Header image courtesy Tycho.
Freelance journalism is a numbers game on many, many levels. The more articles produced, the more money a journalist will make. The more unique users visit a page, the more that 1-2% of them might click on an advertisement, making you an asset to the publication that hired you. The more people who comment, the more they’ll return and boost impressions, potentially generating traffic to other sections of the site. The more shares and social network love, the better the SEO, the better chance that piece accumulates more traffic through Google and, um, Yahoo positioning.
Though we’ve all sunk hours into AP Guides and the Tweed-encoded proclamations of Strunk and White, as well as thousands of potential dollars in education, online publishing is not an ecosystem that prioritizes quality over quantity: it’s a red-eyed prostitute blue whale exploring surgical options to expand its maw so it can engulf more click-bait krill.
But damn any writers to hell if he or she slips on style or quality while birthing ten best-of lists during the witching hour. Fortunately, the same technological landscape that necessitates this ravenous output has also made it easier to push more articles out in marginal time. Download them, use them, slog less. I reached out across a network of writers and editors, and here are the tools that our trade apparently can’t live without. If you have any suggestions of your own, comment away.
What It Helps: Multi-Media Organization, Transcribing, Asset Sharing, Finding Content You Thought You Lost in Undergrad
Price: Free for 60 MB a Month, $24.99 a year for 1 GB a Month, $49.99 a year for 10 GB a Month (Note: I subscribe to the 10 GB a Month model)
Silicon Valley’s attempt at a second, detached brain is essentially a hybrid cloud account with some nice multimedia housing and search functions. But it’s pretty damn great, and I would be lost without it. Evernote may be more essential for editors than writers, but its benefits scale across both needs: I use it as a home base for any media type—simply open a new page and drag and drop any file containing an image, sound or collection of symbols. Jpegs, .wavs, Adobe files…they all fit. Then I write the copy or coding around them. If you need to provide an editor or assistant with a host of different media types situated within a design or surrounding text, Evernote is the application of choice (and yes, I’m typing this into Evernote). Take this example, a page saving all of the media assets for a Sequential Heart Podcast, including original audio files, the mix file from Adobe Audition, description copy and a jpg photo of our guest, Van Jensen. It all fits in this weird amalgamation of word doc/cloud file. It also saves instantaneously without taking up any space on a hard drive (more on that in a bit).
In addition, the format allows writers to transcribe and type on the same canvas. Instead of clicking between a media player and a word doc, you can seamlessly use an audio stream located directly on your word doc. It sounds less revolutionary when explained, but it’s a massive time and frustration saver. Trust me.
Evernote also exercises some serious search algorithms. You organize your notes into notebooks, but the assumption is that at some point, the user will have gigs and gigs of content that no rational mind could navigate off memory alone. The app allows you to tag notes, which is useful. Even better: the search bar combs through media and keywords that aren’t even typed out. What’s that mean? If you have words in a picture or pdf—words formed by a cluster of pixels instead of intentionally typed, Evernote will still “read” and interpret them. It sifts through all content to pull up keywords. That is neat.
And while this may go without saying, this content isn’t designated solely to a hard drive—it’s on “the cloud,” or a de-located server on the internet. It’s a fantastic bridge between computers and devices, eliminating the need to transfer files. As soon as you download the program on a new device and log in (whether it’s a smart phone or pad), you have updated, constantly-synched access to all of everything stored or written on your account. This is especially useful when old computers die. And no content is “trapped” in Evernote—drag and drop any or all of it onto a desktop from a note.
If you think this post is just me performing written oral sex on a program (it kind of is), there is one caveat, though easily fixed: the notes will automatically correct misspelled words (that aren’t always misspelled) unless you turn the function off. Evernote doesn’t use its own spellcheck, either—it relies on your operating system’s spellcheck, and that spellcheck is usually atrocious. Here’s how you turn it off:
Edit>Spelling and Grammar>Correct Spelling Automatically Checked Off By All That Is Good and Holy
One last endorsement: Evernote allows you to share files via browser links, always useful for avoiding large email attachments. I store every comic book PDF I receive in Evernote, and I can share them with freelancers, also dictating permissions such as download and view only. Any of these features can be found in other apps or products, but they all work beautifully in tandem on one platform here.
