Chris Essig

Walkthroughs, tips and tricks from a data journalist in eastern Iowa

New tools and (easy) Javascript tricks

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Here at, I’m always looking for cool, new tools that can help present our stories/data in a new way. One of my favorite new tools is DocumentCloud, a PDF viewer that allows us to present documents in a much easier and user-friendly way than how we’ve uploaded documents before.

Previously, we loaded PDF’s directly into our CMS, which basically forced readers to download the PDF to view the document. For documents that number in the hundreds of pages, that was impractical for readers. DocumentCloud not only gives readers an easy way to thumb through the pages without having to download the whole thing, it allows us to annotate specific text with the document to highlight major points. I was immediately impressed with the service and have used it to upload every document for the past several months.

Here’s some other tools I’ve used that may help you out:

  • Storify: This tool has become all the rage in the techie-journo world and it’s easy to see why. Basically, the tool allows journalists to make chronological, list stories using photos, text and video from a variety of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Here’s a few examples: 1. A recap of our coverage from Michele Bachmann’s big presidential announcement in Waterloo; and 2. A Cedar Falls woman who inspired thousands on Twitter.
  • ScribbleLive: We recently switched from CoverItLive to ScribbleLive for our live chat needs. One thing I love about the service when compared to CIL is the lack of ads within the live chat when a reader first goes to the page. We’ve also had better luck loading in video to the chat than with CIL. Here’s an example from Saturday’s UNI football game.
  • Google Charts: Who doesn’t like fancy graphs that help break down numbers and figures? Using Google Docs and Google Charts, journalists basically only need a simple spreadsheet to output graphs like pie or line charts. And, of course, Google’s API gives you plenty of options to customize them to make them look how you want.
  • jQuery tabs: Anybody will a little bit of Javascript knowledge and an understanding of basic jQuery shouldn’t have any problem implementing this simple but flexible tool into their website. The jQuery UI also gives you great flexibility to style it how you want it to look when it’s all done. I now use the tabs feature to promote our sport reporters who live tweet high school prep games every Friday night.
  • jQuery before/after plugin: This is a tool I definitely want to use again the future. I won’t describe it in too much detail here; instead, I point you to the one time I used it to compare ward maps in Cedar Falls. But basically this is one of the best tools to visually compare before and after photos. And it’s simple to use. I swear. Check it out.

Written by csessig

October 3, 2011 at 6:55 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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