The Transition to Digital Journalism

Tutorial: The Transition to Digital Journalism



Digital technology presents an often bewildering array of choices for journalists – producing slideshows and video, joining social networks and blogging, using map mashups and mobile devices. The list seems endless.

But survival requires understanding all these new technologies so journalists and news organizations can make informed decisions about why and how to utilize them (see Blogs, Tweets, Social Media, and the News Business, in Nieman Reports).

This guide covers the major digital tools and trends that are disrupting the news industry and changing the way journalists do their jobs.

Print and Broadcast News and the Internet

As more people consume news online, news organizations face the dilemma of reallocating resources to attract new readers and viewers while still trying to hold on to their existing, and usually aging, print or broadcast audiences.

Online revenues for most news media are still a small fraction of the income from traditional print or broadcast. And after many years of double-digit annual increases in online advertising revenue, the trend tapered off dramatically in 2008 and 2009, with online revenues flat or even decreasing.

For newspapers, typically 15 percent or less of total revenues come from online operations (although the Los Angeles Times reported in late 2008 that online income was enough to pay for the paper’s entire print and online news staffs).

Magazines similarly get less than 10 percent of their revenue from their digital operations according to an Advertising Age survey of 2008 revenues.

Financial viability for newspapers and most magazines, at least for now, requires retaining as many existing print readers as possible.

Yet the trends are clear: people, especially the young, are turning to the Internet for more and more of their news and developing an effective digital strategy is essential for long-term survivial:

Where People Get News - Internet, TV and Newspapers

*  Source: Pew Research Center for the People & the Press

Where People Got News Yesterday

*  Source: Pew Research Center for the People & the Press

For other and more detailed statistics on where people get their news see:

While the trend toward online is clear, not everyone is embracing it. As of the end of 2007, about 25 percent of people in the U.S. still said they hadn’t ever been online.

For print and broadcast organizations, this means a core group of their audience remains wedded to traditional products and often resistant to getting news online.

For additional statistics on trends in consumption of traditional news media see:

Readings and Resources

Print Editions Decline

A steady decline in print circulation and a precipitous drop in advertising revenue in 2008 and 2009, especially classified advertising, have taken their toll on newspapers and newspaper chains.

Some have been forced out of business, such as the Rocky Mountain News, the Seattle Post Intelligencer (at least its print operation – an online-only version continues) and the Ann Arbor News (which also will continue an online edition as well as a print product twice a week).

Others filed for bankruptcy reorganization, such as Tribune Company, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Philadelphia Newspapers company, the Chicago Sun Times, the Journal Register Co., American Community Newspapers, Freedom Communications, Heartland Publications, Creative Loafing and the Columbian newspaper in Vancouver. Others, such as Morris Publishing and Affiliated Media (the parent company of MediaNews Group), did bankruptcy reorganization filings prearranged with creditors.

Especially hard hit have been newspapers that were more purchased recently, such as the Tribune, Minneapolis and Philadelphia papers, and thus have owners with huge debt loads, or those in areas that still have competing daily papers, such as Denver, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Seattle, Detroit and Tucson.

Newspapers have taken a variety of other measures to save money, preserve the print product, and try to weather the storm:

  • Layoffs and buyouts of employees (see the Paper Cuts map that details the staff reductions)
  • Instituting pay freezes and unpaid furloughs
  • Dropping contributions to 401-K plans and renegotiating salaries and pension payments with unions
  • Partnering with other newspapers to share coverage and content
  • Eliminating delivery of the newspaper to outlying areas
  • Consolidating or dropping sections of the daily paper
  • Discontinuing some features, such as stock listings
  • Reducing the number of pages in each edition
  • Shrinking the size of the paper
  • Eliminating editions entirely on days that attract the fewest advertisers and readers

Some papers are also changing the kind of coverage provided in the print product, focusing less on breaking news, which the Internet is much better suited to deliver, and more on analytical or contextual stories.

For example, compare the front page of the print edition of the Arizona Republic with the home page of, the Arizona Republic’s online site.

Arizona Republic Print Edition

Arizona Republic newspaper front page

Arizona Republic Online Edition

Arizona Republic online home page

Both editions are from the same day, December 23, 2008.

The print edition contains longer feature stories, “sit-down” news to be perused, or articles about more leisurely activities.

The website is updated throughout the day with breaking news and shorter articles, and offers searchable services like events calendars, dining guides, etc. to cater to the different interests of an online audience.

Eliminating Print Editions

Some newspapers are going a step further and dropping the least profitable of their daily editions – usually Saturdays, Mondays, Tuesdays or Wednesdays.

Examples of newspapers eliminating editions (see also this list compiled by AP)

The hope is that enough readers and thus advertisers will remain local to the print product that revenues will not decline substantially. But breaking the daily news reading habit threatens to further erode print audience loyalty and accelerate the existing decline in newspaper readership.

