Archive for the ‘News Blogs’ Category

Transparency for All

I wake up anxious every day, just to find out what Obama will be doing in the afternoon.

Okay, that’s not entirely true.  Perhaps my enthusiasm for The New York Times Now newsletter has got me a little carried away.

The era of digital journalism is upon us, where we consumers can uncover the president’s whereabouts, the history of Pac Man, and the leaked merger of two media companies before their employees even hear of the negotiations –– all at the tap of a screen and the stroke of a thumb.

It seems that everything is and can be known, while nothing is secret or sacred for long.  With trust comes a yearning for greater transparency, a transparency that was once denied by all.

We have yet to experience an age of fluid, free-for-all information in America as we encounter today.

Those inspirational posters in elementary schools across the country speak at least one truth: knowledge, I’ve come to learn, is power.  The masses are no longer deposited in darkness, shackled from the bitter underbelly of reality.  We can touch the truth, the stories from the “other side” –– if only we so choose.

I never appreciated how journalists have truly become the gatekeepers of society’s information until I thought about President Obama and his endless, ever-changing agenda.  If I didn’t have the thorough research, wit and intellect of journalists at the Times, I’d have absolutely no concept of the events occurring in Washington D.C., let alone with whom the president was having lunch.  I’d be clueless and unawares in my small hometown of Ohio (a state that nobody ever cares about until election season starts).

You see, I’d know the high school choir and band rosters for next school year, the best price for blueberries from the local groceries, that the house across the street is for sale.  But I wouldn’t have any concept of the tragedies in Nepal, have read BuzzFeed’s bulletproof resumé advice, or know that John Kerry broke his leg in Europe earlier this week.

I’d be left in blissful, mind-numbing ignorance, but I’d be none the wiser.

I read articles, I follow journalists because there is always something more for me to gain.  I marvel at how I will never, ever stop learning in this life, so long as I choose to keep exploring.

Journalists pave the path for discovery, for intrigue, for curiosity.  We are forever indebted to their services, their tireless effort to share with us, the audience, another glimpse of the world beyond our front door.

So next time you share a story with a friend –– a story that took place beyond your ivory tower town –– pause, and retweet a journalist.  You only know so much as your fellow human beings let you know, so support the journalists who tire away for your attention.  They’re doing this for you.

Bethany N. Bella is studying Journalism, Political Science and Environmental Studies at Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. Connect with her on Twitter @bethanynbella or browse her work at

The views expressed in this blog post are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital executive, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

The New Mobile: News For the Next Gen

The art of storytelling and the consumption of news are both timeless human habits, so I wouldn’t worry too much about the journalist’s craft disappearing into the ether, just yet.

What journalists should be monitoring (and monitoring very closely) is the method of news consumption and how that news is translated to a mass audience on a day-to-day basis.

Before the printed word, oral declarations and one-to-one conversations were the only mediums for audiences to internalize the news.  And after newspapers and pamphlets came about, the print method didn’t last forever, either – it was overcome by online news and the proliferation of the Internet at the end of the last century.  Now, mobile is to web as web was once to print.

News organizations have been scrambling to jump aboard the mobile train, for fear of losing yet another audience population practically programmed to tap-tap-tap away on their smartphones all the livelong day.

But will the mobile fever last, or will it disintegrate before companies like Apple and Samsung have a chance to engineer smartphones large enough to comfortably read articles online, while also allowing for other mobile transactions like phone calls and text messaging to take place? (Is such an invention even humanly possible?)

I had an interesting conversation about this mobile trend with Meghan Louttit, a multimedia editor at The New York Times, this past week at the Online News Association at Ohio University student group meeting.

Meghan suggested that her peer group is actually taking this trend in reverse – that the print editions of books and newspapers have become a novelty item, a vintage collectible of sorts that shouldn’t be counted out of the market so soon.

