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Top 5 Tech Tools for Student Journalists

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Have you heard? The journalism industry is in crisis.

But this impending catastrophe is not what one might expect. I'm not about to herald the end of print newspaper, the decline of readership, or the like. Rather, the predicament facing journalists today is in how to embrace the digital -- in deciding which technologies journalists should use, and how. Overwhelmed by a flood of flashy gadgets, plug-ins and software released every day, journalists must identify and adopt the right tools. There's a desire to be on the cutting edge, but it is mediated by a need to be reasonable and realistic. The idea of wading through all of our options is daunting.

This is the case for professional and student journalists alike. I fall firmly in the latter category, but even from my limited experience, one thing is clear: The best new technologies are the tools that assist in achieving your goals. As is the case with technology in the classroom, it's crucial that the tools you adopt facilitate your work, rather than hinder it.

With that in mind, I'd like to share five of my favorite technological tools for student journalists. The Pioneer, the weekly student paper at my school, has seen a lot of different approaches to technology in its time, and this is only a sampling of my experience. Technology can serve many diverse purposes, depending on the goal to be achieved. To keep me from getting too lengthy, this list focuses in particular upon what I'd call "internal use" technologies, which the editorial team at The Pioneer employs to improve our workflow. These are the tools that fundamentally assist us in achieving this goal.

  1. WordPress.org: As the web software that we use to publish our site, WordPress serves two purposes. First, it helps us organize our content for print production and web publication; second, well, it is the framework upon which our website rests. With a friendly user interface, a huge online support community, customizable themes and thousands of plug-ins, I have found that, as a content management system, WordPress really suits the needs of our student publication.
  2. Edit Flow: Within the context of WordPress, this is our favorite editorial workflow management plug-in. Among other things, it allows you to add custom statuses to your articles as they progress from "pitch" to "draft" to "ready for copy edit," then "ready for web" and so on. With a staff of almost 80, we also find the editorial comments that can be left on each post invaluable, because it keeps the conversation between writer, editor and copy editor going outside of face-to-face meetings, and without requiring ever leaving the article page.
  3. Dropbox: Synched with every computer in the office, this web-based file sharing service is our way of keeping things backed up while everyone is working. It's a great tool to keep our work backed up in the short term -- secure and yet easily shareable among staff members.
  4. KeePassX: As "the techy one" on the editorial team, I'm crazy about password security. Between social media accounts, details about web hosts and the like, it's crucial for our editors to keep everything straight. This open-source password manager makes it easy to encrypt and protect the details of the paper's many accounts.
  5. Wikispaces: When your leadership comes and goes with the semesters, it's incredibly challenging for a newspaper to maintain any consistency over time. The creation and maintenance of a collective staff wiki has been the best move towards encouraging the collaborative learning of journalistic guidelines and improving the paper's institutional memory overall. We've collected our own style guide, staff handbook and more in our wiki. It's a key tool in helping the staff transition smoothly between terms.