Online Journalists’ Top Digital Tools

The lifeline

1. Smartphone – It’s a no brainer. With a myriad of apps and abilities, it is essentially your life.


2. WolframAlpha

  • It’s a smarter search engine describing itself as a “computational search engine”. What it allows you to do is enter a phrase or question and it will give you a collection of relevant information. For example, I could ask “what was the weather in Islamabad when Osama bin Laden was killed?” The platform will compute the information and know that the event happened on 2 May 2011. The results also show what the weather was like on 2 May in previous years.

3. FollowerWonk 

  • For searching Twitter bios. If you are trying find a potential source or contact on Twitter, this tool lets you search the information in people’s bios. I might want to find a journalist in Poland, for example, or perhaps a lawyer specialising in employment law.

4. Topsy

  • A Google for Twitter, Topsy allows you to search every tweet going back to 2006. The ‘search by date range’ option is particularly useful. In the example below I searched for tweets mentioning Osama bin Laden between 1 and 3 May 2011 (he was killed on 2 May 2011)

5. Google – More than search – News, Drive and Translate. These Google products in particular empower digital journalism.

  • Google News is a collation of all the search engines recognisable news sources, which can be filtered according to popularity, timeliness or other key elements.
  • For cloud hosting, Google Drive is free, easy to access and allows for maximum collaboration and sharing. Services like DropBox and Evernote (the latter for smartphones in particular) also offer this service.
  • Google Translate for desktop and mobile’s algorithmic system makes it less of a dictionary and more of a Wikipedia for language; taking context, dialect and jargon in its stride.


6. Audio Recording – Attachable Microphones or apps to increase quality.

  • Rode Smartlav Microphone – If you’re capturing video or audio on a smartphone, the internal mic will probably let you down. The Rode Smartlav mic is designed to clip to your collar but since it’s so compact, affordable and high-quality, it’s a good option even if, at times, you need to hold it or place it on a stable surface to capture multiple audio sources.
  • iRig MIC Cast – If audio quality is your primary concern, the iRig MIC Cast is tiny, relatively cheap and comes with its own software for Android and iOS. You also get a table-top stand, which is great for podcasting, and you can adjust the mic for recording audio close up or further away – exactly the kind of flexibility a DIY journalist relies on.

7. Dictaphone/Transcription

  • Dictate + Connect (Dictamus) – Digital dictaphones are cheap and compact but your phone does the job just as well unless, again, battery drain puts the fear of God in you. In a crowded market of audio recording apps, Dictate + Connect (formerly Dictamus) stands out for its reliability and intuitive interface. We think its worth paying for, especially considering the money you’re saving on an actual dictaphone.
  • oTranscribe – Transcribing audio remains the bane of many a journalist’s day. Elliot Bentley is part of a new breed of journalist-cum-coder who has single-handedly brought us one step closer to time-saving automation with a web app called oTranscribe. All you need is an internet connection. Load your file, memorise a few keyboard shortcuts to play/pause, rewind, fast forward or add a timestamp, then type away, all in a single window.

8. Scanning

  • Genius Scan – This might seem a bit secret service, but we’re willing to bet that many digitally-minded reporters have at one point or another found themselves needing to photograph a document, whether openly or as inconspicuously as possible. Camera apps aren’t designed for close-up text scanning, but Genius Scan is. You can save high-resolution PDFs or JPEGs and share across most platforms, including wireless printers and social media.


Content and presentation:

9. Storify

  • No list of journalism tools would be complete without Storify. This tool allows you to drag and drop tweets, YouTube videos and other social media elements into a post and add explainers.

10. Datawrapper

  • An easy-to-use tool for creating charts which was built by journalists, for journalists. Datawapper is quick and easy to use. Simply copy a table from a spreadsheet, paste it into a box on Datawapper, and click a button to create an interactive chart. You can then copy and paste the iframe code to embed it.

11. ThingLink

  • For adding rich links to images. If you have a photograph or image that needs some explanation, use ThingLink to add links to media, such as Wikipedia, YouTube and Twitter.

12. Timeline JS

  • Turn a Google spreadsheet into an interactive timeline. Creating timelines using Timeline JS is a joy. It is as simple as entering date details, image URLs, and captions in a Google spreadsheet. The instructions are on this page.

13. Tableau

  • For making interactive data visualisations. Tableau Public is a free tool for making interactive graphs and other visualisations that allow your readers to explore the numbers behind a story.


Can you think of any other helpful tools out there?


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