I was genuinely surprised.  Who would have thought that millennials in their twenties and thirties are starting to subscribe to the Sunday Times, when they should (in theory) be exclusively devoted to digital updates and alerts?

Maybe this is a small trend that will eventually fade into the LED-screen sunset, but it was an interesting trend to consider, nonetheless. (I believe one of my journalism professors in attendance assured me that I would have to pry his Kindle away from his cold, dead hands).

I’d like to issue a response on this notion: Will print news make a rebound, or will mobile phones and tablets continue to issue a new wave of technological news consumption?  Are you a devoted Apple consumer (iPad, iPad Mini), or have you branched out with a Windows or Kindle Fire tablet?  Have you transitioned to reading the news only on your phone, or do you prefer reading articles on the web (or the old-fashioned print way)?  Does this method of consumption change when you read fiction?

Email me responses at or tweet them to me @bethanynbella.  I’m curious to know if I should (finally) invest in a tablet, and if so, which one.  Or should I stick it out and wait to subscribe to my local newspaper – when I start making an income of my own, that is.

I look forward to your replies.

Bethany N. Bella is studying at Strategic Communications and Environmental Political Science at Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. Connect with her on Twitter @bethanynbella or browse her work at

The views expressed in this blog post are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital executive, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

Cuba opens its door to U.S. journalists, but be careful

Flag of CubaA landmark diplomatic agreement between the United States and Cuba also opens a door to American journalists who encountered obstacles in glimpsing inside the closeted island nation over the past 50 years.

The agreement, which President Barack Obama outlined in a televised statement Wednesday, among other things eases travel restrictions for 12 economic, legal and social purposes and includes freer journalistic activities. Stringent entrance restrictions for journalists have been in place since the United States ended diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961 and embargoed trade in 1962.

The United Nations has condemned the embargo annually as inhumane since 1992. Cuba says the embargo has cost it more than $1 trillion in essential trade.

“We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests,” Obama said in the broadcast. “… These 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked. It’s time for a new approach.”

Journalists generally needed expressed permission from both the U.S. and Cuban governments and were advised to carry an approved or stamped media pass from their employer and a few copies of previous bylined work to demonstrate employment. Freelance journalists, meanwhile, were required to carry a signed letter from their hiring editor saying they were on assignment for a specific purpose.

It’s not known yet to what extent restrictions will change.

But even with the door opening from the U.S. side, American journalists likely will find attitudes slow to adjust in Cuba. The nonprofit Reporters Without Borders says journalists from other nations are still detained in that country. Others have been accused of terrorism or beaten.

Cuba is No. 171 out of 179 nations on RWB’s 2013 Press Freedom Index.

“Anyone trying to disseminate opinions critical of the regime continues to be exposed to harassment, threats and arbitrary arrest,” RWB says. Internet use is also still strictly controlled through the purchase of expensive permits, though that is supposed to change under the new agreement.

Central to the agreement announced Wednesday was the release of Alan Gross, a U.S. contractor arrested by the Cuban government in 2009 and sentenced in 2011 for traveling with telecommunications equipment and using a mobile phone in violation of that government’s regulations.

Feedly takes big steps toward substituting for Google Reader

Feedly logoStill saddened by Google Reader’s pending demise? Well, feel better: an alternative is making big strides toward gathering the slack.

Feedly, an RSS provider seen as a top substitute to Google’s soon-to-die service, announced this week that it not only has a standalone version available for any Web browser, but that its cloud storage features are active and ready to use.

This is important because until recently Feedly depended on Google Reader’s backend infrastructure to pull content from websites and stream them to Feedly users. But after Google decided to shut down its own feed reader July 1, Feedly’s folks set to work on a substitute with similar infrastructure.

The result is a news aggregator allowing one-click migration of Google Reader content and transforming Feedly from RSS application to a full-fledged platform aggregator. This change alone moves Feedly to the top of the list among potential Reader substitutes.

