Visual journalism and web video at BBC News

Last Wednesday I heard Angus Foster, world editor, BBC News online, speak at the Global Editors Network and Gazeta Wyborcza event in Poland. 

Angus explained how the BBC has increasingly shifted to visually-led storytelling and demonstrated this by showing what a BBC News web story would have looked like a few years ago, and how they would treat the same story today. The 2014 approach is one of including not one but a number of photos.

One thing that is particularly interesting is how BBC News uses analytics to look at the point on the average article page when people click away from a story. BBC News has responded by keeping readers on the page by including images.

Angus also shared examples of new experiments in video. Traditionally a broadcaster shooting for TV, BBC News is now thinking of formats that are best suited to web audiences.

Example 1: Ukraine crisis: BBC on board blockaded Ukrainian ship

Here reporter Christian Fraser takes you on a VICE-style tour, with shots including him transporting the camera equipment.

imageThe style is more informal than a shot-for-TV package.

Example 2: Five ways Crimea is becoming Russian

Example 3: Europe Explained: How the EU budget is decided


Angus said the informal style is “informing but not didactic” and “rough at the edges and authentic”.

Angus Foster also showed an important slide regarding mobile and traffic growth:

Tools for social storytelling and curation

Last week I gave a presentation at a Global Editors Network and Gazeta Wyborcza conference in Warsaw, Poland.

I talked about tools we use at the Wall Street Journal for live storytelling and how we curate these conversations on site.

I chose to share social tools that are free and open to all. Some of the curation tools are proprietary.

Tool 1. Twitter lists

We curate lists and share them so people can connect directly with journalists, whether reporting on elections in Afghanistan, Turkey or on the ongoing situation in Ukraine.

Tool 2: RT

The RT is simple yet so powerful. By retweeting updates and images shared on Twitter by reporters on the ground, followers of @WSJ get reports in real-time.

I blogged about the power of real-time reporting from Ukraine, Turkey and Syria so won’t repeat here.


We display some of the photos shared by our reporters on social media on WSJ using an in-house social slideshow tool. Here’s an example of a slideshow on Crimea.


A new in-house tool we have for curating social media and web content is the streaming story (built by my colleague Joe Kendall). The back end feels a lot like Storify and you can automate or manually pull in tweets, Instagram photos and more.

This example, which pulled in stories and tweets from our Syria correspondent Sam Dagher, was done as a test, but it demonstrates the idea. And the new streaming story looks great on mobile.

Tool 3: Reddit AMA

A Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) is a great way to introduce our reporters to new audiences. Pre-arranged at a set time (there is a request an AMA button here), the Reddit community can then ask questions to the host reporter.

Paul Sonne, our Russia correspondent who has been in Crimea, and Joe Parkinson, our Istanbul bureau chief, have recently hosted AMAs.


Reddit AMA highlights can then be curated and posted on site by pulling parts of the conversation into a Storify, a tool for telling stories using social media content.

Tool 4: Google Hangout

Google Hangout video chats are a great way of hosting a conversation with up to 10 people and broadcasting it live on YouTube.

We have done four in the last month or so, including on funding for startups in the Middle East, new routes for Emirates Airlines, inside our coverage of the Malaysia Airlines story, and just yesterday our Gerard Baker, our editor-in-chief, interviewed Alex Salmond, which was broadcast via a Hangout.

Tool 5: Tout

Tout is an Android and iPhone app for recording and sharing microvideo. WSJ reporters use it to film from the scene of breaking news events and to provide behind-the-scenes views of stories they are covering.


We curate these Tout clips using WorldStream, an area of our site dedicated to these social videos. I reported on the launch of WorldStream (by Mark Scheffler and Liz Heron) when in my former life at

Another way to use these short video clips is within a story. I embedded 30-second WorldStream clips shot and shared by Sam Dagher when he was reporting on the evacuation of Yarmouk, an area of Damascus. Here’s the blog post.

Here are my slides from the presentation.

How to search for Twitter lists if you can’t yet see the option in Twitter

Last week I posted to say Twitter is rolling out functionality to allow you to search for Twitter lists.

