Five free image editing tools for journalists: Useful for creating social media graphics, batch resizing and more

Posted: November 17th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Journalism, social media, tools, web | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Photoshop is seen as the Rolls Royce of the image editing world. But what if you’re not one of the chosen people in your newsroom with a Photoshop licence? What if you’re a start-up hyperlocal news outlet with no budget? How can you get round image editing without the tools for the job? There’s a number of browser based image editing tools I use to ensure I can create digital image content and socially shareable graphics.

1. Pixlr for all-round image editing

This is my go to tool for all cropping/re-sizing of images. It has all the tools you’d expect of an image editor and has similar tools to the likes of Photoshop Elements – so you’ll feel instantly at home with the icons.

The crop function allows you to set a preset too e.g. 630 pixels width, if you know that’s the minimum or maximum size you need.

Inside Pixlr

Inside Pixlr

It’s not great for layering pictures on top of each other – gets a bit fiddly and clogs up your browser with this.

Pixlr also allows you to upload Photoshop template files and use them within its confines. Pixlr Editor is the one I use for desktop, and they also have a mobile app and the Pixlr-o-matic for mobile editing too.

A good alternative to Pixlr is iPiccy, which is much better for creating layered images. The image below allowed me to place text across an image background to promote an event we did on Blog Preston. Took less than five minutes to create.

Created using iPiccy and gave us a shareable graphic to promote an event

Created using iPiccy and gave us a shareable graphic to promote an event

2. Awesome Screenshot for downloading what’s on your screen

Contact on Flickr says “yeah go ahead and use my pics”. You go to download them and they’ve restricted download. Never fear, use the Awesome Screenshot Google plugin and you can draw over the picture needed and download it. It downloads as a PNG so you’ll need to upload the pic into something like Pixlr and save it out as a JPG to use on most programmes.

It’s also really useful for getting screengrabs of videos or documents. You can also now use a countdown timer, so if something is moving on the screen you can have it take the screengrab after 3 seconds. Nifty.

Plus you can write in angry red text over images, and explain things using it. See map below:

Map with context added using Awesome Screenshot

Map with context added using Awesome Screenshot

3. PicMonkey for collages

Got two portrait police-issued pictures of criminals on the run. Your CMS only handles a landscape image at full-width for the article? Never fear, Pic Monkey is here.

Two portrait images, stitched to become one landscape...

Two portrait images, stitched to become one landscape…

Personally any online tool that involves a monkey is always onto a winner (MailChimp for example) but this monkey is great for putting together a number of pictures in a collage.

You can do side by side or create images which are social media montages of a number of different pictures. Really useful when you’ve had a mass participation event e.g. a Christmas lights switch on and you want to do a second Facebook post but need an image to share rather than sharing the link to the story again.

Christmas lights collage. You can use lots of different templates and just drag, drop, pictures in

Christmas lights collage. You can use lots of different templates and just drag, drop, pictures in

Monkey see, monkey do…

4. TrySpruce for social graphics

Need to put text on a graphic? Only recently found this tool called TrySpruce but have been getting a lot of mileage from it since, especially around creating shareable graphics for missing persons stories.


Quick to add a message on top of an image, e.g. for missing people hashtag and then their name

Stories about missing people get huge social media traction, and creating a custom graphic increases the social shares and retweets on the story. Adding a hashtag or message onto the picture adds empathy and makes the readers more likely to share it.

Spruce's stripped down screen keeps it simple. But lets you upload your own image + download your creation for use on your social channels

Spruce’s stripped down screen keeps it simple. But lets you upload your own image + download your creation for use on your social channels

TrySpruce means you can just upload a pic, select from some custom fonts and colours. Type in your message and then position it across the picture or down to the bottom left, top right, whatever you fancy.

5. Batch resizing with Picture Tray

Need to make a gallery? Got 40 pictures which are all MASSIVE and need to slim them down so your CMS doesn’t fall over.

A simple but brilliantly effective little tool is called PictureTray. You put in all the images you want to resize, select a preset output size, and then hit the button. It works away resizing them all and spits out finished files.

Much better than opening the pics in Paint/Pixlr etc and doing each of them one by one. This tool has definitely saved me hours of my life being wasted hitting the resize button in Pixlr.

