editor on the verge

Online musings from the newsroom and beyond . . . by Yoni Greenbaum

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Online tools that can be your secret

January 23rd, 2008 · No Comments

OK, judging from the response I received to the recent team building tech and postmortem posts, maybe it would help to step back and focus on something more personal, perhaps something that assistant editors can use to help themselves.

I know first-hand how much the computer systems at many newspapers leave you wanting something more. I had a computer once that physically shimmied and shook if I tried to work on a spreadsheet at the same time that I was on the Internet. But try telling the executive editor that you need a new computer; you’re likely to get laughed out of their office.

Thankfully at most newspapers, Internet access is no longer an issue. Gone are the days when there was only one or two machines connected to the Net. Additionally most newsrooms have left behind dial-up and embraced faster connectivity. So what does any of this mean for our assistant editor with the circa 1980 machine who has no hope for new hardware and whose software is an even bigger joke. Where can they turn? What other tech options do they have?

While the Internet is full of content that can be used to waste time (my personal favorite is Desktop Tower Defense), it also offers lots of productivity and organization tools. There are two companies in particular that I think can provide the most assistance in this instance.

The most familiar would be Google Docs. The company, known for Internet search, email and instant messaging, has developed a suite of applications including an online word processor, spreadsheet and presentation program (think PowerPoint, but not). One of the things that’s great about these online tools is just that, they’re online, so you can use them wherever you have access to an Internet connection. And you can easily transfer documents from one of these applications to Microsoft Word or Excel and vice-versa. As such, moving content from say Google Documents (their version of Word) to your editorial or CMS would also likely be simple. Additionally, all these applications allow for great collaboration. For example, at Ottaway, I will frequently use Google Spreadsheet instead of Excel. I can work on it wherever I am and my colleagues can contribute, even when I’ve already got the spreadsheet open.

The other option comes from the folks at 37signals. What they have to offer is really a organizational tool. Backpack is “a simple web-based service that allows you to make pages with to-do lists, notes, files, and images … also features a Calendar and Reminders that can be sent via email or to your cell phone at predefined times.” There is nothing to say that you can’t use Backpack in conjunction with Google Docs. Get organized with Backpack and stay productive with Google Docs.

While both of these are free, Backpack does offer paid upgrades for added functionality.

You’ll have to decide what works for you. For example, you might just want to start with Google Documents, since it will allow you to work at home on reviews and that weekend package. Or you may want to use Google Spreadsheet to plan the holiday rotation. On the other hand, a to-do list tied in with email reminders might be just what you need to ensure that you get your timesheet in on time or expense reports filed before the deadline.

Best of all, since these are online applications, no one has to know you are using them, they’ll just marvel at your increased productivity and organizational skills.

Tags: Best Practices · Editors · Leadership · Online · Organization · Ottaway · Tools

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