Taking notes used to be simple for journalists — they just scribbled down an interview and made sure not to lose the notebook. Now, taking notes for a story can involve collecting website URLs, photos, screenshots, text messages and tweets. Losing track of these digital sources can be frustrating at best, plagiarism at worst.
Fortunately, a variety of tools are available to help take and organize notes. Here are four free applications journalists should have in their digital toolbox. Applications are in English unless otherwise noted.
Zotero is a simple Firefox extension that allows you to save all of your digital source material — text, web pages, photos and bibliographic information, for example — in the web browser itself. You can also view your notes on a number of mobile devices. Zotero is unique because it allows you to sync data between multiple computers, then share this data with other users in a group library. This allows you to potentially discover other sources interested in the topic as well as coordinate with the newsroom on the go.
Evernote allows you to create and access notes on your computer or mobile device. It’s a deceptively simple tool, allowing you to capture and automatically organize material such as web pages, Tweets, photos or screenshots. Evernote also has a powerful search engine that you can search by keyword, tag or even printed and handwritten text inside images -- great if you're snapping pictures of whiteboards, slides or signs. The free version has cloud backup, ensuring that your stuff is always safe somewhere. Evernote is currently crowdsourcing translations in over 30 languages, you can check how complete they are here.
Dragon Dictation is a voice application app for the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad. You can speak into the phone and the text is instantly transcribed. You can go back and correct mistakes, either manually, or by re-recording. Once you’re happy with the text, Dragon Dictation allows you to instantly text, copy, email, Tweet or Facebook your recording. The app, available in English, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean and Spanish, was christened “really, really cool” by The New York Times tech columnist David Pogue.
Catch offers note taking and picture storage capability, grouping notes around hashtags that you create. The application can also organize notes by date, time or display size. The application doesn’t capture audio, but it does allow you to pull your online account up on any device, so you can access your notes while reporting in the field. You can also share your notes via Facebook or Twitter as well as draft messages and share notes and comments in a network. iPhone and Android mobile apps are also available.
Photo courtesy of Rogue Sun Media, used with a CC-license