This list isn’t exhaustive, but I find these five the most useful on a day-to-day basis. What tools do you use? What have I missed? Let me know in the comments below

Lessons learned from creating an app for a hyperlocal site

Posted: June 3rd, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Journalism, web | Tags: , , , , , , , | No Comments »
The Blog Preston app on an iPad

The Blog Preston app on an iPad

I am sat on a train while writing this and everyone around me with a smartphone or tablet has used an app in the last hour. Two young lads (must be under 8) playing FIFA 14 on an ipad, a girl watching Happy Valley on iplayer, a woman reading MailOnline app and another guy checking his emails. The use of apps for certain online functions is becoming the dominant behaviour. So why did we at Blog Preston, a small hyperlocal publisher decide to launch an app?

Two good reasons. A look at Google Analytics showed the percentage of visitors on mobile and tablet was skyrocketing, particularly from referrals from social media. So our analytics are showing us a shift in audience behaviour.

We also dipped our toe into our real audience and asked them whether they would use a Blog Preston app. The answer which came back was an overwhelming yes from our Twitter and Facebook fans. To me it was the equivalent of running a sandwich shop, everyone suddenly starts buying cheese sandwiches so you put a sign up saying vote here for what extra type of cheese sandwich we should start making. If you don’t listen to the audience and give them what they want then they will go to the other sandwich shop down the road.

Creating an app is slightly more expensive than a sandwich (unless you always buy lunch from a Pret A Manger). We set out to see whether we could produce an app without it costing the earth. Blog Preston is now a community interest company, this means everything we do and produce must be for and of interest to the people of Preston. Having an app passed your community interest test and a quick Google later we had the makings of an app. Read the rest of this entry »

The return of the evening publication?

Posted: April 17th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Journalism, social media | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment »

I was recently looking through the Blog Preston stats – the hyperlocal site I run in the North of England – and noticed something.

Everything we posted of an evening tended to do a bit better. Looking then through Facebook, there was a trend. Evenings, anytime at weekends + Facebook equalled our best performing stories.

We had a directors meeting on Sunday and we are giving something a try, based around this premise…

If our audience according to social media analytics tools is most active in the evening and weekends why publish our content during the day?

If the bulk of your audience is coming to you via social media and search, with very little direct traffic to the site, why not model your behaviour around them? Read the rest of this entry »

Ten things learned from five years running a hyperlocal site

Posted: April 16th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Journalism | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

In January the hyperlocal site I run for the city of Preston, Lancashire turned five years old. Starting the site has definitely been one of the defining moments of my life to date and a few months into our fifth year I thought I would reflect on what I have learned after five years of keeping Blog Preston alive.

It is now a Community Interest Company which has a stated aim of covering community news in Preston. Paid up, registered and got a company number. What started as a Sunday afternoon New Years resolution is an actual real existing thing. Not just virtual. We have three directors, including me, and about ten regular contributors plus a few more who contribute as hoc. Plus a friend of mine doing ad sales on commission.

Establish your reason
Setting out to post once or twice a day it soon became clear this wasn’t going to be enough. The demands of running a local site will eat into your time, there is no escaping it. To ensure you don’t get sucked into a hamster wheel content cycle you need to have a clear idea of where your site covers and what it covers.

Know your mantra and keep to it, if you set out to be providing breaking news then stick to it and if you only said you’d cover a certain area of the city then keep to that.

Read the rest of this entry »

Why email is a force not to be ignored for regional news publishers

Posted: February 25th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Communications, ideas, Journalism, Marketing | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

Gotta stay relevant. Right? In these times of mounting audiences, mobile consumption and a young savvy internet audience really finding their groove – how do you ensure you can still reach these audiences and get them coming back to your content time and time again?

I am speaking on Wednesday at the Technology for Marketers and Advertisers (sounds terrifying doesn’t it, will they brainwash me? Is the future of advertising some kind of microchip inside your shoe telling Tesco what your little toe is thinking about buying next…) event about what Trinity Mirror Regionals have been doing (that is who I work for in case you are wondering) with email newsletters. EMAIL!? But Ed, I hear you cry, email is about as sexy as, well, it isn’t very sexy.

