The iPad and Professional Journalists

We’ve been doing a series on the iPad and professionals for several weeks now, and each one has required a fair amount of prep work on my part. After all, I’m not a professional musician or artist. I like to dabble, but trying to round apps up without truly being a professional in any field requires a lot of digging. In some cases, like our post on the iPad and musicians, I ended up missing a lot of apps. Sometimes, an entire professional field is impossible to cover.

This week is a little different. Although I never expect to completely cover an entire category, I’m a little more confident writing about iPad apps for professional journalists because of the work I do in this very sector. I’ve got a degree in communications and used an iPad in my later years of university. I’m thrilled to share some knowledge in an area I feel extremely knowledgable in this week.

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Note Taking and Research

As journalists, I hope we spend a lot of time at the proverbial “scene of the crime”. While we’re there, we need an easy way to take notes. And I love my Moleskine — sometimes it’s easier just to start building up a digital database.

I'm practically married to Evernote.

I’m practically married to Evernote.

Along the way, I’ve found that Evernote was my best companion during these times. We’ve heard this a million times in a million ways, but it’s great because it syncs. It’s also great because it’s got a built-in recorder, so if you’re interviewing somebody you can collect their thoughts. And when somebody asks if you’d be willing to record their interview, so they can speak verbatim without being distracted by your note-taking, you can just turn Evernote on and go. Whenever you’re back home and working on your main writing machine, Evernote’s already synced up with that device.

Simplenote is one of my all-time favourite apps.

Simplenote is one of my all-time favourite apps.

There are other great ways to take notes as well. I’m addicted to Simplenote, and although it doesn’t use folder hierarchies like Evernote, it does have tagging. What’s great about Simplenote is how fast it is. There’s zero wait between opening the app and jotting a few things down, which is something Evernote can’t say for itself.

Beyond that, the stock Notes app is okay if you need to dictate something while you drive with Siri, since the two are integrated, but I can’t recommend it for more than that. And please don’t use OneNote. I tried it, and I hated it.

At the end of the day, when you’re finally off the road, your job still isn’t done. You probably need to get some research done. Don’t rule out the library — some things still can’t be found on Google, believe it or not — but at some point, you’re going to have to open a web browser. Safari and Chrome are great, no-nonsense web browsers. At this point, which one you use really comes down to personal preference. You might bounce back between your notes and the web browser at this point, but there’s an alternative to all that app switching.

Writing Kit has a built-in web browser.

Writing Kit has a built-in web browser.

Writing Kit is an iPad and iPhone app built from the ground up to integrate web browsing and note taking. There’s an in-app web browser, and it’s easy to take notes on web pages as you browse them. The app supports all sorts of different writing syntaxes as well, so when you put it all together, it could be your one-stop shop for research and writing. Its design is a little outdated, but it’s otherwise one of the most forward-thinking writing tools on the iPad. It’s not just great for journalists, but it’s also great for students researching a comprehensive paper.

I prefer RSS to Twitter.

I prefer RSS to Twitter.

Some people will also say that Twitter is a great news source these days. Depending on your personal journalistic style, you’re either rolling your eyes right now or nodding appreciably while taking a sip of your hipster green tea. If you’re nodding appreciable, it’s hard to argue with Tweetbot or Twitterrific. Twitterrific has a more svelte design, but Tweetbot feels a little more serious and ready for whatever search you can throw at it. Personally, I think you should make any research trip to Twitter the journalism equivalent to using a public restroom: Get in, do what you have to do and get out without speaking about it. Instead of Twitter, I prefer RSS. I use Reeder 2, but Mr. Reader is a fine app as well. These come down to personal personal preferences.

Writing for the Web

Of course, you’re not going to spend all of your time researching your articles. If you did that, you’d probably never write anything. But that’s not why they pay you the big bucks (but they probably don’t.)

The apps you use to write on the web will differ based on whether or not you’re writing for print or for the Web. The aforementioned Writing Kit is a comprehensive toolkit for web writing in particular. It’s got support for Markdown, which is the syntax I use for literally everything I ever post on the Internet. It’s great because it allows me to write in a very readable syntax that easily converts to HTML, all without ever having to use a mouse.

I'm a big Byword kind of guy.

I’m a big Byword kind of guy.

Writing Kit isn’t the only text editor with support for Markdown, though. You’d be wise to check out iA Writer and Byword as well, which are both distraction-free apps meant to help you churn out your writing faster. If I had to choose between the two, I’m a Byword guy — I like its Preview modes better and its ability to push my text to other web services like Tumblr or WordPress is enticing.

Editorial is really popular amongst geeky writers.

Editorial is really popular amongst geeky writers.

That being said, the newest web editor to make the rounds is Editorial. It combines distraction-free writing with simple automation. If that sounds like programming to you, well, it sort of is, but Editorial makes it so easy that anybody could do it without any training. The app is already massively popular amongst geeks, but it’s too young to have proven itself with professional journalists yet.

Drafts is just awesome.

Drafts is just awesome.

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention TextExpander and Drafts. TextExpander allows you to quickly write acronyms for just about anything, even the date, and have them automatically filled in with the full-length terminology as you go. It’s a massive timesaver. Drafts allows you to write anything and then send it to any service. It’s an automation tool of sorts for your drafts, but I don’t think I’d use it as a place to prepare my serious writing. I’d use it only as a place to capture any thought and send it anywhere as you prepare notes and rough drafts.

When you’re ready to publish anything you’re writing on the web, Editorial and Byword are good ways to do. Writing Kit and iA Writer don’t offer the same level of support for direct publishing. You could also use the official WordPress and Tumblr apps, but I don’t think they offer the optimal tablet experiences they should yet. I’m especially looking forward to WordPress taking mobile more seriously. Blogsy is okay, but it’s more than a little clunky in actual use.

Writing for Print

Writing for print is a different world, of course. Instead of dealing with HTML, you’re dealing with Word documents. There’s a few options for Word on an iPad, but Microsoft Office isn’t yet one of them. You’re going to be forced to look at alternatives.

I’ve tried almost every alternative under the sun, including QuickOffice Pro, Documents to Go and even CloudOn — a nearly exact replica of Office. The thing is, they’re all terrible. None of them feel optimized for a touch screen, and instead of making the writing job easier, they make using an iPad feel like a compromise.

Pages lets you have top-quality word processing on your iPad.

Pages lets you have top-quality word processing on your iPad.

Your only real option here is Pages. I’m not touting Apple’s app “just because” we talk about their products on this site. In this case, Pages is the only real word processor on iPad. It’s fast, easy to use and supports iCloud sync so you can easily access your documents on your iPhone or Mac. It’s also got some handy export features. Most importantly, it feels designed from the ground up for a mobile device. It’s very, very nice.

Hitting the Publish Button

At the end of the day, there are more apps in this category than I have space to write about — as usual. The other problem with writing an article about journalism is that it’s constantly changing, and there’s always more than one way to get something done.

Instead of covering every tool in the market, I’ve chosen to cover the ones that I’ve found the most helpful in my career. I hope it’s been a help to you. That being said, I know everybody’s tools are different. I’d love to hear what you think about my picks and what you’re using to get your work done in the comments.