The Mobile Revolution: Apps for Journalists

Guest Post by Giuliana Lonigro

Gutenberg’s movable type printing press is often cited as the first 15th century mechanism that enabled the mass dissemination of information. But it wasn’t until the 17th century that the first newspapers were mass distributed in Europe. The last two centuries have seen bewildering advances in technology, which have all benefited journalism — from radio correspondents to broadcast television news and news organizations’ websites.

A previous blog post on this blog references a Nieman Journalism Lab article, in which Nicholas Carr postulated that 2012 would see the appification of media. Six months later, Pew’s newly released 2012 report on the state of American Journalism found that close to half of all adults own a smartphone, and the number of tablet owners has risen to nearly 20% of Americans over age 18. Media are increasingly being consumed via mobile devices, and journalists are following suit by creating media and using apps to get their reporting done on their mobile devices.

Apps for journalists fall into several categories, including social media, reporting, workflow, blogging, photography, and video/audio recording, editing and streaming. Many of the most popular apps also seem to be favorites with journalists, with some variations for iPhones or Android phones. Below are some of the apps used most often by journalists. What apps do you use most often? Let us know in the comments section below!

SOCIAL MEDIA

  • Twitter – can be used to track news from AP and other sources and also to tweet URLs to articles once they are posted. Has long been hailed as an extremely well written and user-friendly app.
  • LinkedIn – can be used to find professional sources for quotes, depending on the beat(s) you cover.
  • Tweetdeck, Hootsuite, Buffer – help with productivity and time management with dashboards and helping schedule tweets.

REPORTING/WORKFLOW

  • Evernote – This award-winning app lets you take searchable notes, capture photos, create to-do lists and record voice reminders.
  • 5-0 Police Scanner – to listen to radio traffic from police, fire, or ambulances.
  • Skype – offers surprisingly clear connection as compared with regular mobile phone lines for interviews.
  • Merriam-Webster dictionary – Because every good reporter needs to check on a word once in a while! Also features audio recordings of pronunciation.
  • AP Style book ($24.99) – surprisingly pricey, but it’s considered the Bible in many circles, and it’s worth it for the reporter on-the-go.
  • Dropbox – store files in the cloud and access from computer, laptop or portable devices anywhere.
  • Cardmunch – works with LinkedIn by scanning pictures of business cards and automatically adding contacts to your LinkedIn profile.

BLOGGING

  • Tumblr – can post text, video, a URL, audio, photos from a mobile device.
  • WordPress – The platform of choice for many bloggers; the app allows you to create and edit blog posts as needed.

PHOTOGRAPHY/PHOTO EDITING

  • Camera+ ($0.99 for a limited time) – includes a timer, a grid to make sure photos aren’t crooked, settings for exposure and focus, a fill light and digital zoom.
  • Instagram and Hipstamatic – Poynter has reported on the debate about whether these photo filtering and sharing apps are dumbing down and whether news organizations are cheating their audiences by their use of filters.
  • ProCamera ($2.99) – this app is similar to Camera+ but also shoots video.

VIDEO & AUDIO RECORDING/STREAMING/EDITING

  • iTalk Recorder – records from iPhone and emails files.
  • Audioboo – records up to three-minute voice memos; audio files can then be uploaded to the Audioboo website with titles, tags, geolocation information and a photo. “Boos” can then be easily shared to social media channels.
  • Ustream and Ustream Broadcaster – allows live streaming of interactive video. Allows you to poll your audience and follow other broadcasters’ streams.
  • 1st Video Net – Unlike most of the apps in this post, this video editing app is for networked commercial customers of VeriCorder who are professional reporters and other content creators.

REPORTERS WHO TRAVEL

  • JiWire Wi-Fi Finder – Finds Wi-Fi hotspots for public Wi-Fi anywhere in the world; works both online and offline
  • Word Lens – Translates English, French and Spanish in real-time with the phone cam. A network connection is not needed, and language packs are sold separately via in-app purchase.

Giuliana is a writer and social media strategist who lives in Jersey City.

Cutting-Edge Technology

I attended a very interesting panel discussion and lecture yesterday at Google’s headquarters in Chelsea, hosted by the New York Technology Council (NYTECH): “Cutting-Edge Technology Showcase” by tech enthusiasts, artists and “white hat” hackers.

The five speakers represented growing fields in consumer technology: From interactive gaming platforms (“mobile augmented reality” presented by Ogmento), 3D visualizations of the human body (by BioDigital Systems in collaboration with New York Hospital) that run on an ordinary web browser with stunning results, to 3D printing (by Shapeways) and of course camera- and voice activated searches by Google (“Google Goggle” and “Search by Voice”). Senior Google Research Scientist Johan Schalkwyk called the latter “augmenting your own intelligence,” by using speech recognition to translate, navigate and understand data pulled from the cloud to make the world accessible.

From mobile to social to location-based and now augmented, I am less interested in virtually throwing rings on a bottle of beer that I’ve photographed with my smart phone (even though the sounds and shapes are life-like), but I guess there is a huge market for that. But what I found intriguing is our ability to use gadgets to dig ever deeper into our research, to come up with even more information, to be able to customize what we’re looking for (and maybe losing sight of what we really ought to know?).

