Five Tech Tools Every Journalist Needs to Make Their Life Easier in 2017

Written by Dinsa Sachan | Freelance Science and Culture Journalist

I’m not a tech maven. Mostly, it doesn’t bother me I can’t use a Mac to save my life or click a decent picture using a smartphone. But I get all riled up when I see think techie freelancers get an edge over tech-loathing entrepreneurs like me. I’ve been making efforts to up my tech game. Because technology can really help you. Here are five tools that I’ve discovered over the last year, and they have changed my life. Literally.

SmallPDF: I need to merge and split PDF files from time to time. Some of the contracts editors send me are in PDF format and I need to covert them into a Word file to be able to enter my details. I also need to convert them into Word or Excel files. The free Adobe Reader doesn’t allow you to do all of this. Whenever I need to tinker with a PDF file, I do a quick online search and find a random website where you can do this for free. But I was also disappointed — results were always less than stellar. Really, I thought, there’s nothing like free lunch. But, here’s the thing — there is free lunch. SmallPDF is an amazing resource — there are no hidden costs, no credit card information to be given. It’s a nifty website that is super fast and easy. It is my go-to resource for all kind of PDF play.

HelloSign: It’s a freelance journalist’s pet peeve. Editors insisting on physically signing contracts and then scanning them back in. In the age of digital signatures, I don’t see why physical signatures are necessary. But to each their own. I was introduced to HelloSign by an editor a couple of years ago, and have been hooked since then. I sign all my writer agreements using HelloSign by default these days. Most accounting departments don’t really mind. The service lets you sign a certain number of documents for free. If you need to sign more, you need to upgrade. Signing is quick and easy, and you can mail the signed documents directly to your clients from the site.

Otranscribe: Let me just say this. Otranscribe is a life saver. It’s the refrain of all journalists lives: so much of our time is wasted in transcribing long interviews. Transcription services by humans are expensive — in the ballpark of $1/minute. I once tried an artificial intelligence-based transcription service and paid them $10 for an hour-long recording. Well, the transcript was so garbled up that I would have spent a few days making heads or tail out of it. Basically, it’s $10 that will never get back. Otranscribe doesn’t do the transcription for you. But it makes the process bearable — and to some extent, even enjoyable. You can stop or restart the recording using keyboard shortcuts. It also allows to fast forward or fast backward the recording. My favorite Otranscribe feature: time stamps. These are helpful markers — you can go back to the recording to fact-check specific quotes.

Readability Score: I wasn’t aware of this until last year, but it’s been life changing. If you want to know how readable your stories are, this is a great resource. I think they allow you up to three free attempts a day. After that, you need to pay up. I use the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level for some of my stories. One of my regular clients requires all of journalists to meet with a specific range of the Flesch-Kincaid Grade. When you’re trying to bring down the readability grade of your story, it can be an enlightening process. Your editing skills go one notch up. Your turn in more readable stories.

Unsplash: This is a great site for license-free images that you can use for anything — even to sell your products. It is turning out to be my go-to source for sourcing images for not only stories (if clients don’t subscribe to paid stock image sites) but also my newsletter and blog posts. In fact, as you can notice, the picture I have used for this blog post also comes from this site.

I’m exploring some new web tools to improve my life as a journalist. I might be back with Part 2 of this blog post. In the meantime, if you’ve been helped by online tools, please do reply in comments.

Dinsa Sachan is a science and culture journalist. She has written for VICE, Discover, Scientific American Mind, CNN Travel, FastCompany.com, and Playboy.com, and many others. You can see her latest clips here. She also curates a weekly email full of interesting science and culture stories. It’s called Nucleus Mag by Dinsa Sachan. Sign up for it here.