RSS, or Real Simple Syndication, is a data format that lets users keep track of frequently updated Web content. For journalists, RSS affords an easy way to monitor numerous news services without having to click on each site individually and update them.

There are several providers available but Google Reader, unveiled in 2005, soon dominated. Then in March, Google said it would shut down Reader due to declining usage, though Google offered no details to prove that. Public outcry was such that a petition was started with hopes of changing Google’s mind.

Feedly currently provides instructions on its cloud portal how to install the revised aggregator and import Google Reader content. The company claims to have tripled its user total from 4 million to more than 12 million since Google’s announcement.

Getting started with quick, easy data visualizations

Charts, fever lines, maps and diagrams: They aren’t just for the Graphics Department anymore.

There once was a time when reporters dealt with words and someone else dealt with the numbers and the pictures. But not anymore. There are plenty of free, easy tools now to get any journalist, regardless of their word-centricity, started on data visualization all by themselves.

That means you can do you can do your own quick and easy data visualizations to go with your own online stories or blog posts.

My Digital Media Committee colleague Jodie Mozdzer, who is working on her masters in news infographics, recently blogged for us on some handy Web sites you can use to learn more about data visualization. With Jodie’s gracious permission, I’d like to pick up that thread and add some more.

If your newsroom is a small shop like mine, doing your own data visualizations is great because you don’t need your own dedicated graphics staff to turn out a professional-looking pie chart or fever chart. If you’re in a larger newsroom with its own graphics department, your (probably overworked) graphics staff may not be in a position to crank out a fever chart every time you want to do a quickie blog post about the new revenue projection numbers from the city finance department. But you can do a simple visualization all by yourself.

But this isn’t just about generating pictures to dress up your blog posts. As a reporter, doing your own simple data visualizations using free tools — especially earn on in the reporting process — allows you to spot interesting trends that you might not always see easily just by reviewing a spreadsheet full of numbers.

And, best of all, it prevents the situation that one former newspaper graphics guy complained to me about recently: The moment when a graphics guy/gal realizes that the reporter who’s writing a spot story about tax revenue projections going up has just handed over a spreadsheet of numbers that, when plotted on a chart, show the projections actually going down.

With free data visualization tools, reporters can draw their own quick-and-dirty graphics and make sure the squiggly lines really are going up, up, up, and not down, down, down before they make 17 phone calls asking the city council how the city should spend all that extra tax money.

We’re going to talk mostly about free, browser-based tools today.

For basic charts, fever lines, stock-price-type charts and old-fashioned pie charts, go to Google Docs. You’ll only need a free Google or Gmail account. Go into the Google Docs spreadsheet and type in or import your data.

Then, go to the icon in the toolbar that looks like miniature bar chart showing, say, your state budget’s spending on highway pothole repairs. Hit that button, and it’ll walk you through the steps of creating a chart with a custom title. You can then save that chart as a .jpg or .png image file and place it in your Web story or blog post like you would any other image you would use in your CMS. (Microsoft Excel will also create nice charts and has more customization features for charts than does Google Docs, so if you have Excel and know how to use it, you can try Excel. However, my older version of Excel won’t let me export a chart as a separate image file, so I use Google Docs anyhow.)

To compare the size of different things — relative size — try making a “bubble chart” using IBM’s free ManyEyes site. This generates a graphic that I see in the New York Times probably more than any other major news outlet site, one that looks like you’re looking at a glass jar full of marbles, with little marbles of various size and big “shooter” marbles mixed in. (For those of you who also read the SPJ Generation J blog: “Marbles” was a game children used to play before they invented Nintendo.)

Outcome of Chihuahuas at LA City Shelters in 2009 Many EyesHere’s an example: A ManyEyes visualization of the fates of chihauhuas brought in to a California animal shelter. Like Google Docs, ManyEyes allows you to save your graphic as an image file and then upload it to your CMS, which enables me to plop this chart right down in the middle of this post. (What is going on with the seven chihuahuas that escaped, by the way?)

