There has not been a better time to be an independent journalist in the truest sense. The abundance of digital tools and platforms means it is easy to create content, build your own audience and monetise your work.
Buoyed by the success of content creators making a living on the internet, more journalists are trying to do the same (plus their internet fame grants other revenue opportunities like merch, training courses and streaming deals). Some of the best examples include the Platformer Substack newsletter founder Casey Newton, YouTuber and video producer Johnny Harris and host of The Bitchuation Room Podcast Francesca Fiorentini.
This is not an exhaustive list and the tools are not guaranteed to help you emulate their success. It is more about taking the first steps towards being an independent journalism content creator.
We will also help you not to break the bank. While there are many paid tools that will get you there, often there are much cheaper or free alternatives. Let's get some of the obvious ones out of the way.
You cannot go wrong with the core staple of Google suite products available for free with any Google account. Google Drive provides 15GB of free data storage per account to back up or share files and photos, as well as Google Docs and Google Sheets, which are helpful for any shared projects. Google Meet and Google Calendars are handy ways to set up and organise interviews. However, you will need to upgrade to a Google One Premium plan (£7.99 per month) if you want to record calls internally - or you can just install a browser extension (but that has limitations).
Adobe products are often what students learn to use and once you wrap your head around them, you can use most other video and audio editing tools.
Adobe legacy products come at a steep price though. A full suite of Adobe products - including the staples of Premiere Pro (video editing), Audition (audio editing), After Effects (video effects), Photoshop (graphic design), Dreamweaver (website design) - sets you back north of £50 a month (or £20 a month individually).
Video is an important medium if you want to develop any kind of following on platforms like YouTube, TikTok and Instagram. For this, you will need to be able to shoot, edit and post-produce video content.
Video shooting: if you are not opting for a video camera, then a smartphone can be a lightweight and cheaper alternative with the right apps.
- FILMIC PRO is the popular mobile app for video shooting because of its manual control options and dual camera mode, Double Take. The price was recently hiked to £51 a year in a move to an annual subscription. If you bought the app prior to the change in August 2022, you can still download the legacy app.
- Multirecs is a free alternative that can shoot with up to three cameras simultaneously.
Video editing: produce videos on the go with your mobile phone or at your desk with desktop computers. You have a bunch of options depending on your preference.
- Kdenlive, (free and open-source) desktop video editor.
- Capcut, (free with watermark) video editor for both desktop and mobile. It can export videos straight to social media platforms.
- Lumafusion, (£25) is the gold standard of mobile video editing. It is like having Adobe Premiere in your pocket.
- Wochit, (free trial available, pay-as-you-go afterwards of £0.02 per second of content), a desktop video editing tool with a library of stock content. Good for quick social videos.
- Mojo, (free) video editor specifically for creating Instagram Stories and Reels, offering a wealth of different texts and templates.
Animation: these can lift your video quality and help to explain difficult concepts. See Johnny Harris videos for great examples. Both of these are simple, drag-and-drop animation studios with an asset library designed for beginners.
- Animaker (freemium, up to £40 a month)
- Videoscribe (week free trial available, paid-for option up to £27 a month)
Sub-titles: a must-have tool for accessibility and the many social media audiences who listen to the video with audio off.
- YouTube, (free) while you are uploading a video to YouTube, you should use its sub-title features to create and download SRT files (a plain text document containing sub-titles).
- Clideo, (freemium, up to £7 a month) is an online tool that allows you to add sub-titles manually or by uploading SRT files (see above). Clideo also allows you to create SRT files.
- Zubtitle (freemium, up to £40 a month), allows you to create sub-titled videos for specific video platforms and formats, i.e. Pinterest videos, YouTube Shorts etc.
All-in-one: you do want to keep your tech stack light, so there is plenty of merits to using tools which serve multiple purposes.
- Clideo (see above), has 23 different video and audio tools including the sub-titles function.
- Kapwing (freemium, up to £13 a month), offers hundreds of specific tasks, including video editing, translation into 60 languages, meme generation and AI-powered tools which can remove silence from audio or remove backgrounds from videos.
- Descript (freemium, up to £20 a month), a video and podcast production tool. Features range from transcription, podcast studio, screen recording, producing clips for social media, overdub (text-to-speech model of your voice), removing filler words (uhs and ums), and more.
