4 must-use web tools every journalist should learn and live by

by Shawn Smith on January 9, 2008

Computer desk by BohPhotoMichigan State University journalism professor Dave Poulson asked me to talk to his computer-assisted reporting class next week about all the fun web tools journalists should use to help do their jobs. Exciting! I have a few ideas so I thought I would put them down and then ask you what tools you think I should talk to the students about. (photo by BohPhoto – I gotta figure out captioning)

I put in some quick thought about it and here’s a few items that any journalist looking to be on top of the information world should master (or at least learn how to use).

1. Twitter - You knew that was coming. What many see as an enigma could be a very powerful research tool for your stories. Get involved and form your own Twitter posse. If you have the right people (read: sources), you can broadcast your story ideas and get your crew to help you out with questions and background info. You can also find story tips this way by following people in your community. Use Twitterlicious (Twitterific for mac users) to flip your Twitterworld on its head. A couple other quick uses of Twitter: Microblog/ live blog an event your attending and send news directly to your blog from your cell phone.

2. Del.icio.us: Think this service is just for saving your bookmarks? Think again! Check out this screencast by John Udell for how to use Del.icio.us to track memes and find story ideas and sources. You can also use Del.icio.us as a promotional tool to catch bloggers’ attention and to get more eyeballs on your stories.

3. Blogs: This may or may not be obvious. Blogs are here to stay. Learn to read, write and love blogs. I recommend using WordPress, but I don’t care much which software you use or your topic. Use blogs to join the conversations people are already having. Learn to work with comments for story ideas and to build a relationship with readers of your blog and others. Blogs should be your best friend.

4: Google Reader: Google Reader is a RSS reader that’s free, social and easy to use. This tool will help you keep track of the conversations going on within your beat, your community and any niche topics you’re interested in. It features an incredible search functionality, allows you to share and star your favorite stories for easy reference and has some nice stats features. Follow this tiny-bit outdated screencast to learn how to use Google Reader. Then find blogs in your area using Outside.in. You’ll be on top of your community in no time! (P.S. This also means you better be using RSS)

*Ka-Bonus* LinkedIn: Yes Facebook is dominating the social networking scene. But are pictures of your friend’s baby really helping you find a former employee of that packaging plant in your town for your expose? LinkedIn has you covered. Boston Globe columnist Penelope Trunk strung together an eye-opening list of ways to use LinkedIn to confirm rumors, find experts and get story ideas.

What else can I point out for journalism students? Advice/ideas much appreciated!

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