Let me remind you of something. What do you need to be able to have an account on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+? That’s right, an email address. Email is a shockingly bad form of my communication, just ask anyone who works for or with me when they try and second guess what I mean by a one word response of Yes to an email at 11.45pm on a Friday. BUT, one thing I have learned since Spring 2012 when we started on an email newsletter sort them out journey is that a heck of a lot of people still use it, like using it and it isn’t going anywhere quickly.

Read the rest of this entry »

Video: Appearance on the Power of Modern Community

Posted: January 27th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Communications, online communities, social media, web | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment »

My fellow Connected authors (Hannah, Marc) and I took part in a Google Hangout this morning as part of Community Manager Appreciation Day.

It was a discussion about how a combination of online/offline can be used to connect communities – with plenty of examples and chunks from the e-book we wrote on the topic.

It’s a surreal experience chatting to people from the East Coast of the States and South Africa from your living room, but then again that’s the power of technology. Read the rest of this entry »

Why Google Real Time is super useful for hyperlocal sites

Posted: January 14th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Journalism, tools, web | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments »

In my day job with Trinity Mirror I am lucky to have access to real-time analytics software Chartbeat. It allows us to see who is reading what on our regional sites, where they have come from and how long they spend on it. And also if they then read something else. It’s a great way of focusing the newsrooms on popular content and putting it on a massive screen in the newsroom is always cool.

But, if you’re a one-man band hyperlocal publisher or a smaller site – and can’t shell out for Chartbeat, what options do you have?

Recently for Blog Preston, the hyperlocal site I run for Preston in Lancashire, we turned on Google Analytics Real Time.

It isn’t a patch on Chartbeat but it is super useful. Here’s five reasons why: Read the rest of this entry »

Five digital journalism predictions for 2014: Videos, lists, hyperlocal, geotargeting and mobile

Posted: December 23rd, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: ideas, Journalism, online video, social media | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments »

I got asked to appear on’s weekly podcast last week, it was about predictions for digital journalism in 2014.

I’m not Mystic Meg, but it did make me pause and think about what we might be doing over the next 12 months. It’s very easy to get stuck in the next 24-48 hours news cycle and not consider what’s going to happen next.

One thing is for sure, digital storytelling is evolving as the device we’re telling the story on expands and evolves rapidly.

Here’s my two pennies worth for what I see as what might be big in 2014: Read the rest of this entry »

Twitter lists: Hyperlocal sites and people who run them or are involved in hyperlocal stuff in the UK in some roundabout way

Posted: December 3rd, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Journalism, social media | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment »

Finally getting round to finishing some Twitter lists I started a while ago (although, can you ever finish a Twitter list?), they languished with not many members and at the Trinity Mirror editorial conference over the last two days in Manchester it reminded me I needed to sort them. Inspired mainly by Peachesanscream who did a great presentation on how to use Twitter I need your help to put together. She’s been using Twitter to help grow UsvsTh3m, which has rocketed to 7m unique users in November. They made that Northerner game you’ve probably played.

A list of people who run, started, or are involved in hyperlocal sites or hyperlocal news sites in the UK.

A list of the Twitter accounts of hyperlocal or hyperlocal news sites in the UK.

Hope you can help! Tweet me @ed_walker86 with suggestions or leave a comment below

Not sure what all this hyperlocal stuff is? I co-wrote an ebook called Connected which has a chapter all about hyperlocal sites in the UK.

Notes and thoughts from #tal13: Keeping the hyperlocal mojo, hyperlocal social media usage and loving where you live

Posted: September 29th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: blogging, conferences, Journalism, social media | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

So I braved the Travelodge in Middlesbrough (once again) for the latest round of debate with hyperlocal site owners and local community sites at the Talk About Local event #tal13.

The day ranged from trying to rediscover your blogging mojo, to best tips for using Facebook and Twitter, how traditional media can work with hyperlocal sites and finally what does the growing usage of mobile internet and mobile consumption mean for hyperlocal sites?

Held in the impressive surroundings of MIMA, the beauty of unconferences (you pitch sessions and stick them on a big board which the organisers then shuffle about so inevitably all the ones you want to see happen at the same time ;) is the range of speakers/sessions is always so varied. Read the rest of this entry »