The times have changed since the day of the typewriter– and so have the best tools for journalists. (Though, let’s face it– the typewriter is still pretty cool.)
(This post contains both non-affiliate and affiliate links, meaning I may receive a fee for purchases made by clicking on certain links. View my disclosure policy here.)
Many journalists now aren’t just writers, but social media managers, video editors, website managers and more. As our roles change, our quest for the best tools for journalists continues.
When I worked as a reporter at a newspaper, I wrote a lot of articles.
But I also had to record, edit and post short articles, shoot and edit my own photography, and help manage our social media presence. I had to make changes to our website, and edit obituaries and community submissions. Other tasks included making layout decisions, communicating with the paginators, meeting with guests and filling out customer receipts. Oh, and I made office supply lists for our manager and communicated with my bosses remotely.
I know other journalists have even more to do. It isn’t a competition. The point is, journalists have an ever-increasing amount of responsibilities that have to be completed, even as newsroom staff sizes shrink.
Of course, if you’re a freelancer, you have to handle a lot of tasks yourself, anyway.
Whether you’re a freelancer, staff writer, or working for your school paper, these tools may help you juggle your work and still have time for dinner. (That’s the evening meal, in case you’ve forgotten.)
Four best tools for journalists
Four of my top most-used tools are rather old-school:
- Notebook (I prefer these reporter’s notebooks — affiliate link)
- Voice recorder (affiliate link)
- Camera (I currently use an older one, but this is the one I am saving for – affiliate link)
I don’t get super expensive pens, since I often lose them, but I don’t like using the super cheap pens, either. No one wants their pen to stop writing a few lines in. I’ve had some packs that were so bad I could barely use them, and I ended up digging through my purse desperately searching for a halfway decent pen.
DON’T SCRIMP ON PENS.
Even when I use a recording app on my phone, I often use my voice recorder as a backup if it’s a highly important interview or if I am somehow unable to take notes. I also like having it as a backup in case something happens to my phone.
My favorite digital tools for journalists
- Asana, a great project management program. I color-code my personal assignments and client projects. As of the time of this writing, there is a free basic plan and multiple levels of paid plans. You can use this as an independent journalist or as part of a newsroom team. I have the computer app and phone app so that I can easily see tasks and deadlines from either device.
- Evernote, a note-taking app with a few price plans. Like Asana, this is a good tool for both individuals and teams that need to work together on projects. You can keep notes, attachments and more in it to help organize your projects.
- HARO (Help A Reporter Out) If you need a source for a story and are running short on ideas, HARO can be a great resource. You tell HARO what you’re working on and they can help connect you with a source… for free. (Though there are paid levels with additional benefits.)
- Google. Okay, okay. This one is kind of cheating. I don’t just use the powerful search engine, but other tools like Google Drive. It’s so easy to attach photos and captions, then send the link to the editor for selection. Sources have done the same for me. I also use Google Translate (though I wouldn’t rely on it for a story) and Google Scholar when I’m conducting research. You can also use Google News to keep track of the top headlines. Of course, Google Maps is also a great tool. Google Voice is also an excellent tool if you can’t afford/don’t want to buy a work phone but also don’t want to give out your personal phone number to sources and clients. Google Voice will route calls to that number to your phone, and you can text from that app, as well.
- Piktochart lets you create infographics and helpful charts to illustrate your stories. There are free and paid options. It lets you choose from an infographic, printable or presentation, offering a blank canvas or easy-to-personalize templates.
- Canva is another great option if you need to create infographics. You can select a free or paid account. It’s easy to use.
Other tools I use
- A smartphone. This is kind of a no-brainer, but it’s a vital tool for me. I use apps on my phone for several purposes: taking photos, shooting and editing short videos, creating a voice recording, checking email, project management (using some of the apps above), and of course as a, well, phone. You can use your personal number or a VOIP tool like Google Voice. I currently use an iPhone (affiliate link).
- A phone tripod (affiliate link). It can be cheap, but it just needs to be able to hold your phone steady. You can get normal-size tripods or mini ones that fit in your purse or pocket.
- A wireless smartphone camera remote (affiliate link). If you take photos of yourself for social media posts or need to stand back from your phone (like putting it up high on a tiny tripod), this remote can let you take pictures without even touching your phone. Although I wouldn’t recommend putting your phone anywhere dangerous, it can help you take tricky shots.
- A fast laptop (affiliate link).
- An external hard drive (affiliate link) for backing up your portfolio.
- A car power inverter (affiliate link) for charging your laptop or other small tools. If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably had days (weeks? months?) where you’ve spent more time in the car than in your office. When you’re on-scene and need to hang around for updates or are otherwise far from your desk, the ‘low battery’ warning can be terrifying. Maybe you’re in the passenger seat and a co-worker is driving. This tool can help you meet deadline without killing your battery.
There are a LOT of other tools– digital and non-digital– that we rely on every day. Maybe a standing desk has improved your health, or a desktop calendar helps keep you sane. Our tasks keep changing, and I’m glad technology is evolving to help (though it may be more accurate to say our tasks change because technology evolves…).
What tools do you find most helpful? Do you use any tools from this list? What did I miss?