Even James Bond would be baffled by the array of gadgets and tools available to the modern journalist, and when you’re just starting your career it can be tough to choose which will really help you. We’ve sifted through the best high- and low-tech tools experienced journalists use so you’ll never find yourself with No Time To Write.
From your very first article you rely on contacts for expertise, insights and quotes, and keeping their details to hand can save you hours tracking down just the right person. Save their details as soon as you’ve sourced them in a format that works for you – spreadsheet, notebook or online note-making app like Evernote, OneNote or Google Keep – and future you will be eternally grateful.
There is a variety of transcription software on the market, but Otter.ai, available online and as an app, offers impressive features free of charge for up to 600 minutes a month. Transcribe live from your phone – which never fails to impress interviewees – or upload an MP3 and no-one will ever know every shorthand symbol fell out of your brain the second you stepped out of the NCTJ exam.
Digital voice recorder
While the days of Dictaphone jokes are behind us, a digital voice recorder with a phone recording adapter or earpiece is the most reliable way to capture a call as an MP3. Carry it everywhere with you and it could also prove invaluable for unscheduled voice journalism and notes to self, and you can later upload files to your transcription software.
Old school pen and paper
Never Say Never Again – one day your hardware will fail you or you’ll fail it by not pressing record. Always carry paper and pen and take copious notes, which will get you out of many a sticky situation. Everyone has their favourite, but you can’t go far wrong with a top spiral-bound notebook with a hard-back cover so you can take notes while standing and flip pages easily. Pens are a very personal choice, but it’s practical to carry a semi-disposable pen that suits your writing style but which isn’t too precious to lose.
Instant smart outfit
Black tie may be 007’s usual style but journalists can be a scruffy, I mean comfortably-dressed, lot. Be prepared for a last-minute formal press briefing by keeping a plain t-shirt in a desk drawer – also useful after lunch spills – and have a smart jacket to hand to instantly meet a formal dress code.
You probably have half a dozen ways of getting in touch on your mobile, but don’t overcomplicate things. Use Slack groups for office chat, Skype to make super-cheap overseas calls from your personal mobile and WhatsApp when you’re out and about; PRs increasingly use it to contact journalists at events. WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption means your messages remain For Your Eyes Only.
Modern journalism is a constant battle to ensure the voice of truth is heard against the tsunami of fake news. When the Conservative Party changed its Twitter name to “factcheckUK” during a pre-election leader’s debate, it was capitalising on the trust people place in these services while undermining the concept. If a trending topic seems too good to be true, check with a credible fact-checking service like Full Fact, BBC Reality Check, Channel 4 Fact Check or Snopes.
Ah, Google, where would we be without your all-pervading benevolent dictatorship? Google Analytics can become your new best friend – or worst enemy – as you follow how well your favourite article performs. Google Alerts can deliver you all the trending news that contains your keywords as you drink your morning coffee. And Google Docs and Sheets are invaluable for sharing information with a team or co-authoring a piece, plus you get to see Anonymous Capybara killing your darlings in front of your eyes.
Newswires, agencies and press release services
While we should always aim to be breaking the news, journalists need the incomparable reach of news behemoths to prevent us missing the big breaking stories; think Reuters, AFP, Associated Press and Bloomberg. Aggregation sites like NewsNow let you choose topics and sectors to display news as it is published by major outlets and press release distribution sites can connect you with press releases in any sector.
For journalists, social media is not just for sharing your
latest article or photos of your cat. LinkedIn
can connect you directly to a source that is proving impossible to get hold of
via other means, especially if you have mutual contacts. You can also join
subject groups related to your beat, though it’s considered bad form to spam
them with your articles.
If you thought Twitter was old news, dust off your handle because it will be your new best friend as a journalist. Follow companies and relevant hashtags in your sector, and ask for contacts, information and tips using #journorequest. See what companies, staff members and trade organisations are tweeting about the news you’re writing, including breaking updates on hours-old press releases and opposing viewpoints. You can also embed tweets on online platforms.
ResponseSource of course!
While other media relations providers are available, ResponseSource offers an impressive range of services for journalists. If you want an expert opinion on whether Aston Martins are eco-friendly or martinis should be shaken or stirred, the Journalist Enquiry Service will do the legwork for you and bring experts to your inbox. Its Media Bulletin keeps you up-to-date with moves in the industry, the Media Contacts Database lets PRs know what topics you want to receive information on, and the Press Release Wire sends you press releases on relevant topics or that match your keywords.
Take time to explore all the tools available to journalists
and find what’s right for you. The best ones will optimise your writing, help
you meet your deadlines and hand you a licence to chill.
About the author:
Berenice Baker is a senior editor with GlobalData’s Verdict group, specialising in technology journalism for a B2B audience. She runs the Verdict graduate journalist training programme, a year-long paid hands-on experience for individuals passionate about taking their first steps in journalism.