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.


5 Twitter search tips

Having shared these Google search tips, I had a request this week for some Twitter search tips.

1. Topsy

As I’ve blogged before, Topsy is Google for Twitter and contains every tweet ever posted since the dawn of Twitter time.

Use operators such as from:BBCbreaking to find tweets sent by a particular account (there’s a list of search operators further down this post).

2. FollowerWonk bio search

Use FollowerWonk to search Twitter bios. Again, I mention FollowerWonk in this post.

3. Twitter advanced search

I usually use Topsy in favour of this option but it’s worth knowing of its existence.

image4. Advanced search operators

As with Google, advanced operators work for Twitter search too. Add them to the search box in the Twitter website.

Here’s a list:

google warsaw - finds tweets with Google and Warsaw (standard search)
“superstorm sandy” - finds tweets containing the exact phrase
kiev OR kyiv - finds tweets with “Kiev” or “Kyiv” (or both)
warsaw -poland - finds tweets with “warsaw” but not “poland”
from:BarackObama - finds tweets from BarackObama
to:BarackObama - finds tweets to BarackObama
@BarackObama - finds tweets mentioning BarackObama
near:”derby” within:10mi - finds (geolocated) tweets within 10 miles of Derby
berlusconi since:2013-09-27 - finds tweets mentioning “berlusconi” since x date
berlusconi until:2013-09-26 - finds tweets mentioning “berlusconi” before x date
#newsrw filter:links - finds tweets mentioning #newsrw with url links
sandy source:txt - finds tweets mentioning “sandy” sent by SMS
crimea ? - finds tweets with a question
lang:nl - finds tweets in Dutch

5. Searching for Twitter lists

As shared last week, you can search for Twitter lists by doing and Twitter site search using the * wildcard Google operator (there’s an explainer at the above link).

For example:*/lists/ukraine*/lists/*ukraine


Tags: Twitter search

A 15-second Instagram video can tell the full story

There have been some really interesting examples of news organisations using Instagram recently, such as nowthisnews. And if you haven’t seen it already, the BBC’s Instafax project deserves attention.

The BBC uses overlay text to explain the story – using the field in the CMS that used to supply the story to Ceefax. It just goes to show how much of a story can be told in 15 seconds.

If you want to create your own Instafax-style video, Andy Dickinson has put out a no-budget guide.

The Wall Street Journal has been posting videos, photos and clips of interactive projects to its Instagram account for a while. A couple of weeks ago we uploaded a clip of Oscar Pistorius entering his plea, again demonstrating that sometimes 15 seconds is enough.

Update: I added in the reference to nowthisnews at the suggestion of @ahmed.

Tags: instagram

Graphic-only Facebook posts get lots of shares

Like many news outlets, most of the Facebook updates we post from WSJ’s Facebook page and WSJ Europe’s page consist of a photo, text and a link.

A couple of times this week we have posted a graphic which contains the story within and didn’t add a link or any text.

This Malaysia Airlines graphic resulted in far more shares, likes and comments than a standard post.

How to search for Twitter lists

Here’s how:


I was facilitating some training for Wall Street Journal journalists last week, talking about the advantages of following other people’s Twitter lists, when someone asked me for a way to search for lists.

I remember that there used to be third-party tools that did just that, but a quick check and they are all now dead, presumably killed when Twitter changed its API.

I’m sure other people have come up with this idea in the past but it just occurred to me.

Use the * wildcard in place of a Twitter name. Let me give you an example to explain.

You probably know how to do a site search, limiting a Google search to just one site ( “David Cameron” finds every article mentioning the UK prime minister, for example).

Extend that idea to Twitter and add a * wildcard and the search looks like this:*/lists/ukraine

That finds public Twitter lists called ‘Ukraine’.


This search option relies on people using obvious searchable terms when creating a list. This search won’t find lists called ‘journalists in Ukraine’, for example. It will find “Ukraine-conflict” or “Ukraine-protests”, however.

Update 10/3: Steve Evans has pointed out another wildcard trick to solve that problem.

Finding a list to follow rather than creating one from scratch saves a huge amount of time and is particularly valuable in a breaking news situation when faced with a new topic.

Taking the deep dive

Another way of finding useful lists is to look for a person or account that might have created a list and follow that lead. 

If anyone knows of a better way to search lists, do let me know (here’s a link to my email).


2 handy Twitter search tools

Here are two Twitter search tools I use on a weekly basis.

1. Topsy

Topsy is Google for tweets. It has every tweet ever written going back to 2006, the dawn of Twitter time. You can also use operators such as the from: or to: function to help you narrow results.

For example, if I want to find this much-retweeted tweet sent by @BBCBreaking to announce the death of Nelson Mandela, I would enter from:bbcbreaking mandela into the search box.

Topsy, which is now owned by Apple, also allows you to narrow your search by date range. 

I’m aware that the folk at Storyful use Topsy for some of their social media search and verification wizardry. Another reason to bookmark it and use it when you next need to search for a tweet.