But notice one thing: The data shown here regarding chihuahuas could also work just as well as a pie chart. I mean, we’re talking about one finite set of numbers — all the chihuahuas brought into a certain shelter in a certain year. So, the most crucial aspect to be visualized is what proportion of the whole wound up being adopted out, euthanized, escaped, etc. And that’s what pie charts generally show, proportions of the whole.

Let’s imagine a bubble chart that shows something that you couldn’t show with a pie chart. Say you wanted to show the amounts of emergency preparedness spending in the current fiscal year budgets for all the cities in your MSA.

You can’t show that very well in a pie chart, can you? I mean, there’s more than one pie, because there’s more than one city involved. But the size of the bubbles in the chart will help people see the sizes of the emergency preparedness budgets relative to one another.

From WikipediaScatterplot charts: I’ll be honest with you: There’s something about scatterplot charts that makes my head hurt. If you’re really needing to use a scatterplot chart, you’re probably an education reporter (or a former ed reporter having a post-traumatic stress disorder flashback to your last statewide standardized testing data-dump day). A statistically minded friend of mine tried to tell me not long ago that scatterplot charts are just fever charts with a really fuzzy fever line, which makes more sense to me than any other explanation I’ve ever heard. But if you’re in need of a scatterplot chart, ask yourself, “Am I still an education reporter?” If the answer is yes, both Google Docs spreadsheets and Google Fusion Tables will create scatterplot charts. If the answer is no, you probably do not need a scatterplot chart. You just need a stiff drink.

Wordles: We’ve all seen a Wordle: A computer program takes all the words in a given piece of text, analyzes them and diagrams which ones were repeated most often. This may not count as the purest form of “data” to visualize, but can sometimes be kind of entertaining, such as when people have dumped the text of gubernatorial “state of the state” speeches into the computer brain. You can also try some variants of Wordles like word trees through ManyEyes.Wordle: US Constitution

Maps: So much of what we do as journalists involves not just data but data tied to geography, which means creating maps is a good way to do data visualization — but there are several ways to make maps depending on just what you’re trying to show.

The simplest way to do a map online — a map showing one dot on it — is with Google Maps’ My Maps function. Are you the 6 a.m. cop shift reporter at your shop who’s assigned to update your home page with breaking news, and you get a report that an F-4 tornado has just destroyed all of downtown Snodgrass, Okla., including the World’s Largest Upright Vacuum Cleaner, which had been housed at the National Museum of Vacuums and Cleaning Appliances in Snodgrass, and you need to quickly get a map up online showing the location of Snodgrass? Go to Google Maps, search for Snodgrass, Okla., hit the “link” button in the upper-right corner to grab the embed code, and plop that code in your Web story.

Multiple points on a map: But it’s much easier to understand the power of maps when you see how easy it is to plot multiple pieces of information on a map. Back a few months ago, the school system here in Houston was considering closing some “small” schools — schools with the fewest students, said to be less-than-economical to operate — to save money. A colleague of mine mapped the location of all 60-plus schools that were in play for closure using another free site called Geocommons, which allows you to upload a data file of many map points and customize the information window text for each point. (You can see her map below.) You’ll first need to add a column to your data file that includes the latitude and longitude for each point (each school, in this case), and if you have a relatively small number of points, you can do that for free using sites like Batch Geocode. Geocommons is free and its maps are easily embeddable.

You can also map multiple points using Google Fusion Tables, which has the added benefit of built-in geocoding (to “geocode” something is to find the lat-long coordinates for it). A nonprofit online news site in North Carolina used Fusion Tables to produce a super-cool map of damage by a recent tornado in the Raleigh area, for instance (at right). Again, free and embeddable.

You can get as creative as you want with tricking out the info window text in these custom maps. Here’s a map I did a couple of years ago where we took just about all the information we could find online for all 181 Texas legislators and married it all to a Google Map. Yes, it did take a long time to pull all this together, but with the incredible improvements recently in services like Google Fusion Tables and Geocommons, it’s a lot easier to do a map like this today than it was when I did it in ‘09.