As a writer, ahem, forgive me, as a “content creator,” I was especially intrigued by “Google Goggle” that lets you take a picture with your smartphone of a paragraph in a book or a newspaper/magazine article and Google will find within seconds the source: be it in a book (via “Google books” or via Google search of online publications, including PDFs and databases). My silver-haired seat neighbor drily remarked: “that’ll be the end of plagiarism.” And of quotes taken out of context. Good times indeed for, what keynote speaker Rick Karr of PBS referred to as “dead tree media.” Bad times for German politicians. But I regress.

The 3D printing was truly stunning: Case in point, a workable propeller  with 70 moving parts (at left) that got printed in one take using a malleable, white plastic material. The printers are still as large as refrigerators, but they will soon shrink and their price will fall. The possibilities are endless: cheaply and quickly mass-produced stuff or designer products on the go — from the individual creator to the market.

Scientists are already working on printing organs by using human cells: They’ve already created a human kidney prototype. But can it be implanted using augmented reality and Google goggles, Search by Voice and 3D visualization to guide the scalpel?

It still needs another remarkable gadget: us.

Print to Pixel: Mobile E-Readers

Since the introduction of Apple’s iPad, the publishing industry has been on edge. Blamed for the demise of book publishing and at the same time hailed as a savior of print media, Apple’s shiny gadget and its alternatives — smaller, cheaper e-readers — are everywhere: e-book sales jumped 183 percent in the first half of 2010, and Amazon now sells more e-books than hardcovers. And Google just announced its initiative to launch an e-book store Google Editions with an open, in the cloud purchasing and reading model, where all you need is an internet browser to buy any e-book from any platform.

TechCrunch has this to say about Google’s entrance into the e-book market:

“The advantages of not having to go through, for instance, Amazon, when selling your book, are hard to quantify. But the notion that an author will be able to place a widget on their own page, and have the book-buying transaction be self-contained rather than being transferred to Amazon, is significant.”

Hitching a ride on the iPad’s appeal, print media are scrambling to churn out iPad apps with the goal of erecting pay walls for electronic content across all mobile platforms. We will actually have to pay for what we read online.

In addition, people who own or plan to buy an e-reader  are a ready-made audience for newspapers, according to a study released by Scarborough Research. “E-reader devices are becoming an important technology for millions of Americans and our data confirms their emergence as a natural companion to newspapers,” said Gary Meo, senior vice president of digital media and newspaper services for Scarborough Research. “At this point, many newspaper publishers are determining strategies for making their content available on e-reader devices, and this is creating a new opportunity to monetize content and increase readership.”

And that’s not all: According to a study released by the Harrison Group and digital newsstand provider Zinio, digital tablet and e-reader owners read more newspaper articles and books, and they are more likely than non-owners to pay for digital content.

The iPad has raised the bar, but to be fair, it is a full-fledged tablet and not an e-reader. It has a huge, and therefore heavy, full-color, backlit LCD screen, and it only supports Apple formats. It has no free 3G and is the most expensive mobile reader on the market. But it does look gorgeous, and it is especially suited to reading texts with graphics.

For simply consuming e-books, however, e-readers are just fine. Most devices use crisp, monochrome e-ink screen technology that resembles old-fashioned ink; they can be read even in direct light without eyestrain (but not in the dark). New color e-ink screens will enter the U.S. market very soon.

Before buying one of these devices, you need to consider several things: the weight, screen size and price of the reader; your reading habits and your need for free Wi-Fi or access to AT&T’s 3G cellular network, Bluetooth or an USB port; and whether you plan to download various e-book formats, borrow library books in EPUB format (books stored in online library catalogues) or read PDF files.

The following e-readers are currently considered front-runners:

Kindle (Amazon): Often referred to as “the iPod of books,” the Kindle gets glowing reviews; it uses e-ink, is roughly the size of a paperback, and is lightweight and thin. It holds 1,500 books and has a battery life of two weeks. However, it only supports Amazon’s e-books and is the only reader that doesn’t support Goggle Editions or EPUB. It comes with optional free Wi-Fi/3G and a full keypad and offers magazine and newspaper subscriptions (take that, iPad!). The newest edition, the KindleDX, can store more than 3,500 books and has a 9.7-inch screen that can be read both horizontally and vertically.

Nook (Barnes & Noble): Supporting almost all platforms, including e-books in the public domain and EPUB, Nook has an e-ink screen and free Wi-Fi/3G. The recently released Nook Color has a 7-inch color screen. You can “loan” downloads to a friend for up to two weeks and read e-books for free in B&N stores. Nook shows page numbers that differ from the print editions, but many e-readers don’t display pagination at all or only show the portion of the book already read. One drawback is Nook’s baffling navigation system.

Daily Edition (Sony): The first to introduce an e-reader in 2006, Sony uses e-ink with infrared touch-screen technology that allows you to turn pages with a swipe of the finger instead of pushing buttons. The device’s large 7-inch screen makes it bulkier, heavier and more expensive than most e-readers, but it does come with free Wi-Fi/3G.

The Huffington Post has 13 suggestions for iPad alternative tablet PCs.