What They Help: Seamlessly recording phone conversations without external devices
Price: $10 for TapeACall Pro, Free for Call Recorder
Veteran writers know the thudding distortion of a hand-held recorder grating against a smart phone, a situation that should be implausible in 2016. If smart phones can use geolocation to locate your laptop, take 12 megapixel photos and route your finances via a tiny glass kiosk when you order at Panera, why can’t they also record a conversation? TapeACall is the magical download that allows just that. Through the app, you open a third recording line (operated by TapeACall) and then merge it with the line of your interview; when you’re done, you can download, email or attach that file to a new Evernote entry. Though the initial set-up can take some time getting used to, it’s ridiculous how much more natural a phone conversation is when one participant isn’t mashing another metal device to the receiver. The volume is constant, the quality is better and the journalist can focus exclusively on the interview instead of juggling an extra recorder.
On that note: call Recorder is a free app that lets you record audio from Skype interviews. It reduces an extraneous step and Paste Comics Assistant Editor Steve Foxe loves it.
3. Google Docs
What It Helps: Editor/Collaborator Communications, Data Retention
Price: Free…Maybe Your Privacy
Remember the days when you would have to stay home on the weekends to work on a high school report in Mircrosoft Word, and you got this message…
…prompting you to exclaim “fuck” so loud it woke up your parents before you stalked off to play polygonal, low-res Mortal Kombat and eat Doritos? Don’t be sorry, Microsoft: we’re sorry another company made an infinitely easier-to-use, free replacement for your antique software. Yeah, we repressed that trauma, too, and possibly the support group that was disbanded the day Google Docs came to save our souls and wallets from licensing fees. This product’s benefits are facile: type in a browser-based word doc, never lose data. That always-updated cloud connectivity is hugely beneficial when corresponding with editors and co-writers, as emailing “versions” should be left to 2009. Lest you fear that writers erase previous commentary that would be helpful to remember, Docs has a comment button that can let you cycle through the history of correspondence within a piece. The only situation where Google Docs might not be the best option is if the writer has fragile online connectivity.
What It Helps: Red-Eye Dumb ‘Ole Typos
Price: Free, A Premium Version You Wouldn’t Buy Even If You Had Elon Musk Money
Grammarly is a spell-and-style check on binary steroids. Blogger Grammar Girl decimated this tool when it first arrived, but its since achieved a nice competency in catching basic mistakes that elude us at 2 AM. This is no substitute for 2nd and 3rd draft reviews (if you submit raw copy to your editor without any run-throughs, well you’re a horrible human being who belongs in New Jersey). It is a safety-net diagnostic tool to illuminate spotty subject/verb agreement and other mishaps. Many of the mistakes cited by the app involve comma placement, gerund suggestions and other salmon-colored flags you can safely ignore. But this is the definition of a “can’t-hurt” step that will only cost a minute. And while it will suggest an installment of an app that reviews all content written in any platform, it offers a much less burdensome browser doc to copy and paste content.
What It Helps: Limiting Overused Words
Even decades of practice and continued wordsmithing won’t prevent a writer from duplicating very, very specific phrases and words in close proximity. I’m sure I did it in this very blog post. Writers enter the zone, they have a core idea that may be better suited for a shorter word limit (or they don’t trust the reader to comprehend their notion), so they elaborate using identical terms. And if editors are in crunch mode, that jazz tends to fly under the radar. These are the mistakes that haunt your favorite pieces years down the line, adding a layer of dust to otherwise impeccable portfolios.
Wordcounter is a neat, simple little browser tool that scans for repetitive word usage while ignoring “small words” (“it,” “a,” so on…). The app also provides options to only use root words and to limit the number of duplicates counted. It’s a two-second activity that will make articles that much better. Do you really want the word “onomatopoeia” in your text five times?