Lines or routes on a map: Need to show the six different cities the governor flew to on state aircraft to rendezvous with his mistress? Go to Google Maps and plot each trip using colored lines for each of the flights using the crooked line tool in the upper-left corner of the map window. Then save the map, grab the embed code and embed that sucker in your blog post or story.

Maps with shapes on them: Sometimes it’s not enough to show a point on a map, or even a line. You need to show the boundary of a county or the proposed lines for newly redrawn legislative districts or the jurisdiction of a municipal utility district.

The map people call these shapes  “polygons,” a word most of us haven’t used since high school geometry class, and it used to be, you’d need $2,500 worth of software like ArcGIS to do stuff like that.

Not anymore. Geocommons and Google Fusion Tables will both allow you to upload GIS “shapefiles” of city, county and other government boundaries — and you can often download those files directly from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Web site or get them from your local planning department. Just upload your map boundaries and tell it what color scheme to use. Here’s one I made not long ago that shows Houston’s 88 “superneighborhoods,” as defined by the city.

Comparing geographic areas: Need to show the difference in per capita incomes in each county in your MSA or state? I’ve always called these “heat maps” though I think the formal name is “chloropleth map.” Just like Geocommons and Google Fusion Tables will both let you upload shapefiles, they will also enable you to shade the polygons to show data characterisitics for those areas — the redder the red, the higher the per capita income in that county, for instance. Or, the bluer the blue, the more kids living in that Census tract who live at or below the poverty line. Just upload your map boundaries, upload your data, and tell it what color scheme to use. Here’s one (below) from ManyEyes, showing the number of youth homicides in the states of Brazil.

Homicidios de Jovens por Estado - 1998 a 2008 (Mapa) Many Eyes

Again, not only is this a good way for readers to take in a whole lot of information easily, it’s a good way for you as a reporter to quickly spot trends that could make good stories. For instance, here’s a map (below) plotting county-by-county Census data. For instance, notice the counties with the high numbers of small kids in, say, several counties in Utah. Why? Might make a good story. In the very southernmost tip of Texas? What’s up with that? And a baby boom in western South Dakota?

Before I sign off, let me add to Jodie’s list of good sites to bookmark if you want to see cool data visualizations. My Facebook friend and former competitor Matt Stiles, late of the Texas Tribune but now of NPR, has a Tumblr blog on data visualization called the Daily Viz. I found the Census data map through his site, so check it out.

Jennifer Peebles is a deputy editor at Texas Watchdog, a nonprofit online news site based in Houston, and is chairman of the SPJ Digital Media Committee. A truncated version of this blog post appeared in the most recent issue of SPJ’s Quill magazine. Contact her at, 281-656-1681 or on Twitter at @jpeebles or @texaswatchdog.

Build your own website for free

More journalists these days are setting up their own websites where they can profile their work. It’s one of the best ways to grow your brand and display your resume online.

I’ve taken web design classes for four years, and I must admit sometimes I get lost in all the language: CSS, HTML, PHP, HTML5, Flash and the list goes on.  I’m fortunate, because as a freelance reporter I’ve had time to take classes.

But if you don’t have time to learn how to build your own website from scratch or can’t afford  to get one designed; here are a three free website builders  Each of these companies will also host your website for free if you don’t mind the long url  (example: ). 

I set up sample websites at Wix, WebStarts and Moonfruit.    It was very easy and fast.  I think the end results look very professional at all three sites.  Check out my Wix sample website.   Each free website builder offers:

  • Templates designs for your website
  • Text editors
  • Variety of font choices
  • Drag and drop tools for images
  • Video embed tools
  • Video tutorials to help you use the site

Each company offers a “premium” package,  if you want to buy more tools to use on your website.  In my opinion, what they each have to offer for free is good enough if you need the basics.   You also have the option of paying to get it hosted by the hosting company of your choice.  Now go out there and get yourself a website!