If you cannot yet see the option within Twitter, here’s the fix:

Great spot, Rob. And the even better news:

Hurrah! You can now search for Twitter lists

This is the best tweet I’ve seen all week. Or possibly the best Twitter-related news of the year:

I’ve been wanting to search for Twitter lists for yonks and recently blogged about this workaround, a Google site search:*/ukraine

Update: Actually, I have been corrected:

As a journalist it is so useful to be able to find and follow other people’s lists and get access to a curated collection of sources on a given news event.

I’m not yet seeing the list search on my Twitter account and understand it is a gradual roll out for both desktop and mobile. This is what it will look like:


Hurrah for @gilad and the other folk at Twitter search. Now should I just follow the people named in the above tweet or set up a Twitter list?

Real-time transparency at WSJ

I gave a short talk at the Polis Journalism Conference on Friday as part of a panel discussing ‘innovation in transparency’.

I joined Luke Lewis, editor of BuzzFeed UK, Will Moy from Full Fact, and Eric Newton from the Knight Foundation, who were also presenting. The panel was chaired by Samantha Barry, social media producer at BBC World News.

In my 10-minute talk I went through three major news events from the region I am responsible for in terms of social media at the Wall Street Journal.


I was speaking the day after the YouTube ban was imposed, and two days before the elections.

The WSJ has a Turkish-language news site, plus a team providing news from Turkey for the global English-language site.

The focus of my talk was how audiences can follow our journalists reporting in real-time on Twitter, explaining how we retweet reporters from the various WSJ accounts, including @WSJ account, which has 4.2m followers.

One way we help readers find our journalists is by creating Twitter lists. Here’s a list of the nine reporters WSJ has in Turkey.

Earlier this week, following the Twitter ban in Turkey, Joe Parkinson, the Wall Street Journal’s Istanbul bureau chief, hosted a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything), allowing the Reddit community to directly connect with Joe.

Ukraine / Crimea / Russia

I shared this tweet from Paul Sonne, one of the first we saw being shared on social media of the flag change in Crimea.

A couple of hours later he tweeted the following.

Alan Cullison shared this tweet. I chose this example as I think it embodies what the WSJ has been doing for 125 years. Alan gives the facts but does not speculate or offer conjecture as to who the military trucks belong to.

Paul Sonne also hosted a Reddit AMA, answering questions on Russia, Ukraine, Crimea and Putin. The AMA had 50,000 views and connected potential new audiences with one of our expert reporters.

Syria: Tweeting a war

I then introduced Sam Dagher, the Wall Street Journal’s correspondent in Syria.

I could have chosen any number of examples of Sam tweeting the war, but focused on the week-long evacuation of Homs, when people were slowly brought out of an area that had been cut off for 18 months.

The UN reached a deal with the Syrian regime on the Thursday night and Sam took the road from Damascus, heading north to Homs and tweeting to take readers with him on the journey.

Sam’s tweets explain the facts.

I chose this tweet for a talk headlined ‘innovation in transparency’ as I like the fact that Sam didn’t try to push a view that he was the only reporter there. By the Monday Sam was one of only two western journalists there (a Norwegian TV journalist being the other).

Sam uses traditional reporting skills, attributing the facts to a source.

And he tells us what he doesn’t know.

Sam throws forward to his next article online, which will contain some of the facts he has not had time to share on Twitter.

And Sam adds a human voice, giving snippets of information in real-time, arguably something Twitter is able to do better than any other platform.

I particularly like this tweet and feel this was such a valuable part of the story to share with readers.

Sam answered questions, dispelling myth and rumour when necessary.

'A day in hell'

The next tweet was sent 10 minutes before the ceasefire was due to end on the Saturday, a day which one UN official described as “a day in hell”.

When I spoke to Sam on the Monday he said that he could hear one of the rebel leaders saying his men were getting “antsy” as they hadn’t fired a gun all day. Sam said he was hungry at this point as he hadn’t eaten all day and he was aware anything could happen; the UN officials were inside the area under siege and the situation was extremely volatile.

But despite the uncertainty, Sam was still tweeting, sharing what was happing with readers.

And in addition to tweeting, Sam was taking pictures and shooting video on his iPhone. And of course he was writing a story for the website that would become a page-one story on the print edition of the Wall Street Journal that would be on breakfast tables all over America the Monday morning.

I ended the presentation with this tweet, another example of the colour Sam shares in his tweets, giving Wall Street Journal readers and a wider network of Twitter followers the story in real-time.

