Easy Web publishing utilities for journalists

Great online journalism is increasingly expected to combine writing, audio, video, images and graphics, with each part of a story told in the medium best suited to the information being presented. This sounds great in theory, but if you are like most journalists, you are not a software guru or a multimedia specialist and you probably have relatively little experience creating video or graphics, let alone getting them on the internet and strategically placing them in a story.

Journalists should be excited by the Internet. On the Web, words, pictures, video and audio can be woven together in ways that tell stories more effectively than is possible with any of these mediums alone. But in order to weave exceptional, rich, carefully planned online stories, you have to become proficient at a lot of techniques, skills and technologies, many of which you probably thought you were avoiding when you chose journalism as a career.

To help you learn some of these skills and start experimenting with online journalism, we’ve assembled a list of sites and programs that will help you quickly and easily begin using multimedia and the internet to advance your reporting and your storytelling. All of these applications are low-cost. Most are free, though some ask you to pay to access advanced functionality. All are free of spyware and adware, as far as we know (though it is always good to do an Internet search on anything you download and install to be sure). And each should make the work of creating great journalism online at least a little easier.

Our list of easy online publishing tools is a wiki, so please feel free to add links to tools that you’ve used, which fit our criteria, and that are likely to be of great use to other online journalists as well.

About Jonathan Morgan

Jonathan Morgan lives and works as a journalist in Detroit, MI. He is currently a Multiplatform Editor at the Detroit News.

Over his career, Jonathan has worked as a Producer for the web site of The New York Times, provided technical advice to Jay Rosen's NewAssignment.org project, earned a Masters degree in Newspaper Journalism at New York University, and worked as a programmer, designer and manager in the worlds of systems integrations and higher education software.

Comments

  1. Robert Niles says:

    Feel free to add categories to the list, as well. For example, if anyone has some recommendations for good, manageable, low-cost discussion board software, feel free to add.

    What we’d like to avoid, however, are people adding links to their software development shops. We’re looking for ready-to-use, few-or-no-tech-skills-required tools, not consultants. Thanks!

  2. Jeff Wilson says:

    While the blog software you mention is solid, and most imporantly scalable (will grow to meet your needs), it’s primary use is for blogs.

    I’d recommend Drupal, Geeklog, Joomla, Mambo, or even one of the PHP/Post Nuke content management systems if you want to have a little more flexibility with your website. These systems allow greater control over look and feel, layout, reader/user/author/administrator rights, and include more powerful options for comments.

    For discussion forums, PHPbb is among the most popular free forums on the web. It is reasonably secure, easy to set up, and flexible.

    One issue with discussion forums is that often a user’s account on the main blog site will not be the same account s/he uses to log into a discussion forum.

    Gallery and Coppermine are free PHP based photo gallery packages that offer powerful picture management function, including automatic resizing, slideshows, voting and comments.

    Lots of choices huh? One of the best ways to approach this problem is to find a web host that uses a 1) linux, 2)php & MySQL databases, and 3) automated installation scripts. Many hosts use a system called “Fantastico” which allows for simple 3 step processes to install any of the blog/cms/forum software packages above. No uploading files to a server or editing arcane script files. If you find a webhost with Fantastico or other scripting service, you can test install several of these engines to see which one meets your needs.

  3. Thanks, this is all very helpful.

    It’s so important for journalists to know what kind of resources are out there — I shared a few of my favorite links here, in this recent E&P column…

    In it, I mention two of my favorite mapping tools: MapBuilder.net and QuikMaps.com

    Both are incredibly easy to use, and allow you to create a decent interactive map for your site or blog in a matter of minutes.

  4. Jonathan Morgan says:

    Jeff – thanks for the good information on finding a host for a CMS-based web site, especially the “Fantastico” package installation software. That sounds like a great way to manage the complexity of installing and configuring software on a host. Does Fantastico also handle updates to installed packages over time? Do you know how widely it is available among hosts?

    Emily – Those are great map-building resources, and your article has other good links as well. I don’t want to take traffic from your article, but you should consider adding them to the wiki, too.

    A quick comment on blog software – blog software was initially designed for a certain way of organizing and looking at information, but be careful not to overlook the power in these simple sites. Hosted blogs are easy enough to maintain that just about anyone can publish using blog software and blog systems are becoming flexible enough that they don’t limit you so much in creating full-featured sites.

    I bring this up because I believe news and journalism need to bring more reporters and journalists into online reporting, collaboration and publishing, regardless of technical ability or background.

    As Jeff correctly pointed out above, you can get more flexibility out of a host on which you install and configure a CMS system (I am already experimenting with drupal after only three weeks of having a blog on wordpress.com because I want more control over my site).

    But if that sounds like too much for you, or if you are intimidated by the technical work of hosting and maintaining your own site, don’t feel bad! It is a great start for journalists to create simple, easily maintainable blog sites on which they post carefully reported, well-written pieces that experiment with multimedia content.

    And if the limitations of your blog software start irritating you enough that you start looking into hosts, that is great on a certain level, too! Once you react to limitations in software by getting irritated and trying to find a better way instead of by being intimidated or scared, you’re on the right track in my book. =)

  5. Paul Nilson says:

    I use Xoops CMS for my site laptop computers .
    I have used CMS and Blogger in the past, and Xoops is much more extensible, supports multiple blogs, and of course… is free.
    Xoops is written in PHP, and uses MySQL as it’s backend.

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