Nine journalism apps I can’t live without

I’m a freelance journalist. I need access to information while on the move and tools to turn news-gathering into stories.

The publications I work for rarely need photographs, video or audio, so this list is mainly my personal reporter’s toolkit:

Livescribe SmartPen

Livescribe’s Pulse SmartPen is a standard ball-point pen with a built-in microphone and digital audio recorder. It can store hundreds of hours of audio in memory and will work all day without charging.

The SmartPen uses infra-red to digitally copy handwritten notes. This downloads to a PC via a USB cradle. The Livescribe software links audio and note data so you can use your notes to move back and forth through the audio by selecting words and bookmarks.

Recording interviews is new to me. Before I had a Livescribe SmartPen I relied on my appalling shorthand. It was barely readable, but efficient. In 30 years I’ve never been accused of misquoting anyone.

But this US$150 device has changed the way I work, especially when covering formal press conferences, roundtables, seminars and conferences. I sometimes use the SmartPen for interviews, but often go back to shorthand – a skill I don’t want to lose.

The Livescribe’s main drawback is the need to use expensive, specialised notepaper, but that’s a small price to pay for the convenience. But I think every journalist should at least investigate the SmartPen.

MyScript for Livescribe

This US$30 add-on software turns my Livescribe handwritten notes – perhaps scrawl would be a better term – into digital text. MyScript is far from perfect, the error rate can be high, especially when I’m racing to take down notes or revert to my old school shorthand. There are times when pages are gibberish. I can report it is more accurate than the first Apple Newton MessagePad and not as reliable as the later models. However, when it works MyScript saves time when writing longer stories.

Microsoft OneNote

Like many other journalists I spend much of my working day using Microsoft Word. I’m not crazy about Word – I mainly use it because it keeps me compatible with everyone else in the media and doesn’t frighten editors. If I could find a better alternative, I’d move.

On the other hand Microsoft OneNote, which also comes bundled in some versions of Microsoft Office, is essential.

Microsoft designed OneNote for tablet computers – and can take audio and electronic ink – but I use it as a data depository on my desktop and synch my OneNote files to my laptop – I store all my important reference material once. I use it to clip text, pictures, movies or even complete web pages from the net, incoming email and other digital sources.

Evernote is a great alternative to OneNote. It does a better job of capturing online data and the auto-tagging feature is neat. It works better with smartphones than OneNote – that’s something that may cause me to jump ship in the near future.

WordPress

I built this website on WordPress – and three more for other people. WordPress is not a full-blown content management system, but it is the cheapest, fastest and easiest way to create professional-looking sites and there’s a fantastic support community along with hundreds of useful plug-ins. Learning WordPress isn’t for everyone, but this is my entry point for digital publishing.

Gmail

Having one inbox on my desktop, laptop and smart phone is essential. I switched sometime ago from Microsoft Outlook and, with one exception mentioned below, haven’t looked back.

Linkedin and Rapportive

Gmail’s weak spot is poor contact management. It isn’t useless – it works well on my Android phone – but it is second-rate compared to Outlook’s excellent contact manager. To get around its shortcomings I use Linkedin and Rapportive to keep track of people.

Linkedin is a great fact-checker for getting correct name spellings, job titles and so on. Unlike any other contact management tool, it stays up-to-date when people move jobs – or at least it does when the people update their entries. I’ve also found it a source of news stories – when someone moves between companies.

Rapportive helps me get timely information on the people communicating by email and pulls Linkedin and other social media data into Gmail. I also use Linkedin on my Android phone.

Scansoft Paperport and Omnipage

I’ve been working on becoming a paperless journalist – one powerful tool is Nuance’s  Paperport. I use it to store digital images of paper documents. Some of them I keep as raw images, others I covert to PDF format and send another set of documents to OneNote. Eventually I’ll have them all in a single repository.

Scanning material and send it directly to OneNote works well, so that may prove the better option long-term. On the other hand PaperPort integrates well with Omnipage – an optical character reader.

4 thoughts on “Nine journalism apps I can’t live without

  1. That Smartpen looks fantastic and such a good tool. I am a teacher and this would be a fantastic tool for students. It would still encourage their writing skills but enable them to transfer research and notes into a digital format. How much are they???

    One note also looks good and maybe something I will try and use in the future.

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  2. @OzyMandias:

    The Livescribe Pulse Smartpen is about US$150 – you can buy them online. I’ve seen a New Zealand store sell them for NZ$333 – which represents a huge mark-up.

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