2. FollowerWonk bio search

FollowerWonk is the best way I know of for searching Twitter bios. You maybe expanding your community, perhaps because you have moved journalism beats. 

Tip: It is worth doing a search for yourself to see if someone searching would find you based on your Twitter bio. 

Trying out Twitter-first images

Like lots of other news organisations, the Wall Street Journal attaches images and charts to tweets.

We’ve started creating images that fit the Twitter aspect ratio when tweets are viewed on the desktop version of Twitter or Tweetdeck.

Here’s an example from today. 

Thanks to Jovi Juan, our graphics editor, for providing this one.

Expect us to push out other simple charts and graphics made with Twitter in mind.

Update: A quick check tells me the dimensions of a Twitter image are 510 x 253. That can obviously be scaled up.

4 tools for checking social media share counts

Here are 4 ways to check how many times a URL has been shared on Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites.

I’ve used this much-shared Buzzfeed quiz for testing purposes.

1. How many shares

This is the site I usually use. I like the fact it separates out Facebook shares, likes and comments.

2. LinkTally

3. Like Explorer

I came across this one last week, thanks to Noah Chestnut.

4. SharedCount

9 articles to add to Pocket and read later

I tend to do one of three things when I find interesting articles: scan read and tweet; read every word and tweet; realise I might want to refer back to facts and figures so save the post.

I now save to Pocket (so long, Delicious, and thanks for all the links) and then dig in when I find myself on a plane or train with no internet connection.

A two-hour flight to Sweden on Thursday gave me the time to read and revisit these gems. You might want to Pocket them and then you have a quality selection next time you are without a connection.

Here’s an RSS feed of these items and more. And here is a list of posts (in no particular order).

1. The science behind fonts (and how they make you feel)

This is an article I have come back to several times. Writing on The Next Web, Mikael Cho offers design insights. It is well worth reading all of the piece but here’s a taster to get you thinking about how long lines of text should be.

The line length is how far your sentences stretch across the page. The ideal line length should be between about 50 to 75 characters.

2. This article will make you laugh, cry, then resent me

A great post on headline writing by Simone Stolzoff on Medium. I couldn’t agree more with the following (my emphasis):

I’m a firm believer that in today’s digital world of abundant content and curated feeds, headlines are the single most powerful tool for the modern publisher

3. News: Mobile trends to keep in mind

Frédéric Filloux on mobile on Monday Note. Filloux points out that studies of how people use mobiles show that “even in the most optimistic hypothesis, news consumption on a mobile device amounts to around 5 to 6% of time spent”. He goes on to say:

In actionable terms, this shows the importance of having smartphones apps (or mobile web sites) sharply aimed at providing news in the most compact and digestible way. 

4. 10 surprising social media statistics that will make you rethink your social strategy

A post by Belle Beth Cooper published on Fast Company in November. Facts and figures include:

The fastest growing demographic on Twitter is the 55–64 year age bracket.

5. You don’t tip competitors on Twitter; you beat them

A Steve Buttry post that all journalists should read.

If we had the story first, we had the scoop. And you have the story first if you have it on Twitter and/or on your website.

6. 10 ingredients for the perfect presentation

I was reading this on the day I was giving a presentation. Many of these tips I’d used before but was able to put two new ones to the test, thanks to these insights from Boris on The Next Web.

Whenever I do a talk I try to think about something specific I can include that people copy or apply as soon as they get back to work.

When I’m announced as the next speaker and I’m standing on stage, I look at the audience. Not just for a second, but for as long as possible, and at individual audience members. I’ll try to look as many people in the eyes as I can, and will smile or even wave, at a few of them.

7. An in-depth guide to Alfred, the incredible productivity and launcher app for Mac

Nick Summers, who shared his newsgathering tips and tools at news:rewired, provides this post on Alfred. I’ve been using Alfred for some time and created my own site search settings. This is a Next Web article I’ll keep coming back to in order to work as efficiently as possible on my Mac. Here’s one of the Alfred features I learnt from reading this post.

Alfred stores everything in your clipboard history automatically, while giving you an effortless means of finding and selecting text that you had copied previously. It’s accessed with a unique hotkey (⌥⌘C is set by default) which you can customize at any using the in-app preferences.

8. How to write a to-do list that won’t hurt your productivity

On the subject of productivity and efficiency, I enjoyed this piece, also on The Next Web. Divya Pahwa shares advice, such as:

Write down no more than three tasks on your daily to-do list.

9. How to survive the next wave of technology extinction

Farhad Manjoo making some great lessons on what makes Apple, Amazon and Google particularly effective as platforms.

Books, music and movies from Amazon are the most widely viewable. 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. 

Image by kellhogaboom on Flickr. Creative commons licence.

Social media tip: Twin images work

A trio of twin images posted recently from WSJ social media accounts.

These three dual images were posted to Facebook as well as Twitter.

This one was highlighted by Mark Frankel from the BBC at digital journalism conference news:rewired:

The following featured in this post on