Audio - or more specifically, podcasts - are a popular medium for content creators because of the relatively low production requirements involved. All you really need is a way to record and edit your conversations, a podcast hosting platform (see distribution further down) and maybe cut up some of the best soundbites for social media (see Descript above, and audiograms below).
- Voice Record Pro (free), if you are doing your podcast in person you can record your conversations using many apps on your phone. This one provides all the necessary audio recording formats, note-taking functions, audio editing and production tools - and of course, various exporting options.
- Audacity (free and open-source), you can record straight into the desktop, multitrack audio editors like Audacity and then start to cut up and produce your episode.
- Hindenburg Pro (free trials available, £300 outright or £10 a month), a bespoke audio editor for podcasts and interviews. Unlike more general options, Hindenburg has features specifically for editing voices.
Audiograms: Popularised by the tool of the same name and Headliner (below), this is a visually engaging way to repurpose your best soundbites into a dynamic video. You can do this with desktop and mobile tools, and most work very similarly.
- Audiogram, (freemium, paid-for up to £24), desktop only
- Headliner, (freemium, paid-for up to £16), available on desktop and mobile
- Wizabel, (£8) mobile app
- Podvideo (free with in-app purchases), mobile app
Graphics and image editors are needed to create engaging posts for your social media channels, especially Instagram.
- Canva (freemium, £100 a year for pro individual accounts), is the go-to image design tool ideal for beginners to create social media posts. It can double up for creating presentations, CVs, business cards and more.
- Visme (freemium, up to £20 a month), is an alternative that integrates with popular platforms like Mailchimp, Google Drive, Survey Monkey, Dropbox, Slack and more.
- Design Wizard (free with pay-as-you-go downloads, or paid-for up to £8 a month), doubles up with more video design functionality.
Live content is an effective way to reach audiences in an informal way or around key moments. Most social media platforms offer native tools, but they can be quite barebones. Some external tools can increase the production values for your live streams.
- Twitch (free) is a live streaming platform in its own right and is more commonly associated with video gaming, but it does have a "creative" section too. Francesca Fiorentini often records her podcasts live on the platform as well as on YouTube.
- Be.Live (two-week free trial available, paid-for up to £46 a month), integrates with Facebook and LinkedIn to add more production options within its live-streaming features, like name tags, logos, lower-thirds and overlays.
- Streamyard (freemium, paid-for up to £32 a month), add more production value to multiple social media channels, as well as on the virtual events platform Hopin.
- Restream (freemium, paid-for up to £13 a month), add more production value to social media channels, as well as the video editing tool Descript (to live stream a prerecorded video), private messaging platform Telegram and the video communication tools Zoom and Microsoft Teams.
Interviewing can be done on platforms like Skype or Zoom for free, and is a good solution for remote interviews - but these tools are not built for recording high audio quality. More platforms are coming to the fore which allow you to host virtual interviews, record audio and video in HD and then download the files separately afterwards. Most are now offering post-production editing tools, too and work more or less the same way
- Blinder (free trial available, custom price)
- Riverside (freemium, up to £20 a month)
- Zencastr (freemium, up to £40 a month)
- Iris (free trial available, up to £24 a month)
Now you have got great content, you want to put it in front of an audience who cares about it and start to build your following. Besides the usual suspects, there are a growing number of alternatives to the big social media platforms - though they are yet to become as influential.
Social media management tools: these are important players in any social strategy to schedule your lovingly-created posts and monitor your growth and performance.
- Hootsuite (free trial available, paid-for individual plan £39 a month), publish and schedule posts, manage messages, analyse activity and promote paid content across numerous platforms.
- Sendible free trial available, paid-for individual plan £21 a month), a cheaper alternative with more capped use.
- Later (free trial available, paid-for individual plan £15 a month), includes access to Linkinbio, a link referral tool (see below)
Link referral tools: an essential part of Instagram growth strategies, as the platform famously does not easily host clickable links. The norm is to have a link referral tool sitting in the bio section of a profile, that redirects your audience to all your other main channels and websites.
