When I was freelancing with VICE News, my editor and I were never in the same place. I worked remotely from New York City, while my boss was working in Washington, D.C. We were also very rarely on the same schedule. He would be at his desk from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., while I was constantly on the move, working from a home office in Queens, an office in Brooklyn, in a coffee shop in Manhattan or, more often than not, from my phone on a bus or on the subway.
More and more, we’re on the go, relying on our smartphones to be our computers. So this week we’re going to share with you some of the tools you can use to be productive even when you’re away from your desk.
You know you can use it from any computer, but Google’s shared workspace also lets you write and edit, or even compile spreadsheets, on the go. When you use Google Docs in “suggesting” mode, it works just like Word’s “track changes.” If you’re an adept texter (aren’t we all, in 2018?) it’s easy to type on your phone. If you’re writing, it’s simple enough to take your work with you, and if you’re editing, you don’t have to worry about losing the original or making changes you can’t undo. You can also easily share the documents right from your phone, so you never have to worry about downloading files or software not being compatible with a colleague’s.
The chat app is popular with teenagers around the world, and for very good reason. It offers end-to-end encryption, so you can be guaranteed your messages are secure, and it’s free, so if you’re connected to WiFi, you can call or text anyone anywhere without it costing you a penny. (You can also use the app when connected to your cellular network, but that may cost you, depending on your carrier and plan.) It’s a great tool if you have sources in other countries, or if you’re traveling for a story and need to keep in touch with sources back home. You can use it to text, send images and files, make video calls, or even have group phone calls all from one app. And because it’s a free app that works on any smartphone, you and your sources and editors can keep in touch without hassle, no matter where you are in the world.
We’ve talked about this app before, but it’s worth mentioning again, especially for the journalist on the go. The call-recording app works by conferencing in you and your source to a secure third line that records your call. Once you hang up the phone, the recording is sent to the app, where you can choose to download it, send it via email or text, or upload it to a cloud server. It’s a very user-friendly system, and it works wherever your phone works (though if you have limited talk time, you’ll want to check your plan before making calls). The app is free, but the paid version allows you unlimited calls for a mere $10 a year. For an additional $14 (billed annually), you can get the advanced searchable version so you never have to hunt for the quotes you recorded again.
If you find yourself taking photos for work using your smartphone, you’ll want to download an app like Photo Vault to keep your personal photos stashed away, safe from prying eyes. This is especially helpful if you run social media for your publication or in your role as a journalist. You don’t want to accidentally post a private photo and end up front-page news like Anthony Weiner/Carlos Danger. And even if your personal photos aren’t of the risqué variety, it’s better to be safe than sorry. With an app like Photo Vault, you can easily load your photos into a private, password-protected app and delete them off your camera roll in one easy step. And if you spring for the paid version, you can create as many folders as you want within the app, so you’ll always know where to find your photos.
This may not seem like an essential app for journalists at first glance, but hear me out. If you’re reporting on new cities and towns on a regular basis, chances are you need to swoop in, learn as much as you can as quickly as you can, and hit the ground running to find sources and stories. The Apartments.com app lets you do that. If you scan the apartment listings, you can get a sense of the neighborhoods, the income level, the school districts, and whether the area is full of families, businesses, or kids moving into their first apartments out of college. Not finding listings for an area will also tell you something: either that neighborhood is full of houses, or it’s a commercial district; a quick glance at the map will give you a better idea. And knowing about the neighborhood makes it easier for you to find people to interview and know, to some extent, what their economic situation is and their basic quality of life. Because this isn’t exactly the intended purpose of the app, it’s not a perfect tool, but if you’re parachuting into a new place on a regular basis, it’s a good way to get started.
It’s easier than ever to take photos with your phone, and thanks to the Photoshop app, it’s just as simple to edit them, too. The app version of the software includes all the essential tools you need to prep a photo for publication, including color correction and noise cancellation (the photo kind — though we’ll get to the audio kind in a moment). Whether you’re trying to post a photo to social media or sending along “live from the field” photos to your team back in the office, you want to put your best foot forward whenever possible, and quickly running your photo through Photoshop Express will ensure that your photo matches the quality of your writing, even if you’re not use to being your own photographer.
Need to upload audio to go along with your story? Want to give your readers the full multimedia experience? VoiceRecorder lets you record and save files, as well as trim your audio clips. You can cut out long-winded answers, trim out background noise, or convert the file to a more compatible format for your website. You can also save the file from the app or upload it to the cloud so your colleagues can access it to do more detailed editing. But for an in-pocket recording studio, this has what you need to get the basics done and get your audio posted in time to break your story.
We’ll be delving more into social media in future installments, but if you’re a journalist and you aren’t using Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram to share your stories and reach out to sources, you’re missing out on a very valuable series of tools. While these tools didn’t exist when most of us were learning the tricks of the trade (did I just date myself? Oops!), they’re critical to our work now, even given Facebook’s recent changes to deprioritize publishers in the Newsfeed. If you’ve made a conscious decision to avoid social media because you’re trying to “reach a high-brow audience,” you are losing out on a huge readership that doesn’t come to news via traditional pathways. We’ll discuss each of the platforms in detail in the coming weeks, but for now, download them all to your phone and start engaging!
Are there other apps you rely on to get your job done on the go? Let us know if we missed any of your personal essentials so we can update our list. Shout out your favorite apps by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or tweeting @EditrixJen.
Jennifer Peters is former content manager of the News Media Alliance.