5 Free Online Tools Reporters Should Know About

Free and easy-to-use digital tools to enhance your reporting.

Local Angle: As its name suggests, this application identifies the “local angle” in national stories using a combination of tools to aggregate stories, identify the key individuals mentioned in those stories, and generate a geographical tie to the story. The tool is a project of the Knight News Innovation Lab at Northwestern University and is available in beta mode for editors and reporters looking for story ideas.

TimelineJS: Another project by the Knight News Innovation Lab, TimelineJS is a free tool for reporters to build “beautifully crafted timelines that are easy, and intuitive to use.” Users can pull items from Twitter, Flickr, Google Maps, and YouTube, among others to create the timeline, and then embed the final product within the accompanying story or anywhere else on the web.

Follow the Unlimited Money: Access downloadable .csv files listing independent expenditures and donations that have been filed with the Federal Elections Commission. This project by the Sunlight Foundation makes it easy to locate public filings by Super PACs, sort outside spending by state, and find out which specific races and candidates have received the most outside spending.

Influence Explorer: Also courtesy of the Sunlight Foundation, the Influence Explorer uses campaign finance filings to show the connections between public officials and the companies and organizations that fund their campaigns. This data comes to life with three cool gadgets: Inbox Influence, which shows the political contributions of people and organizations that are mentioned in emails you receive; Checking Influence, a browser bookmarklet that works on banking and credit card websites to show where that company is spending its lobbying dollars; and Poligraft, which extracts the names and companies mentioned in the news articles you read everyday.

Media Diplomat: Need an international source for the story you’re working on? Media Diplomat connects reporters with news sources and topic experts across the globe who have registered with the site.