Here are my slides from the talk, most of which are included above.


Here’s a list of our winning projects from the 2014 SND Best of Digital Design Awards:

An Education in School Choice in New Orleans

Single-Story Project Award of Excellence

Borderlands: Explore lives upended by a year of conflict…

Tags: wsj graphics

The future of digital journalism (part 4)

This is the fourth and final blog post in this series, which is based on a talk I gave at the Ohlin Institute, a liberal think tank in Sweden.

I clearly don’t have all the answers and it is important to note that these are personal views, not the views of the Wall Street Journal.

In the first post I looked at some of the devices where readers may consume news in the future and in the second post suggested that we should think of stories as data.

The third post focused on what publishers can learn from tech companies and outlined the benefits of an API (an application programme interface that gives developers access to our data).

If a greater number of news organisations had an API, smart developers may end up creating new reading experiences and repackage our stories in interesting ways, possibly coming up with a ‘Netflix for news’ or a ‘Spotify for news’, with content from different news brands made available in one place.

Readers could be offered bundles of articles, and buy access via an easy iTunes-like payment method. Such a development would provide news outlets with a new revenue stream.

In response to the last post in which I presented these ideas, my colleague Elliot Bentley tweeted me with a particularly interesting suggestion:

This final post is on how to get ready for the future.

What we can do to prepare for the future

Being ready for the future means having an API and the data ready to tackle any challenge.

The core piece of technology at the heart of the newsroom is the content management system (CMS). But what does a future-ready CMS look like?

The current CMS could be problematic if we start thinking about content as data, and how it can be presented on new surfaces, such as screens, fridges, glasses and contact lenses. 

Most CMSs mix data with presentation, in the form of HTML. We might not want to send the same messages for how the data is displayed to new surfaces, such as instructions for bold text or a hyperlink.

Perhaps it would help us future proof content if the presentation was in a separate layer from the the words, pictures or other data. I have no solution here but see a potential problem with the current way of working in CMSs.

As good web citizens, and whether we are the person responsible for buying a CMS or a journalist entering words and HTML into a CMS, we should consider the future ramifications of the way we create data.

Analysing the results

Most news sites currently track the popularity of posts by looking at ‘pageviews’. In a future with new and diverse display methods, an article may be consumed passively, rather than as the result of a web page click.

What metric would we use to determine the number of times an article has been viewed as it is pushed to the fridge or a wearable? We could simply look at ‘views’ measured by calls to the API.

More questions than answers

I’m not saying the model I have laid out is easy or perfect and I’ve not addressed how ads fit in to the mix. But it is worth thinking like the innovators on the fringes of an industry; moving away from the daily problems and seeing further ahead.

Just this week I was interested to note the first major step in paid-content strategy at the Washington Post since Jeff Bezos bought the title. The move means that subscribers to some local US newspapers will also get access to the Washington Post. The Financial Times reported that no money is to change hands, but readers will get access to news created by more than one publication. 

Companies such as Flipboard, Facebook Paper and Yahoo News Digest which don’t create content but do offer interesting reading experiences with articles from different publications will continue to do great things with our news stories, so I suggest that we smooth the way and nurture our data.


Stories will probably be read on new surfaces, on new platforms, and no doubt they will still be read in print. But let’s liberate our data and let people beyond our news organisations create great things.

The future of digital journalism (part 3)

This is the third in a four-part series, based on a talk I gave at the Ohlin Institute, a liberal think tank in Sweden.

I clearly don’t have all the answers and it is important to note that these are personal views, not the views of the Wall Street Journal.

In the first post I looked at some of the devices where readers may consume news in the future and in the second post suggested that we should think of the stories we create in their raw form: data.

How news (or data) might be syndicated

What other models are there in the tech space that help us think beyond the free or paywalled models for news that currently exist?

What can publishers learn from Apple?

Farhad Manjoo recently wrote an article in the New York Times on surviving the next wave of technology extinction. “The best thing about Apple’s hardware is that it maximizes your ability to be promiscuous with software,” he said. “Apple’s App Store is home to more programs than any other app marketplace.”

Apple doesn’t just sell its own content.

What can publishers learn from Amazon?

"You can watch and read Amazon’s media on Apple devices, Google devices, Amazon’s own Kindle line and lots of other places, like cheap streaming devices for your TV," Manjoo pointed out.

