Carnival of Journalism (#jcarn): Tips for using your iPhone as a jack-of-all-media-devices

Note: This post is another installment for the Reynolds Journalism Institute’s Carnival of Journalism project (#jcarn), where people passionate about journalism are sharing ideas in the blogosphere about ways to preserve and improve the craft. This month’s topic: Hack my workflow. What are the tools, apps, etc. that make you more efficient?


For years, I used my mobile phone as just that: a phone.

I resisted the push toward the cool, shiny smartphones. I didn’t buy into the Blackberry hype. I was fine with the Nokia hockey puck that came free with my less-than-geek phone plan.

And then came Father’s Day 2008.

That’s when my wife generously bought me a first-generation iPhone, and the device morphed from phone to the jack-of-all-media-devices.

Since that time, I have loaded and unloaded dozens of apps — yes, I’ve since upgraded to an iPhone 4 — trying to find the best way to configure the machine for maximum usability and efficiency.

Here are a few of my favorite iPhone tips:

  • Integrate Twitter and Instapaper: The Twitter app is the most frequently used on my phone. I check it whenever I have spare moments, waiting in line or sitting at a doctor’s office. I have three primary accounts for various purposes, and all can be accessed by this single app. My main account, @grovesprof, serves as my main news feed, and often, people I follow recommend fabulous links that I just don’t have time to read when I’m scanning headlines. So I quickly open the link and then hit the forward button (the square with an arrow bounding out of it) and click “Read Later.” The added benefit: If it’s a full Web site, Instapaper automatically formats the page for mobile reading. And when you update your Instapaper feed, it’s readable even when you’re offline (such as on an airplane).
  • Turn the phone into your social-media device: In addition to Twitter, I have my e-mail accounts as well as Facebook, Tumblr, Foursquare, and WordPress all available. I don’t check them as frequently as Twitter, but I can quickly scan those sites as well to ensure I’m not missing important messages. Also, use the camera on your phone; you can share photos almost instantaneously. It’s a great way of capturing life as it happens.
  • Take advantage of Calendar alerts: I admit it. I am the quintessential absent-minded professor. I forget stuff all the time. So I sync my iPhone calendar with Microsoft Outlook, load in all of my events, and have the calendar remind one day before an event/meeting happens. For some reason, the full-day alert helps me remember more effectively.
  • Train your brain with Brain Trainer/Words With Friends/Bejeweled 2 Blitz: Yes, I do have a few games to while away the time. I find these three allow you to have fun in small one- to five-minute increments and strengthen your brain in the process. I swear these apps have improved my attention and ability to sight-read music.
  • Limit your pushes: I don’t have apps push me data, in part because it’s a drain on the battery. Instead, I’ve set my Twitter account to alert me via text message only when someone @mentions me or DMs me. It’s far more efficient.
  • Connect to the cloud: Dropbox is a fabulous tool for multiple-access folders in the cloud. It appears on your home computer and laptop, and it’s accessible via Web and iPhone app. The app is great for accessing and editing documents on the fly.
  • Don’t forget the iPod: For years, I had a phone and an iPod, and the primary draw of the iPhone to me was its built-in iPod. Each week, I load a variety of podcasts and play them at double-speed. At first, the semi-chipmunk voices are disconcerting, but I’ve learned to listen this way over the past several months to consume more podcasts in less time. They’re great for car rides and treadmill runs. My favs: PBS NewsHour, NPR’s Fresh Air, and This American Life.
  • Learn to read on an iPhone: At first, it’s a bit awkward to read for lengthy periods of time on the tiny screen. But I’ve found a number of free books and discovered a great app called Overdrive Media Console at our library that allows me to check out e-books on my phone. (The iPhone 4’s diamond-sharp Retina screen definitely helps.)

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