iPhone Life magazine

Apps for the Citizen Journalist

Citizen Journalism: The concept of members of the public playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, 
analyzing and disseminating news and information.Also know as....

“street journalism.”

Why would someone who already has a day job want to compete with Katie Couric or Maureen Dowd?

Most citizen journalists will say they aren’t trying to replace those folks but want to contribute to the public’s understanding of issues and events by offering independent, accurate, and relevant information.

Whether they’re checking on City Hall or investigating corporate waste or fraud, there are hosts of new iPhone apps ready to help these new reporters find intriguing stories, do their research, and get their findings out to social or mainstream media.

Finding the news

First, you’ve got to find news if you want to report it. One place to learn about what’s going on in the world is Twitter, where news and gossip flow 24/7. It’s a good place to seek out unique stories and real experts for interviews.

TweetDeckTwitter’s environment is fast and loose, and you need an app like TweetDeck (free; tweetdeck.com) to turn it into an efficient tool. TweetDeck lets you quickly gather and organize all kinds of data. I loved using it on my PC and was pleasantly surprised at how good it looks and works on the iPhone.

I use TweetDeck and Fwix to post to Twitter. Tweets are shortened and photos automatically sent to special holding Web sites.

TweetDeck helps you manage multiple accounts and search multiple groups within categories. When you compose a tweet, a drop-down menu displays links to the last 10 hashtags you’ve used. It also inserts the correct hashtag when replying to a tweet containing one. I use lots of hashtags (#civilrights, #history, #books) so I appreciate these features.

TweetDeck also makes it easy to send photos, quick captions, and links you have created using the app. It shortens URLs, squeezes tweets into the 140 character limit for re-tweeting, and makes posting to Facebook and MySpace easier.

Twitpic.comThe app also makes it VERY easy to attach a photo to a tweet and send it out—one of the main reasons I like using it in when I’m working in the field. TweetDeck automatically places the photo on the Internet at twitpic.com and inserts a shortened link to the picture at the beginning of your message.

Twitpic.com holds photos posted via TweetDeck.

Echofon (free; “Pro” version $4.99; echofon.com) is easier to use than TweetDeck because it is less complex. Formerly known as Twitterfon, this app looks good on the iPhone screen and offers powerful tweet authoring capabilities, including the ability to take and send photos (or videos for 3GS users) and update your current location. Its search tab makes it easy to find trending topics and specific users.

Checking your facts

WikipanionDictionary.comThe Wikipanion app (free; “Pro” version $4.99; wikipanion.net) lets you access the full range of publicly-maintained knowledge found in Wikipedia. It also gives you a separate table of contents for each article and lists related categories. The app’s search and bookmark capabilities make it a pretty good research tool when you’re on the go. This app lets you e-mail a link to a friend or open up one in Safari. Finally, it’s easy to increase the font size to make things more readable.

Wikipanion (left) and Dictionary.com (right) are great resources for checking facts.

Dictionary.com (free; dictionary.reference.com/apps/
iphone) is another great research tool that puts a 275,000 word dictionary and 80,000 word thesaurus on your iPhone. Because of its size, it takes longer to download and install than most apps but is worth the wait. (The app’s developer says that they’ll be making changes soon that will improve the download/installation experience.) I also like the speaker option that gives you the correct pronunciation of the words.

Posting your news

In addition to sending story links and photos to social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, or MySpace, many citizen journalists set up their own blogs and Web sites. They may also send news tips and photos to formal news organizations like the Associated Press or a specific newspaper.

BlogPressBlogPress ($2.99; free “Lite” version also available; 
blogpress.coollittlethings.com) is a feature-rich app that supports all major blogging systems. The “Lite” version supports Blogger and BlogSpots users. The app includes an editorial function that lets you place a photo anywhere in the text. It includes a function that makes it easy to upload photos to a blog or a Picasa Web album. Posts can be sent to multiple platforms. Other free apps are available for bloggers using WordPress and TypePad systems, but they do not offer the versatility of BlogPress.

Posting to Blogger from the iPhone using BlogPressLite.

ApMobileAP Mobile (free; apnews.com) not only delivers current news to your iPhone, it lets you send international, national, and local news tips and photos directly to the Associated Press via the “More” menu option. This app supports “push” updates, so even if you are not working in the app, you’ll get an alert with breaking news in categories you have pre-selected.

AP Mobile delivers news to your iPhone and lets you send your own scoops directly to AP.

Finally, you can contact the local press and learn individual submission policies with Newspapers (free; dreamingphone.com), a well-organized directory of 2000 newspapers with online editions in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. This app is also an excellent place to research potential topics.

A great photo resource

FlickrWhen I needed a great map of the Mississippi Delta, I found one with Flickr (free; mobile.yahoo.com/flickr). It was easy to e-mail the originator and request permission to use it on my blog. Attached to the map were 40 more photos of the Delta, also available for use.

The Flickr app lets you access the popular online photo management site of the same name. From the app, you can search for any photos you have stored in your own online Flickr account. You can also search in other accounts if the user allows it. That’s how I found the Delta map. You can snap photos directly from the app (iPhone users only) and post them to your Flickr account.

Flickr lets you organize your photos by sets (e.g., My Favorite Pets), and lets you write descriptive tags (furry pets, non-purring pets, etc.). The free app lets you create three sets, but you can upgrade to a “Pro” account ($24.95 per year) that allows unlimited photo sets. If you belong to a Flickr group, the Groups tab lets you post photos to your group(s). Flickr lets you keep the photos in your account private or share them with specific individuals or the world.

Other resources for the citizen journalist

There are many more iPhone apps that support the various needs of the citizen journalist.

  • If you have a 3GS iPhone and want to send your videos to Twitter, check out Viddly Lite (free; jdubstudios.com). It’s a simple and fast way to upload videos from your iPhone to Twitter or TwitVid.com.
  • Fwix (free; fwix.com) lets you read real-time local news on your iPhone, as well as comment on it and post it to Twitter and Facebook. I use it on several of my civil rights blogs to maintain newsfeeds on selected topics. With this app, you can quickly post photos with taglines to Twitter or Facebook. You can also post it to your own blog or Web site once it is approved by Fwix.
  • PicPosterous (free; posterous.com) lets you take photos or video on your iPhone and post them to a Web site quickly. In fact, it may be too fast; you can end up posting things you really don’t want on the Web. I found it little difficult to locate the app’s various options—it takes a little practice to feel comfortable with it in the field.

Think before you tweet

Finally, there is far more to being a citizen journalist than using creative tools to produce and submit stories. It’s also important to develop journalistic skills and understand the profession’s rules of conduct. One way to learn to do this is to watch and listen to professionals like Rachel Maddow. You can do that on your iPhone with the app named after her, Rachel Maddow (free; zumobi.com).

Sandra Baron, a media law attorney for the Media Law Resource Center, advises that the number of blogger lawsuits is likely to keep rising as the number of people who post online keeps growing. Interviewed by the Wall Street Journal, Baron warned, “Social-networking sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and MySpace…and micro-blogging services like Twitter are making it easy for impetuous remarks to reach thousands of users in a matter of minutes.”

So, do be careful out there—and think before you tweet.