- Linkinbio (included with Later)
- Linktree (freemium, paid-for individual plan £4 a month)
- Allmylinks (free)
Video hosting platforms: YouTube is the undisputed king of this world, where content creators both big and small can (for free) post content, grow subscribers, monetise said content and use their popularity to promote other endeavours. Beyond YouTube, there are a few other video platforms worth dabbling in.
- Vimeo (paid-for ranging between £9 and £51 a month), platform hosts videos but depending on your tier of choice, opens up other possibilities, such as virtual events and webinars, with live polls and registered attendees.
- Muse.ai (free trial available, paid-for £32 a month), a video player with AI indexing and video search capabilities.
- Nebula (contact the team) a streaming service made up of digital video creators and podcasters. Johnny Harris is on Nebula and promotes a unique code which grants his followers discounts to Curiosity Stream (which Nebula is bundled into).
Podcast platforms: discoverability is a long-standing issue with podcasts, but more platforms have cropped up to help audiences find your show. Spotify, Apple Podcasts and Soundcloud are the obvious mentions.
- Podbean (freemium, up to £24 a month for individual plans), includes a directory of other podcast platforms, a podcast player and studio, plus dynamic ad integration and monetisation features.
- Buzzsprout (freemium, up to £20 a month), includes a directory of other podcast platforms, advanced podcast statistics, automatic transcriptions, audiogram creators, and a website for your podcast.
- Acast (freemium, up to £25 a month), includes Podcastle (record, edit and mix podcast), distribution to other platforms, data and analytics, and monetisation features.
- Brainbump (contact the team) an app in beta that upserves takeaways from your podcast (or books and articles) to audiences in the form of push notifications. Fill out the Google form if you want to sign up.
- Padverb (free), is a podcast aggregation tool that can upload interviews simply by submitting an RSS feed. Guests and podcasters can be followed on the platform.
Newsletters: despite the closure of Twitter's Revue and Facebook's Bulletin, newsletters are still a simple and effective way for content creators to stay in touch with their audience.
- Substack (free, 10 per cent revenue share), the go-to newsletter subscription service which many content creators use for its simple tools and built-in monetisation features.
- Ghost (base price tier ranges between £7 to £12 a month. Creator account starts at £20 and scales on membership), an all-in-one platform for building newsletter subscriptions and earning recurring revenue.
- Mailchimp (free with caps, paid-for starts at £16 for individuals and scales on membership), focuses on creative tools, in-depth analytics and marketing automation.
- Beehiiv (freemium, paid-for up to £81 a month without scaling), is a newcomer that markets itself on growth tools.
Community building: there are many ways you can contact your audience directly these days.
- Telegram (free), the private messaging platform can be used to build up channels and post bulk messages to your subscribers. Other private messaging platforms would also work.
- Subtext (free with 20 per cent revenue share) an internationally accessible SMS subscription service that journalists can use to text their audience directly with news updates, either free of charge or at a premium.
- Discord (free), a community communication tool used by Casey Newman for Sidechannel, a subscriber-only perk for those who sign up for Platformer, offering exclusive conversations and brainstorming sessions.
- Clubhouse (free), fallen out of favour since its pandemic popularity, the social audio tool grants content creators the means to host live conversations with guests and experts. Through workarounds, you can record these conversations and use them for podcasts and other content. Tools like Twitter Spaces took the wind out of Clubhouse's sails.
- Callin (free), a social podcasting tool that was built specifically for hosting live audio conversations à la Clubhouse, and then recording, editing and publishing podcasts all within the app.
Monetisation: if you make great content, your followers will want to support you. Many tools make that possible.
- Patreon (free with revenue share up to 12 per cent), popular amongst general content creators on the internet, it processes audience donations at a basic level. Higher tiers will grant analytics and promotional tools and your own membership tiers.
- Ko-fi (freemium with five per cent revenue share, up to £5 a month without revenue share), a good alternative to Patreon, that allows you to offer your audience a means to support you through memberships, one-off donations and crowdfunding projects.
- Memberful (unlimited test mode, free with 10 per cent revenue share, paid-for up to £82 a month plus 4.9 per cent revenue share), a monetisation tool that integrates into WordPress websites, podcast platforms (like Buzzsprout and Acast), Discord communities and its own newsletter provider.
- Steady (free with five per cent revenue share), a simple monetisation tool built with social media content creators in mind.
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