To ease the transition for older readers still wedded to the newspaper format, some newspapers also offer a digital edition online. This is an electronic version of the newspaper, which appears in a form similar to the print version and can be downloaded from the newspaper’s website.

But there is little evidence that such digital editions are very popular with readers, and critics say they are transplanting a print format into a medium that demands a very different product.

Ken Doctor, a long-time analyst and consultant on digital media, especially newspapers, has said:

“They are essentially counterintuitive products: older readers who may like the idea of ‘reading the paper’ in its traditional format don’t like reading online; younger readers who like reading online find it nonsensical to read yesterday’s news — and pay for it — when they can news of the moment free online.”

Source: In Desperation, Detroit Papers Flip the Switch, Content Bridges weblog

See also this Associated Press story about the experiences of the Detroit papers a year after they dropped home delivery of the printed paper on some days and launched an electronic edition. MinnPost also has a story and a chart about how successful e-editions have been for newspapers.

Some magazines, especially general interest publications, also are reducing their pages or cutting back on the number editions they publish. U.S. News & World Report went from being a weekly to a biweekly to a monthly in 2008. See this New York Times story about the changes weekly news magazines are undergoing.

National broadcast news networks similarly have considered paring back nightly news shows, which tumbled in popularity during the 1990s, largely due to the advent of cable news and then the Internet. See the New York Times story, Broadcast TV Faces Struggle to Stay Viable.

Local television stations have seen more recent declines in viewership and advertising revenues. See the Wall Street Journal story, Local TV Stations Face a Fuzzy Future.

Readings and Resources

Web First Publishing

Some newspapers and other news operations are now adopting a “web-first” or “web-centric” approach to organizing their work flow. This means having reporters and editors think first about reporting and producing text and multimedia stories for the web, then writing a text story for the print edition.

This also is sometimes referred to as “reverse publishing.”

It marks a major shift from the old “shovelware” approach of newspapers in the 1990s, in which stories were written first for the newspaper and then shoveled onto the web, often with few, if any, changes.

Then in the early 2000s “convergence” strategies started to gain traction at some media organizations, with newspapers, TV stations and radio stations partnering to produce content for a website. But producing stories for the traditional news or broadcast products usually still had top priority., a partnership of the Tampa Tribune and WFLA-TV Channel 8 launched in 2000, was one of the early examples of this move toward convergence (see Alan Mutter’s more recent analysis of how well this partnership performed).

In 2008, the Tampa Tribune moved toward a web-first approach.

“People need to stop looking at as an add on to The Tampa Tribune. The truth is that The Tampa Tribune is an add on to TBO,” Tribune Managing Editor Janet Coats said in July 2008.

In a web-first approach, the main focus often is on breaking news and getting those stories on the web as fast as possible, on a 24-hour-a-day, 7-days-a-week news cycle.

Some publications have set up “continuous news desks” with dedicated staffs that produce round-the-clock breaking news for the web. The New York Times and Washington Post, for example, have continuous news desks (on the Times see “Talk to the Newsroom: Continuous News Correspondent“; on the Post see “Ask the Post“).

Other publications have emphasized getting all reporters and editors to focus on putting breaking news and other stories on the web, rather than having a separate staff handle story updates for the Internet edition.

In these cases, the publications usually must undergo major reorganizations of their newsrooms and try to train most or all of their editorial staff in writing for the web and producing multimedia.

Examples of newspapers and other media that adopted a web-first or multimedia strategy

Readings and Resources

Competition Online

News media companies that adopt a web-first strategy face a competitive environment very different from traditional print or broadcast environments.

Their major rivals for the attention of readers and viewers often are not other traditional news organizations, but non-profit organizations, private corporations, online-only startups or even government agencies that have turned to the web to get out their message. They often carve out niche markets on the Internet that compete with the websites of traditional news organizations.

Here are some examples of these websites:


While newspapers were trying to figure out how to “up-sell” classified ads from their print product to their online editions, craigslist created a space where people could just post their classifieds free of charge (with the exception of employment ads and some real estate ads).

The site has a very simple design and very few features, but for the community it serves it’s highly functional. And its founder, Craig Newmark, puts a strong emphasis on customer service.

The result: craigslist decimated classified advertising in newspapers in many of the cities where it’s launched.


MaxPreps - Missoula, Montana, high school basketball sports page

While in the past newspapers were almost the only source of news about high school sports, online startups like MaxPreps now dominate that market online in many cities.

Founded in 2002 and later purchased by CBS in 2007, MaxPreps includes these features:

  • Databases of individual game-by-game player stats. The data also includes team rosters and game schedules for every sport in every high school in a town. Schools that participate in MaxPreps also can contribute photos, video, and other multimedia about the games.
  • Multimedia coverage of games, with video and photos shot by freelance photographers and videographers.
  • A coach’s corner where coaches can contribute content.
  • Video uploads by parents about their kid’s performance.

