#EIJ15: 15 Jaw-droppingly Cool Online Tools

By Mariah Woelfel, SPJ DePaul treasurer/secretary

A photographer, a videographer, an investigative reporter and a design assistant walk into a bar. She sits down and orders a drink.

That, my friend, is a bad joke, but a presentation at the annual SPJ Excellence in Journalism conference this past weekend had me feeling like all of those things in one.

In his hour-long presentation titled “15 Jaw-droppingly Cool Online Tools,” Al Tompkins, of the Poynter Institute, presented seemingly basic technology that we have all longed for, for way too long.20150919_105906

It was the type of presentation that makes you want to text your editor (which I did) and say “Holy crap. This is awesome. Learning so much” (which I also did). The best part? All of the tools are free.

Of the 15 that Tompkins shared, I’ve chosen a few of my favorites to share with you. If you’re intrigued, keep a look out for a potential future event where we might just share the rest. If you’re not intrigued, please reevaluate.


VoiceBase is a free transcription program that will take a variety of different audio files and transcribe it word for word. Tompkins tested it out on an NPR podcast and it was pretty impressive. Although you can’t depend on this for an exact translation—Iraq in the podcast read “a rock” in the text—with the expectation that you need to perform minor editing, this tool could be a huge timesaver.


ThingLink takes a still image and gives you the ability to create tags that, once hovered over, have corresponding, customizable information windows. I’ve already used this one myself. The only downfall is that you need to upgrade to have any sort of formatting and style option, but for basic links, titles, or small amounts of information, it works well.


Canva is an online site gives even the most beginner of designers (like the people who default to stick figures when asked to draw anything) the ability to create quick graphics, primarily for social media posts, banners and flyers.

Google Street View

Google Street View allows users to give their viewers a 360 view of an area. It’s a downloadable app that prompts you to photograph an entire surrounding area and then stitches each image together for you.

You’re welcome.


Got thoughts on this story? Great. Want to join SPJ/ONA DePaul? Even better. Email us at spjonadepaul@gmail.com

#EIJ15: Follow the Money for Better Investigative Stories


By Amy Merrick, faculty advisor 

How do journalists uncover the influence of campaign donors on candidates and elected officials? “Follow the money.” That phrase comes from the 1976 movie “All the President’s Men,” the fictionalized version of how Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein broke the Watergate scandal for the Washington Post and prompted President Richard Nixon’s resignation. The film inspired the careers of a generation of investigative journalists.

But following the money isn’t easy. Influence-seekers may donate money on the federal, state and local levels, all of which have different reporting requirements. There are political action committees, or PACs, and political party committees—not the same thing. And since the 2010 Supreme Court decision Citizens United vs. FEC, which held that corporations and labor unions have a First Amendment right to pay as much as they want for independent political spending, the amount of difficult-to-trace “dark money” flowing into political contests has exploded.

One of the best tools for tracking political spending is FollowTheMoney.org, the website for the National Institute on Money in State Politics. Through the site, journalists can research key political donors to a campaign and find out who industry groups want to win an election. At the Excellence in Journalism conference in Orlando, Denise Roth Barber of FollowTheMoney demonstrated a great tool on the site that shows how donors seek to influence politicians’ votes on particular bills. You can follow a proposed law through the legislative session, find out which officials sit on the related committee, and then learn who’s donating to them.

James McNair of the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting  (@KentuckyCIR) used this database to report on a Kentucky nursing-home owner who, along with his wife, other family members and executives of his company, gave tens of thousands of dollars to Republican state senators who were considering a bill that would make it harder to sue nursing homes for substandard care. You can read that story here. It’s the kind of behavior that people with money and influence would rather keep secret—but there are a growing number of ways for journalists to bring it into the light.


Welcome Back, DePaul! Here’s what we’re looking forward to in the 2015-2016 school year

SPJ logo

The DePaul chapter of the Society of ProfessionalJournalists

To the current and future members of DePaul SPJ/ONA:

In August, DePaul SPJ social media coordinator Rachel Hinton and I had the honor of attending the Region 5 Ted Scripps Leadership Institute. There, we learned the fundamentals of what makes a good leader and how we can continue improving our chapter.

During one of the seminars we were asked to reflect on positive leadership qualities and think about them in the context of this quote: “Weakness fixing might prevent failure, but strength building leads to excellence. Focus on strength, and manage around weaknesses.”

The DePaul SPJ chapter has many positive attributes, and this year our board is looking at ways we can build on them.

In the 2014-2015 year our programs included hosting a panel of some of the best war correspondents in the field so students could hear about their experiences. We held networking sessions, had an event where students could get free, professional headshots taken and hosted a workshop where we learned about the benefits of the Freedom of Information Act.

The DePaul SPJ chapter has built strong ties within Chicago’s journalism community and within our own student body. But our board understands we can do more and have set a series of goals for the upcoming school year.

This year members will see a more consistent online presence through our website and on our social media accounts like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

We also understand how crucial it is for the DePaul SPJ chapter to be connected with other on campus journalism organizations. We will be making strides to build those relationships so we can act as a resource for members within those organizations.

And finally, we will be offering varied programs; some we hope are suggested by you, the members. While the board makes many decisions within the DePaul SPJ chapter, we rely on all of our members for creativity and initiative.

Thank you for your dedication to SPJ, and I’m looking forward to an excellent year.

Sincerely,                                                                                                                      Marc Filippino                                                                                                              Society of Professional Journalists DePaul, President