A starter kit of web alternative copy tools

I’ve been touring with one of my favorite presentations, Incredible Embeddables: Make your news site unforgettable, for a few years, and on several occasions I have had someone in the audience ask a questions that sounds something like this:

“These tools are all really great, but my staff is just launching our website, so where should we start?”

It’s a smart question because I don’t think it’s a good idea to present your staff with all of these tools at once, even if you have a really established website and an experienced staff.

multimedia_toolsRecently, I’ve made the list of tools available on this site, so I thought it might be a good time to offer a  “starter kit” of web tools for the less-experienced staff. These are the ones that I introduce to my own new staff members toward the beginning of the year. They’re user-friendly, not too complicated, and cheap or free. In some cases, I’ll likely pay a small subscription fee because I know that they’re more likely to use the tool that’s easiest to learn with greatest flexibility, and sometimes that’s not the free one.

The Embeddable Tools Starter Kit:

1. ThingLink: Users upload an image, place markers on the image, then put info or extra media in pop-up boxes. Try it with: #ootd, or Outfit of the Day (a popular Instagram tag). Flyout boxes can give details about the items the person is wearing.

2. ScribbleLive: Users create a liveblogging event, embed the viewer into a content item on their site, then blog live during the event/discussion. Try it with: Covering a game. Rather than livetweeting updates, which can frustrate followers, those who want the play by play can follow the liveblog.

3. Google Maps: Collaborators work together to place markers on a map, which can include photos, extra info, links. Try it with: Reviewing local eateries. Place the markers on the map, including a star rating and link to the review on your website.

4. TimelineJS: An interactive timeline maker that allows you to embed photos, video, social media posts, text. Try it with: Covering the events of Homecoming week.

5. Infogram: Create simple, highly visual infographics from standard templates. Try it with: News stories that don’t have an easy photo opportunity.

6. Soundslides: Pair audio and photos to tell a story. Try it with: Photo essays online. Send out two reports (one to collect audio, the other a photographer) and edit together the audio clips in Garage Band or audacity. Export as an .mp3 and pair it with the photos.

7. Storify: Pull in Tweets, Instagram pics, public Facebook posts, and other social media posts to weave into your own story. Try it with: Rally coverage. Promote a hashtag over the course of the week leading up to the rally, then have a staff member create a rally recap afterward, including guest images and Tweets.

8. CleVR: Stitch photos together to create 360 degree panoramas with rollover “hotspot” areas that pop up additional information and images. Try it with: Quirky room features. Take a panorama of the teacher’s classroom or student’s bedroom, then use hotspots to tell the story behind different items in the image.

9. Soundcloud: Upload audio files and embed an audio player into your story. Try it with: Pull quotes. Rather than (or in addition to) using a block of text for pull quotes, include a short audio clip from the interview.

10. PollSnack: Create simple little quizzes to embed into stories or on pages. Try it with: Opinion stories online. Allow readers to share their own opinions on the topic covered.

So there they are. Ten simple tools to get your journalists started in making their online stories more interactive and engaging. Of course, once they get used to these, they may become frustrated by the limitations. At that point, you can direct them to this list of 50+ multimedia tools.

Think I missed one? Please share in the comments. I’d love to hear about it! 

Michelle Balmeo

Michelle Balmeo, MJE, is the adviser of El Estoque newsmagazine and news website at Monta Vista High School in Cupertino, Calif. During her 11-year tenure as adviser, the publications have regularly received NSPA’s Pacemaker award and CSPA’s Crown award. She has been selected as CA Journalism Teacher of the Year, a JEA Rising Star, and a DJNF Distinguished Adviser. She was previously the JEA Web Curriculum Leader and currently serves on the board of JEA Northern California.

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One thought on “A starter kit of web alternative copy tools

  • September 23, 2013 at 10:22 am
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