About - Posts - Podcasts - Namesakes

Top 8 Journalism Apps of 2010 (That You’ll Use All Next Year)

This year news apps were either horrible villains or lifesaving heroes depending on your perspective. But what about apps for journalists — for reporters who need information and tools on the go? I’m not talking about podcasting or video editing apps. I’m talking about mobile and cloud-based tools that the average journalist will use on a regular or even day-to-day basis. Here are my top eight choices that either launched or received significant upgrades in 2010.

1: Rapportive

Mac, PC, Firefox, Safari, Mailplane, Fluid and Chrome; free

This is my favorite tool of 2010. As my co-worker Marshall wrote last March: “Stop what you are doing and install this plugin.” He wasn’t kidding. Rapportive replaces the ads in your Gmail account with publicly available information about the person who sent you the email: links to their social networking accounts, their photo and biographical info, even a live feed of their tweets. Not only that, if you mouse over other email addresses included in the email, those people’s info shows up, too. At right is what the right half of an email from my boss looks like.

Suddenly, the sources you exchange email with have a face, and even better, their background info is at your fingertips.

It’s not omniscient. Rapportive displays data based on the specific email address that the sender is using. If they use a different email to log in to social networks, then those accounts won’t show up. One fun bonus is that it finds some hilariously old accounts. You’ll be surprised how many people have long-forgotten Friendster profiles.

2: Simplenote

Mac, PC, iPhone, iPad, Android, Web; free/paid (no ads)

This is my second most-used tool of 2010. By itself, Simplenote, is, well, pretty simple. It’s a note-taking app that syncs what you write — whether you’re using a mobile device or a computer — live to the Web. It’s been around for two years but got a very significant update (tags, versioning, word count, sharing) in August. Its real power lies in its ability to work with a host of other desktop and mobile apps and browser extensions. Once you link to one of those tools, you no longer have to pay attention to Simplenote. It stays in the background, instantly syncing what you write to the cloud.

For instance, I use an app called Notational Velocity for pretty much everything I write. I like it because it stores what I write within the app; I don’t have any folders full of old documents. When I started using Notational Velocity I linked it to Simplenote and then forgot about Simplenote completely. But no matter where I go, no matter what computer or smartphone I use, I have access to everything I am working on or have written in the past.

True, there are plenty of other cloud-connected note-taking apps out there (Notespark, Evernote, etc.), but none have the simplicity and versatility of Simplenote.

3: Photoshop mobile app

iPhone, iPad, Android; free

Like note-taking apps, there are tons of image-editing tools out there. The Photoshop mobile app is a simple powerhouse that outperforms everything else. It meets my criteria for an on-the-go reporting tool: it’s stable, powerful and easy to use.

If you want hip filters and splashy effects, this isn’t for you. But if you need to quickly and easily color correct or make cropping/rotating changes to an image before you send it back to your newsroom or post it on your blog, this is your best bet. Over the course of 2010 it got several updates: new tools, Facebook and Flickr connection, and more.

4: Police and fire radio scanners

iPhone: 5-0 Radio; free/paid (extra feeds). Android: Scanner Radio; free/paid (no adds, more controls)

Even thought I work for a tech news site and don’t need an app like this, I love it. I wish I had something like it back when I was a daily reporter.

Scanner Radio for Android launched this year with more than 2,300 live police and fire scanners and weather radios from around the world. One interesting feature is that it will let you know when a specific feed has a lot of listeners. According to the developer, “You could have the app alert you when any scanner in the directory has more than 500 listeners, or, you could have it alert you when scanners you choose (such as those in your area) have more than, say, 50 listeners.”

I use 5-0 Radio, which launched in 2009. It claims to have “the largest collection of live police, firefighters, aircraft, railroad, marine, emergency, and ham radio” feeds.

5: USA.gov mobile app

iPhone, mobile Web; free

This may seem a little elementary, but the USA.gov app is unmatched as a portal for searching all federal, state, local, territorial, and tribal government websites, including in some cases vital birth, marriage and death records. It also does image searches and government recall searches.

Out in the field covering a fire and need some background? Punch your city name and “fire code” into the app. What about reporting about an accident at a job site? Searching for your city name plus “OSHA fatality” will bring up the agency’s website that lists accident reports.

6: Mobile document scanners

iPhone: JotNot Pro; $0.99. ScannerPro ($6.99), Document Scanner ($4.99), Scanner & Fax ($7.99)

These kinds of apps sometimes get mixed reviews (and I’m kind of cheating since some of then came out before 2010). They’re essentially camera apps that are really good at enhancing text in the images they take. Can you do the same thing by taking a photo and messing with the contrast and sharpness? Yes, in some cases. But often you can’t: the paper is wrinkled; the paper isn’t on a flat surface; you have multiple pages that need to be a single document; you need the resulting image to be a PDF.

I use JotNot Pro (right) mainly because it’s cheap. If I forked out $4.99 for something like Document Scanner I would also be able to do things like OCR (a process where images of words are turned into actual text). Each of the apps I listed have varying features that may or may not fit what you need from a tool like this.

7: DocumentCloud

Private beta

DocumentCloud made big headlines when it launched earlier this year. If you don’t remember, it’s “an index of primary source documents and a tool for annotating, organizing and publishing them on the web.” Since then, dozens of small and large news orgs have used it to annotate and augment public documents that they’ve published. As of August, there were close to 500 users and 100 newsrooms participating in the beta trial.

I don’t know when the service will go public (the development team has been rolling out updates for beta testers throughout the year), but when it does, it’s going to be an invaluable tool for newsrooms, regardless of their size.

8: The Onion mobile app

iPhone, Android; free

The Android app came out this year (the iPhone version launched in 2009), and it is, as The Onion says, the “last bastion of unbiased, reliable, and definitive news in a world dominated by superficiality, mediocrity, and non-Onion news outlets.” You need it.

Did I miss any of your favorites? What will you be using in 2011? Let me know about it in the comments.