Amazon makes the e-books it publishes available on many devices.

Amazon also has user reviews, harnessing the power of the crowd to help other readers. Can news organisations take inspiration and make comments more useful, perhaps?

What can publishers learn from Facebook?

As publishers we’ve been trying to earn money from mobile for years. Facebook, just 10 years old, has found a way. It’s solution is to display sponsored content between updates. It launched that type of advertising in 2012.

Facebook’s latest results, for quarter four, show more than half (53%) of ad revenue from mobile. That’s $1.37 billion of its $2.59 billion in revenue.

Some publishers are using this sponsored content model, such as Buzzfeed and the Wall Street Journal.


Innovators on the fringes

The innovators in any industry often come from people on the fringes rather than within. Jeff Bezos of Amazon fame (and now owner and innovator of the Washington Post) was not a bricks-and-mortar bookseller, for example.

Some of the innovators currently affecting the digital news industry are not content creators. They deliver readers news from a variety of sources, and do so via feeds of data.

  • There’s Flipboard, which shows content from not just from one news source, but from many.
  • There’s Facebook Paper, which launched recently.
  • And now there is Yahoo News Digest. Yahoo News Digest takes a feed of news, and also includes related data. There are Wikipedia entries, related websites, and Google Maps. It also has a progress wheel to show how many of the articles I have read and the app tells me how long before the next digest is published and sends me a push alert when it’s ready.


What can news publishers learn from Netflix?

For a monthly fee of £6 I can watch films, TV shows, and original content. If I start watching on one device, perhaps my iPad and switch to my computer, I start at the exact point I left off. As news organisations, can we learn from that?

So Flipboard, Facebook Paper and Yahoo News Digest are doing a pretty good job at taking our stories and presenting them for existing and new audiences.

Perhaps we should consider being more open with our data and create standardised ways to allow third parties to access our stories. One approach is to create an API (an application programme interface that provides developers with access to our data).

If more news outlets provided data by way of an API it could help our industry as clever developers might create interesting news apps and reading experiences.

Perhaps a smart developer would create a Netflix or a Spotify for news. (I note that the Washington Post’s innovation in paid content strategy – the first major move by Bezos since buying the title – has been called a Spotify model by Nieman. I used the analogy when I gave the talk last month in Sweden, the land of Spotify.)

The Guardian and New York Times are notable examples of news outlets with APIs, and the Wall Street Journal also makes data available in this way. I’m suggesting that more news outlets follow. I’m aware that this is a costly process but perhaps it would pay off.

And could an API be created that could handle paid-for content in a smart way? Could people read some content for free but also have the option of buying a subscription, or individual articles or bundles of articles?

Here the model might be iTunes where my credit card details are already saved and at the click of a button I can buy a song, an app, or a film. (This platform announced since I gave the talk is described as in iTunes for Dutch news.)

When content creators place themselves directly alongside competitors on Netflix, Spotify or iTunes it doesn’t seem to harm them.

So if this is a possible route for the future of digital journalism we need to think how we can prepare our data. That is the subject of the fourth and final part.

The future of digital journalism (part 2)

This is the second in a four-part series, based on a talk I gave at the Ohlin Institute, a liberal think tank in Sweden.

I clearly don’t have all the answers and it is important to note that these are personal views, not the views of the Wall Street Journal.


Image distributed by Google

In the first post pondering the future of digital journalism I discussed how people might consume news on wearable devices and surfaces.

If we move beyond thinking about browser-based news, we need to consider how we push our content onto these different watches, glasses, contact lenses and fridges.

Why we should think data first

All of these emerging technologies and interfaces are really only presentation methods. Once you strip away the platform you have pure data, the raw news in the form of words, pictures, audio, video and interactives, created by the most important people in our organisations: journalists.

And while we like to make sweeping statements like it being the ‘year of mobile’ or the ‘year of drone journalism’, these are just points of interest.

An obsession with the means of delivery can confuse the goal.

Let’s stop talking print-first, digital-first, mobile-first. If we use such terms is it not like moving ahead five years and saying ‘watch first’, ‘fridge-first’ or ‘internet-connected contact lens first’?

Let’s talk data-first.

The story comes in the form of data, whether that collection of words or visuals is in print, on mobile, or on Google Glass.

