Investigative Reporters and Editors has a nice rundown of free production tools for journalists. These include old standbys such as Gimp for images and graphics, Audacity for audio editing and Open Movie Editor for video editing.
Multimedia production can get pretty pricey pretty quickly, of course. There’s a lot of gear and software needed so knowing what alternatives are out there is important.
If money’s tight, a great place to start is Open Source Alternatives. For example, if you need Adobe’s Photoshop but don’t have (or want to spend) the $699 to buy the standalone version, OSA lists Gimp and Krita among others as alternatives.
There are Web-based alternatives out there as well. For example, Aviary has a swiss army knife of audio and image editing applications that sit in the browser. In 2010, Google purchased the Web-based image editor Picnik and now you can crop, enhance and perform other basic edits in Picasa/Google+.
Other important browser-based tools are plugins and add-ons. For example, if you’re working with large files you’ll eventually need to get them somewhere which you’ll often do via FTP (although I come across more and more people who are using shared folders in Dropbox). Use Firefox? Try FireFTP. Chrome more your flavor? Try FileZilla. Want a desktop FTP client instead? Try Cyberduck.
Sometimes though, what’s already on your computer can bring you where you need to go. For example — and using a Mac because that’s what I have and know — iMovie, Garage Band and iPhoto all come pre-installed and are perfectly fine for editing video interviews, creating radio pieces and organizing and lightly editing your photos. Are they as robust as Final Cut, Pro Tools and some sort of Adobe Bridge/Photoshop amalgam? No, but they’re tools immediately available to you once you actually have the computer. Besides, the tools we need don’t always have to be the latest and greatest model of something.
There are good reasons to have the software that have become standard across the industry. This is especially true when collaborating with others. But when money’s tight, or you just want to try things out before diving deeper into a particular format, play with what’s low cost or free before making the plunge.
Besides, it’s the end result that matters. Once you publish your amazing audio, video or interactive piece, your appreciative audience isn’t going to care what you used to get there.