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Tech Tips for Citizen Watchdogs: Using Apps, Links and More

Have you ever tried to interview someone with a notepad and pen, furiously writing down everything someone says? It’s tough, and you can’t always read your own notes after the fact.

That’s why we at the Citizen Watchdog team encourage you to make the switch to technology — no matter how daunting that may seem. With recent advances in smartphones and tablets, you can spare yourself the legal pad and paper shuffling! Just use your phone, tablet or even laptop.

If you have a smart device, (whether it’s a phone or a tablet) we recommend the following apps that you can download to make investigating and reporting easier than ever! Most of these are available for all platforms (iPhone/iPad/iPod, Google Play, Blackberry).

  • Recording in person audio: Voice Recorder HD allows you to record audio from an in person interview, meeting or any other event, and even edit it right on your smartphone or tablet. For a mere $1.99, this app will allow you to email your files and produce excellent audio quality.
  • Recording a telephone interview: Google Voice allows you to record incoming calls, so the person would have to call you. Be sure to check out your state’s recording law before the big interview! Simply set up a Google Voice account and a phone number is assigned to you. You can receive calls on your computer or your phone. There is even a Google Voice app available for all smartphones.
  • Submitting a story on the fly: If you want to get a story into Watchdog Wire while you’re out in the field, you can use Google Drive to create a document that will be similar to a Word document. It’s free, it’s virtual (meaning, it’s not saved on a hard drive anywhere — it’s saved in the “cloud”) and it’s easy. Just type in the Google document and email it to us. It’s challenging on a smartphone unless you’re great with your thumbs, but works beautifully on a tablet or laptop.
  • Scanning business cards: If you like to network and meet new people, or if someone is down to their last business card and doesn’t want to give it to you, just scan their information with your smartphone or tablet! If you search “business card scanner” in your device’s app store you will find many options; however, we recommend CamCard. There is free version and a paid version. You simply take a picture of the business card, the app reads it and fills out all of the contact’s fields, and then syncs the information with your phone’s contact book. You never have to take someone’s business card again!
  • Scanning documents: Ever want to take a picture of a document you find, and make a PDF of it to share or post? With Genius Scan – PDF Scanner, you can do just that. Simply take a picture, edit on the screen, and voila — you have a PDF file to share with others or upload with your story. This is great for examining open records requests.
  • Editing pictures: Your phone or tablet should take pictures that are decent for use in citizen journalism. However, if you want to edit the photo before uploading, try a free app like Aviary for simple yet extensive options. From there, you can email the picture to yourself, or even upload it to your social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.).
  • Editing and uploading video: For $10-$40, you can purchase a tri-pod for your device that will help you stabilize it while shooting video. Once you’re done, try an app like Video Editor FREE before you upload it to YouTube or another platform. If you have an iPad, iMovie is available for $4.99 and you can achieve more advanced editing that way (while iMovie is available for the iPhone, it can be very challenging dealing with such a small screen).

NOTE: We linked to the iTunes/Apple version of the applications mentioned above. However, if you do not own an Apple device or prefer a different model, just search your device’s store for the same application name. As always, if you need help, e-mail us at Info@Watchdogwire.com.

For more tips on smart phones, check out our previous post here.

Sara Marie Brenner

Sara Marie Brenner is the Strategic Outreach Manager with The Franklin Center where she manages the Watchdog Wire team, social media strategy and engagement, and other outreach. She is the Creator/Editor of TheBrennerBrief.com and a contributor for Watchdog Wire, Human Events, Yahoo and The Brenner Brief. She may be emailed at saramarie.brenner@franklincenterhq.org.

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