Thursday, January 15, 2009

8 Indispensable Web Services the Modern Reporter Can’t Afford to Skip

As journalism evolves, so do the tools journalists come to depend on. While the Internet can't provide all the resources a good reporter needs, it does offer a number of them that can make a journalist's job easier and more productive.

The following web services have become an integral part of the evolving toolkit for the modern journalist:


The gateway to the Internet is Google's front door. The world's largest search engine indexes everything from web pages to forums to blog comments to social media profiles.

I know, I know, 'No Duh!' But seriously, search isn't used to its full potential.

For a reporter seeking background on a source or topic, there's not a more helpful friend around than the Big G.

What most don't realize is there's a whole lot more one can do with searching than typing a few search phrases into Google's input box.

Did you know that you could search just one site for a specific term? For example, if you want to find that New York Times a rticle on Simon Cowell, try this search - "simon cowell" Here's a list of more Google search functions.

Try Google Advanced Search as well.

Search doesn't end with Google, however. Check out the search features on social sharing like Digg, Delicious and StumbleUpon for finding resources.



RSS allows people to subscribe to updates on certain topics, issues, stories and just about anything that can be updated, including photos and video. Stop spending so much time visiting news web sites to read the latest updates. Have the the headlines delivered to you so you can quickly decide what's worth reading and discover stories that might have been buried in the sites' designs.

If you're new to RSS, here's an explainer on how to use RSS.

The best tools integrating RSS into your workflow include Google Reader and Google Homepage.


Instead of performing a search or visiting a number of web sites each day to find new information on a topic you're researching, why not have Google, Yahoo! or Twitter tell you when there's something new you should know about?

Track phrases, people and topics without doing much more than telling alert services what you want and when you want it. For example, if you're writing a series on Herman Miller chairs, keep tabs on issues surrounding the furniture maker by creating alerts with the term "herman miller." Depending on your settings, you could get an email each day with a listing of news stories and blog posts that contained content about Herman Miller.

Here's the Alerts services you should try out:



Need an idea for a story? Check out trend monitoring sights to see what people are talking about and what they're searching for.

Google Trends - Google Trends' Hot 100 show the top search terms on their network for the past few hours.

Yahoo! Buzz - Part social news voting site, part search monitor. Check out the Buzzlog for a roundup of some of the more popular related search topics.

TwitScoop - Want to know what people are talking about RIGHT NOW??? Check out this Twitter scanner for the most tweeted terms in real time.

Twitturly - Check out the most shared/talked about links on the Twitter network.



The phrase "It's all about who you know," is more true than you'd expect. Part of the key of being a great journalist is having an awesome source list, and it's all about networking. Get to know people already!

Social networks have made it easier to get to know people than ever before. While some will prefer to keep their social profiles more private, leveraging your presence on social networks can help you find new sources and also get found.

Many people refer to LinkedIn as the professional social network. That's great for journalists since many of its members list their employers and former employers. If you need to find a former employee for a certain business in your town, this resource can't be overlooked. Just search for the company and you'll find SOMEONE who worked there (probably) Here's some more tips for how journalists can use Linkedin.

And don't forget Facebook. This social network offers some of the richest demographic searching available. If you're writing a story about snowboarders in your town, try searching your Facebook network for "snowboarding" and you'll get a number of results for people who have listed it in their profile. If the people in your search results are in your network, you can check out their profiles (barring they didn't set up any profile privacy). Just another way to network and find highly targeted sources.

One last thing about social networking, get yourself some profiles! The larger you grow your web presence, the easier it will be to expand your personal brand as a reporter.



It's too easy to overrun your Firefox browser with bookmarked sites, even if you use bookmark folders. What's worse is once you shovel your bookmarked site into one of your many folders, it gets hard to find.

Enter Delicious (formerly  

Delicious allows you to bookmark sites you may want to visit again on a web-based service that can be accessed from any computer with an internet connection. By using a site like Delicious, you can also review the site, make notes and tag the bookmarks with different terms that you can remember it by.

Let's say you were bookmarking an article about how to save streaming music from your web browser. Bookmark the article in delicious and you may want to use tags such as "music", "mp3″ and "streaming+music". Next time you want to find that bookmark, searching by tags could make it easier to find.



If you aren't reading and writing blogs by now, stop what you are doing and head over to Register for a free account and start your first blog.

Top blog sites rival top news sites in all sorts of niche topics, and part of the reason is blogs are often closer to the action than the established journalist.

It can be tougher to distinguish the authority and trustworthiness of a blog, but many perform just as good journalism as some news sites and they shouldn't be scoffed at.

In addition, it's a great idea to read blogs because they can point reporters to additional resources, such as linked related articles or government reports.

Many journalists also write blogs to help disseminate news that wouldn't otherwise fit into a traditional news story.

Lastly, a huge component of blogs that can prove useful is the comments. Mine comments on your news blogs for useful additional information that may lead to a follow-up story or a new source.



2009 will be the year of many people saying "I was on Twitter in 2008 and I didn't get it. Now I still don't get it." Don't let yourself be that person.

Twitter is the ultimate micro-blog, instant mass communication system that makes news delivery exciting, unfiltered and decentralized.

If you're not sure how you can use Twitter for journalism, check out this ReadWriteWeb post that lists four uses of Twitter:

  • Discovery of Breaking News
  • Performing Interviews
  • Quality Assurance
  • Promotion of work

Twitter can also allow you to cover breaking news situations with your cell phone, get stories from regular people, share ideas, get ideas, find new sources and promote your brand.

Get an account and start following people with like interests. You can search for people in your area and even search other twitter users' profiles for keyword phrases.

You can also search the Twitter Shorty Awards to find users nominated by the Twitterati as top people to follow.

There's a ton of news organizations on Twitter and reporters on Twitter that would be great resources for getting started using the service.

After you've started following a few dozen people, download the desktop application TweetDeck. Use this to interact with Twitter and you'll be on your way. Feel free to send me a shout too @shawnsmith. You can also check out my Twitter resources for journalists.



Google Docs - I know there's privacy issues with Google Docs, but if you're a reporter constantly on the go and you use many computers, this is a great way to keep working on your story wherever you are and not have to keep a local copy on one machine.

**BONUS** For students reading this, here's a link to building the ultimate social media resume, might coincide with some of this stuff, maybe :)


There you have it, 8 web services the modern journalist should know and know well. Is there anything I'm missing?

(awesome image above by Batega on Flickr)

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1 comment:

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