Rebecca Aguilar is an Emmy award winning freelance reporter in Dallas, TX. She is the vice chairman of the SPJ Digital Media Committee, and a board member with the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. She has 30 years of experience: television news, online news and video producing.  She can be contacted at


Forgetful of AP style? Then quiz yourself

For decades, the guru guide for news publication style has been “The Associated Press Stylebook” (full name: “The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law,” nickname: The AP Stylebook), a reference of 400 or so pages started in the early 1950s, expanded in the 1970s and updated sporadically thereafter.

Style, for our purposes, refers to the rules and customs of typography, spelling and word usage by a publication, and for legions of budding journalists the AP Stylebook has been essential reading and final-exam fodder on this subject. In my turn at journalism school, the dog-eared, spiral-bound Stylebook was tantamount to the periodic table in chemistry or a bible in divinity studies, and was ubiquitous in student book bags and next to IBM Selectrics.

Of course, style changes as times change and the AP rules we don’t practice every day can get lost in the murky depths of our distractions. Even seasoned pros are wont to thumb through the Stylebook’s pages or surf the online version — yes, there’s an app for that, too — to satisfy their finical needs, and the reader’s.

But who peruses the Stylebook like a novel to stay abreast of lost knowledge? As useful as the guide is, the pace plods, characters are lacking and the plot is rather thin. Better then to stay up to date on both old and new entries by taking refresher exams using‘s practice AP style quizzes. The quick and easy online test developed by Ron Hartung and Gerald Grow, is arranged alphabetically and with summary exercises at the end of each section. The entire series of quizzes contains about 450 items.

Hartung and Grow include a link to recent changes and annotations to the style guide, as well as refreshers on general grammar, punctuation, spelling, word usage and how to spot errors in news copy. The authors note that the quizzes are circa 2009, but an update with the latest style changes is pending.

David Sheets is a sports editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and, and president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at, on Twitter at @DKSheets, or on Facebook and LinkedIn.

Streamlining your social media posting: How to update more than one site at a time


Social media can help you in your reporting, help you get out the word about your stories and help you build own brand as a journalist.

But there are so many social media and social networking sites these days, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed — like there are too many to update on a regular basis.

In many cases, it’s possible to update more than one social media site or service at a time with a single post using some tools we’ll talk about today. They might make your life easier in navigating social media.

Facebook Connect: This is the simplest way to update two services at once. On a lot of major social media sites today, you’ll be given an option to log in using your Facebook account. In some cases, doing this will publish your posts or updates on that service to your Facebook page as well.

For instance, I just told StumbleUpon that I liked a recent story in the Texas Observer. I have my StumbleUpon account linked to my Facebook account, and I have given SU permission to post the things I like on SU to my Facebook wall, so now my Facebook friends can see that I have shared the Observer story with them. This is a free service that lets you “ping” multiple social networking services at once with a single post or an update. Ping currently works with more than 30 services, including Twitter, Facebook (personal Facebook accounts and what used to be called Facebook “fan” pages), Delicious, Tumblr, WordPress and Blogger.

To use it, start by going to the site and registering for a free account. From there, pick the social media services you want Ping to be able to post to, and then you’ll be asked to enter your usernames/passwords for those accounts. (Important note: It’s possible to rig up these other services and later turn them off and on as desired.)

After it’s set up, you use it by going back to’s site and typing your update in the status box. When you update it, the message is pinged off to the other recipient sites and posts on your accounts there.

At Texas Watchdog, the nonprofit news site I work for in Houston, we use a great deal, though I usually post to it through the Twhirl Twitter client using a Ping app key. It allows our @TexasWatchdog tweets to go directly to our texaswatchdog account on Delicious (most of our tweets are about links to stories we think are cool), among other things.