Content isn’t king, data is king. I’m going to come back to this idea of data in a later post, and suggest how we can be ready so that it can be shared in print, online, and on fridges.

Lessons from the innovators

Looking ahead then we should look beyond news and consider what publishers can learn from technology companies. I’ll go through other examples in the next post but while we are on the subject of data, let’s consider a company that, as we all know, is particularly good at data collection.

What can publishers learn from Google?

Google pieces together information on me as I use Gmail for email, Google Calendar for my diary, Google Maps to get around, Chrome to browse the web, plus post and consume via Google Plus and YouTube.

I can find out what Google knows about me by going to my ad settings (it helps that I chose to give Google plenty of data by signing up for Google+).

Google delivers me ads based on my gender, age (I’d like to point out I am at the lower end of the bracket), languages I speak, sites I visit and searches I carry out.

imageSome publishers are very good at this data collection. Here’s how The Times and Sun track subscribers across devices.

The Mail Online may not benefit from subscriber data as it is free to read but deserves a mention in how it captures data from some of the 190 million browsers accessing the site a month

Kevin Beatty, CEO of the Mail Online’s parent company told a conference I went to last June when I was at that the company learns “50 billion things about 43 million people over a 10-day period”. It does so by gathering audience data for the Mail Online and other digital titles in the portfolio.

"We now have an increasing level of insight on the 31 million people on our central database,” he said. “By leveraging our combined data across the group, we are able to share real information with our businesses to help serve our customers better and to find new ones.”

So data can be the news story and it is also the information we gather. In the next post I’ll discuss how news content as data can be syndicated.


The future of digital journalism (part 1)

I was asked to give a talk on ‘the future of digital journalism’ at the Ohlin Institute, a liberal think tank in Sweden recently.

I clearly don’t have all the answers but was able to facilitate a discussion. Here are some of my notes. I’ve omitted parts, notably the section of the innovative things the Wall Street Journal is doing, in order to keep these posts to manageable lengths. 

Note that this is a personal view, not the view of the Wall Street Journal.

I’m separating the main points from my talk into four manageable chunks. The first I am posting today, the remaining three posts I intend to publish in the coming days.

  • Where might news be viewed 
  • Why we should think data first
  • How news (or data) might be syndicated
  • What we can do to prepare for the future

Where might news be viewed

What might the future look like? There are many clues in popular culture and as we’ve learnt over the years, films are a successful incubator for tech ideas. Let’s consider some recent examples:

Does the future look like Her? Her is a recently-released film in which the Joaquin Phoenix character falls in love with his computer’s operating system. It’s supposed to be Los Angeles, 10 years in the future. (It’s high tech but a world where lockers still require keys and shirts are fastened with buttons.)

imageThe main interface in the film is voice and the character, called Theodore, has an ear piece, an example of a ‘voice-only interface’.

Theo also has this hand-held device which operates with swipe gestures and has a camera (not a million miles away from an iPhone).

image"The future we see in Her is one where technology has dissolved into everyday life," this Wired article says.

Or does the future looks like Minority Report? This is an example of a ‘natural user interface’, which is heavily controlled by gestures.

imageAnd the film and TV industry has been quite visionary in the past. Take Star Trek. Does Captain Kirk’s Personal Access Display Device, or PADD for short, remind you of anything?


There are an ever-expanding range of devices and surfaces to consider, as put forward in this video, published in 2011, which shows Microsoft’s vision of the future. It includes surfaces such as an interactive fridge door. (Note that Samsung’s new fridge unveiled last week lacks connectivity to other Samsung devices, which is a long-term goal.)

imageThe future is here (kind of)

But of course this future is already here to certain extent, we have Siri and Google Glass (here’s the launch video from 2012).

Here’s the Wall Street Journal’s Google Glass app which pushes headlines to Glass.

imageWearable technology is gaining ground. Zite, originally a mobile news app (now owned by Flipboard), has launched a smartwatch app.

Once we start to look at what already exists and consider the future, we can see that in all likelihood news won’t just be consumed on paper, in web browsers, on tablets, and on mobile phones.

Some of these emerging devices probably won’t catch on, but other yet-to-be-invented devices will no doubt be bought by many of us in the not too distant future. 

If we move beyond thinking about browser-based news, we need to consider how we can push our news to all of these emerging platforms.

That’s the subject of the next post.