One possible consequence of staff cuts in newsrooms is more collaboration between and among journalists. While it’s always been possible for people in the same news organization to work on a story on a shared computer system, it’s not so easy to include someone from outside. Remote desktop apps can be cumbersome and freelancers working together don’t typically have access to a server, anyway. So it’s good to know there are cloud-based alternatives anyone can use. And best of all, they’re free.
Dropbox. I’ve become a huge fan of this online storage site, which gives users 2 gigs of free space for all kinds of files. You can keep your stuff private or share it with others. Anyone you’ve invited to a folder can then add, delete or change files within that folder. You can access the files from any computer any time by logging in to the Dropbox website, but what’s really cool is the way Dropbox lets you sync files between computers and smartphones. I travel a lot and can’t always get online but I can still work on files in the Dropbox folder I’ve installed on my laptop. The next time I connect to the Internet, those files are automatically updated both in my online Dropbox and the folder on my desktop. No more dragging files to USB drives and trying to remember if I’ve put the latest version back where it belongs! I’ve also used Dropbox to share files that are too big to email for free via YouSendIt.
Google Docs. The grand-daddy of online file sharing has made some improvements, as PBS NewsHour noted on election night. Google now promises faster, real-time collaboration, letting users edit documents with others and see changes as they type. A plus of using Google Docs is that users can discuss changes on the fly using Google Chat. But the downside is that Google Docs limits the maximum size of individual files you can upload to their system, and the files must be converted to Google Doc format before they can be edited online.
Writeboard. I haven’t tried this one yet but it’s recommended by Rebecca Aguilar of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. “The writeboards are web based text documents that you can use when you’re collaborating on a journalism project with other reporters,” she says. “If you have to add more information or edit what you have, it’s all done in one place.” The site also lets you subscribe to documents via an RSS feed so you can find out when changes have been made.
I’m always looking for new tools to make collaboration easier, so if you have any to share or if you have comments on those mentioned here, please chime in!