For a time, we experimented with having send all of our tweets to our Facebook page wall, but that didn’t work for our purposes — when we began live-tweeting the local school board meetings, we found we were drowning our Facebook fans in status updates. We wound up disconnecting our Facebook page from Ping and using an alternative that I’ll talk more about in a minute. But Ping-to-Facebook might work very well for your purposes if you don’t firehose those tweets. (I’m currently using my it, and my own Ping app key, to post my @jpeebles tweets to my personal Facebook wall and to update my status on the Wired Journalists Ning, for instance.)

You can also set up your Ping account so that you can send out pings/tweets via SMS, or send out RSS feed blurbs or items you’re sharing on Google Reader.

HootSuite, Seesmic and the “social media dashboards”: These are services that integrate a Twitter client — often with tweets grouped into columns — with a Ping-like capability to send those same messages to Twitter and a slew of other social media services at once. Some of them also offer other services like contact management and analytics and useful helpers like built-in link shorteners.

I’m a HootSuite user, so I’ll focus on it. HootSuite has a couple of things going for it that doesn’t. For one thing, HootSuite gives you the capability to schedule your tweets in advance. That gives you the ability to space out your tweets over the course of a day or a week.

Once I caught on to HootSuite, I was able to stop sending out 18 tweets within an hour-long period each morning for all the cool stories that had popped up in my Google Reader overnight — instead, I could schedule those tweets ahead of time to space them out over a day so that our followers didn’t get deluged with @texaswatchdog tweets from us each morning.

HootSuite also gives you an easy method to pick which services you want each individual message to go out to. Just click the ones you want to broadcast that tweet on and hit the submit button — HootSuite’s process for this is much easier than’s method of turning services off and on.

When I’m using HootSuite to tweet as @texaswatchdog, I usually send out messages only to Twitter, but it gives me the option of also sending each message to our Facebook page as well — we do that only occassionally, but there are some times when it’s nice to have that option.

On the other hand, has some things going for it that HootSuite doesn’t. is totally free, as far as I can tell, and can work with dozens of services. HootSuite is mostly free, but you can only bring in up to five social media profiles under the free plan. To rig up more than that, you have to pay. Paid users can also have other “team members” posting to the same accounts, which might be handy if you have a slew of people in your office taking turns tweeting as @YourPublicationNameHere. (Just don’t let anything like this happen. Or this.)

Custom tabs on Facebook pages: Another method for bringing in material to your Facebook page followers is to use Facebook applications to create custom tabs on your Facebook page and funnel content from your other social media services on to those tabs.

For instance, we have all of our @texaswatchdog Twitter stream flowing onto a Twitter tab on our Facebook page thanks to a free app from the folks at Involver. You can find other FB apps that will create a Twitter tab, but some of them will want you to pay for it. Involver gives away some of its FB apps for free, and we’ve been very happy with using their tabs — our Facebook fans can still easily access our Twitter content regardless of whether they’re on Twitter or not, but the use of the tab means the tweets aren’t smothering our Facebook followers and cluttering up their FB news feeds. (For some more examples of people who successfully use Involver tabs on their Facebook page, check out the Texas Observer, which has a “blogs” tab that easily takes readers to any of several Observer blogs.) A second Involver-based tab brings our Facebook readers our recently liked content from YouTube, and in the past, we’ve used a custom tab for the Livestream service to also offer up our free monthly Webinar on open government.

Automatically import your site’s RSS feed into your Facebook page: Facebook has a built-in tools to do this — they’re free and pretty easy to use, and they can import the feed items to either the Wall or to FB Notes — but in my experience, Facebook’s tools are a bit flawed. I manage blogs and Facebook pages for a handful of journalism organizations I work with, and sometimes it can take three or four days for a new blog post to show up automatically on that group’s Facebook page. Other times, it may take only a few hours. I’m not sure what’s going on there, so I mention this with some hesitation. Instead, I would try some of the third-party Facebook apps that have been developed for this purpose, such as Social RSS or Involver’s free RSS app.

