CSS.

The tool lets you compare font, leading, size, word spacing, weight, text decoration and much more.

Also, it’s a great refresher for CSS text attributes, and Typetester conveniently highlights the fonts which are considered Web browser safe. Silly me had forgotten all about little ol’ Trebuchet MS (though feel free to forget about Comic Sans any time).


Also, check out the tutorials category for more tools useful for online journalism types.

[Via Lifehacker]

New Google Maps tutorials for PHP, MySQL

map-thumb.gifThe folks over at Google Maps have just written up some new rockin tutorials on how to do neat, advanced stuff with map mashups. I’ll be tearing through these soon, at least once I pick through some of the loot I got at this weekend’s Alachua County Friends of the Library book sale.

Here are the tutorials:

Creating a Simple Digitizer Using the Google Maps API

Using PHP/MySQL with Google Maps

Adding metadata to your KML files