Five tools that make my job easier

In Android, AppMakr, apps, branding, Facebook, Feed My Inbox, iPhone, journalism, Many Eyes, News.me, programming, reporting, research, RSS feeds, social media, technology, tools, Twitter on January 23, 2012 at 8:00 am

It feels like everyday I come across a new “must-have journalism tool” to add to my ever-growing collection.

The challenge, though, is separating the tools that deserve the time from those that just suck time away.

The following are some that I’ve found worth the investment.

A few are relatively new to the scene, while others are oldies-but-goodies.

They help me make better use of Twitter, Facebook and RSS feeds and help me create smart-phone apps and data visualizations — not too shabby for a programming neophyte.

Let me know about some of your must-haves, and I’ll hopefully get some more to add to my list.


News.me “finds the best stories from your Twitter stream” and delivers the links to your email inbox for free.

Twitter is one of those tools that I have difficulty finding time to peruse each day, so I like that News.me sends me links that people I follow have been talking about and sharing.

And I’ve clicked on several that I would not have found otherwise.

As one example, I learned how to start a programmer account with Facebook from a link I got on one of my News.me Daily Digests, and this let me get Timeline early.

The site was made by developers affiliated with the New York Times, and filters links “based on how many times those stories are shared and clicked on overall,” according to TechCrunch.

News.me also has an iPad app. The sites FAQ also has lots of answers, especially about the iPad app, which I haven’t had a chance to work with unfortunately.

Many Eyes

A friend of mine turned me onto this handy-dandy tool, which puts customizable data visualizations in the reach of the not-so-technologically savvy.

Many Eyes allows users to create bar graphs, pie charts, line graphs, word clouds and bubble charts, among others. (The word cloud at the top of this page was made on Many Eyes using the words in this post.)

Many Eyes has been especially helpful when trying to illustrate budget amounts and how much money is in question.

The Voice of San Diego — which I love — has used this site for interactive graphics. Here’s a bubble chart VOSD did to show how much money each city department would get through the general fund and the size of the city’s budget deficit. (For some context, here’s VOSD’s accompanying story.)

Many Eyes was developed by IBM.

Feed My Inbox

Not enough blogs have a subscribe-by-email function. (You can find mine at the bottom of this page — wink, wink, nudge, nudge.)

RSS feeds alone are great, but I like it when I am notified quickly when something new is posted. It’s easy to forget to check RSS readers daily.

This was especially true for several blogs maintained by my sources.

I stumbled across Feed My Inbox while researching ways to stay up on these pages.

On the page’s home page, you enter a website or RSS feed URL and your email address and then are notified of new postings daily.

The first five feeds are free, though I believe I’ve subscribed to more than five and have not been asked to pay yet. (For up to 25 feeds, the site says it’s $5 a month.)


Do you want to develop an iPhone or Android app but have no developing expertise?

Then AppMakr might be for you.

I first heard about AppMakr from Mashable, which had this to say about the tool: “If your main objective for creating an app is to distribute content, AppMakr might be a good choice.”

Mashable also points out that publishers such as The Atlantic and Harvard Business Review have made apps using the platform.

As a disclaimer, though, AppMakr is pretty limited, but it works well when you don’t want to do much besides creating content lists using RSS feeds.

I made an app for the area I cover. Hopefully I’ll be able to publish it soon.

Creating an app is free using AppMakr, but publishing it can cost you. Putting an app on iTunes, for example, requires an Apple developer account, which costs $99 per year.

Facebook Lists

I suspect that I may be a little late to the party on this.

But I recently discovered the usefulness of Facebook Lists and hope to help people who are similarly in the dark.

As some background, I help maintain a Facebook page for the county I cover. The page is called “Oldham County Neighborhoods.”

And along with posting stories about Oldham County that me and my colleagues write at the newspaper, I like to repost comments and events that readers might find useful that newsmakers and residents in Oldham have posted on their walls.

But finding these has sometimes proven time-consuming. Along with having sources from Oldham County in my professional Facebook feed, I have sources I gained from other beats I’ve worked on as well.

So either I get lucky and check Facebook at a time when an interesting post is at the top of my feed, or I have to scroll and read a lot. I’ve also had to search my sources’ pages individually.

Facebook Lists have helped with this immensely.

If you scroll down to “Lists” on the left side of your Facebook home page, a link saying “More” will pop up. From there you can create lists and assign people and pages to them.

I’ve created a list for all of my Oldham County friends and the pages as well as a list for the people and pages I link from the most.

When you click on a list, Facebook will bring up a news feed that compiles updates from just those people and pages. This is much like creating and viewing lists on Twitter.


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