A word about the social bookmarking sites that basically offer link popularity contests, like Digg, Reddit, and, to some degree, StumbleUpon: It would be really efficient for us as journalists if there were a way to automate sending our fresh content to these sites, either through or some other conduit, but quite frankly, I have never figured out a way to do this. I’m not entirely sure it can be done — I really don’t think the people who run those sites, or the user communities on those sites, would want folks to be able to funnel even more potentially spam-driven or otherwise self-promoting content onto their screens.

I think they want to make it so that there’s some effort involved in submitting a link to their site, because that weeds out some of the people who aren’t serious about offering up good content. Granted, it doesn’t always work — maybe it’s just me, but for some reason, I always get what seems like an inordinate amount of “dugg” links for sites like when I’m searching for content on Digg. But certainly those communities don’t want to make it easier for MyAwesomeGutterRepair and MyAwesomeDrivewaySealing to post even more junk there. (But if you know of a way to make it easier to post to these sites, by all means, please share in the comments below.)

These aren’t the only ways to combine the elements of your social-media-posting routine. I know there are others I’m forgetting, and still others I’ve not even familiar with. So, how do you manage your social media?

Jennifer Peebles is deputy editor at Texas Watchdog, a nonprofit online-only news site based in Houston. Contact her at or follow her on Twitter at @jpeebles or @texaswatchdog.

Funnel photo by flickr user El Bibliomata, used under a Creative Commons license.

CuePrompter: No more memorizing scripts for your video blog

Cue PrompterSometimes television reporters make it look so easy when they’re out in the field doing a “live shot.” I know after 27 years in television—it took practice, practice, practice to make a live shot flawless.

I was always concerned that I would say “um, um, and um” too many times, or maybe lose my train of thought. I always thought news anchors had it so easy, because they had a teleprompter for their scripts.

Some of you may be video blogging and are trying to figure out how to make it look natural when you’re on camera recording your report.

Well I found this piece of free webware called CuePrompter. It’s an online teleprompter. It’s amazing because once you get the hang of using it, you’re going look and sound like all those television anchors you see on the nightly news.

All you need is your script, copy and paste into your computer and CuePrompter does the rest for you.

CBT Café produced this excellent video on how to use CuePrompter.

It’s free and easy to use, and more than anything no more fumbling or stumbling or even memorizing your script. Now you’re going to look flawless on camera.

Watch out Katie Couric and Brian Williams—here we come!

Rebecca Aguilar is an Emmy award winning reporter with 29 years of experience. Most of her years have been in television news, but now she is a multimedia freelance reporter based in Dallas, Texas. She is currently a board member with the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

3 Helpful Tools for Journalists

There are plenty of tools and apps out there for journalists. But sometimes you need a guide to help you sort through them all. Here are three informative sites that feature the best tools you can use on your beat.

1.) SPJ Journalist’s Toolbox
You can find a wealth of news gathering tools, tips, and resources here in one place – practical stuff that can come in handy if you’re analyzing college campus crime data or simply looking for holiday feature stories. Just today I was just browsing through the Toolbox and I found a link to the National Christmas Tree Association, which offers plenty of  stats  (In 2009 US shoppers bought 28.2 million real Christmas trees, and 11.7 million fake ones) and interesting factoids (This year marks the 500th anniversary of the first decorated Christmas tree. Who knew.)

2.) Mobile Reporting Tools Guide
This helpful booklet was recently published by Will Sullivan (author of Journerdism, one of my favorite blogs of all time). It includes detailed reviews of lenses, lights, tripods, and all sorts of editing apps. [PDF]

This site offers tools for everything: audio, data visualization, maps, polls, video…Props to Chris Amico, the interactive editor for PBS newshour, for putting it all together.


Emily Sweeney is a staff reporter at The Boston Globe. You can follow her on Twitter (@emilysweeney) and find her on Facebook and LinkedIn, among other places.


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