Professional Sports

Professional sports organizations have their own websites that provide a depth of coverage on teams, especially statistical data on players, that rivals or surpasses the information produced by newspapers or other local news organizations., the official website for Major League Baseball, provides in-depth coverage of professional baseball teams that is as comprehensive as sports networks like ESPN. It includes audio and video feeds of games and deep databases on team and player stats.

The National Footbal League’s website has similar features. This is the NFL’s page on the St. Louis Rams football team. - St. Louis Rams page

As a result, local sports fans are by-passing newspapers or local TV stations to get information on their teams, and some newspapers are cutting back on their coverage of professional sports.

Concerned about the decline in print newspaper sports coverage of local teams, Dallas Mavericks basketball team owner Mark Cuban has proposed that professional sports organizations subsidize sports beat reporters at local newspapers.


NASA website

When newspapers cut back their staffs, science reporters are often the first to go. NASA, meanwhile, has been expanding its website to directly reach people interested in astronomy. The site has photo galleries, video stories, a live NASA TV channel, interactive graphics and online games for kids.

Centers for Disease Control

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has a Social Media Tools web page that features widgets, podcasts, RSS feeds, social networks and mobile access to CDC information.


The FBI’s website features databases on crime, RSS feeds of “FBI stories” and “breaking news,” a multimedia section that features video, photos, podcasts and “FBI radio” shows, and widgets for embedding FBI content in blogs and websites.

Council on Foreign Relations

This public policy organization’s website has a multimedia section that features interactive graphics, photo slideshows, high-quality video, timelines and online quizzes. See especially CFR’s interactive multimedia piece Crisis Guide: Climate Change.


The environmental activist organization has a website that features multimedia stories with video, photos and photo slideshows, staff blogs and a “news” section with stories about Greenpeace actions and environmental issues.

The website has interactive maps that show driving conditions in cities around the country, traffic alerts, reports on traffic incidents and roadwork, and a drive-time calculator for determining how long it will take to drive between any two locations. Widgets called Traffic Magnets can be embedded on a blog or website to display local traffic conditions.

Web 2.0 and the Rise of Social Media

The concept of Web 2.0 surfaced in the wake of the crash of 2001 and discussions about what defined companies that were still prospering during the shake-out.

The term was first used in 2004 by Dale Dougherty in conversations with Tim O’Reilly of O’Reilly Publishing, John Battelle, author of the 2005 book The Search, people from MediaLive International that puts on trade shows, and others about planning a conference on the Internet. That led to the Web 2.0 Summit, an annual conference that began in Fall 2004.

In general Web 2.0  represented a shift away from software companies that tried to lock people into using their products and media companies that published static content for a passive audience, toward a digital culture of public participation, re-mixing by individuals of data and information, harnessing the power of collective intelligence and providing services, rather than products.

The rise of weblogs in the early 2000s was perhaps the best example of this emergence of “social media.”

For news organizations, Web 2.0 means moving away from using the Internet to draw a passive audience to a static publishing platform, and instead embracing the broader network, where communication, collaboration, interaction and user-created content are paramount.

Practically it means everything from engaging people on blogs, online forums and social networks, to promoting user generated content and providing more personalized content for mobile devices such as cellphones.

Many news organizations are now embracing the Web 2.0 approach. The Bivings Group, in a 2008 survey of the websites of the 100 largest newspapers, found that:

  • 58 percent accepted user-generated photos
  • 18 percent accepted user-generated videos
  • 15 percent accepted user-generated articles
  • 75 percent allowed for comments on articles (up from 33 percent in 2007)
  • 76 percent provided some form of a “most popular” list of stories, based on what readers were commenting on or emailing or blogging about
  • 92 percent allowed readers to tag stories for inclusion on social bookmarking or aggregation sites like delicious or Digg (compared with only 7 percent in 2006)
  • 10 percent utilized social networking tools

Readings and Resources

Presentation Links

Comments on News Stories

One of the most basic ways that a news organization can engage people is to provide a way for them to comment on and discuss news stories on the website and postings to staff weblogs.

Newspapers and magazines have long allowed public comment in the form of letters to the editor. But online comments are as much about people communicating and interacting with each other, as they are just reacting to a reporter’s story.

They are a way of engaging people in a conversation about the news and recognizing that a story does not end with its publication, but rather is a starting point for generating commentary and contributions by the public.

But because online comments aren’t as strictly vetted as letters to the editor, they have proved vexing for many news organizations.

Only a very small percentage of readers usually will comment on any given news story or blog posting, and most comments will be made by a relative handful of frequent posters who may not be representative of general readership. This has been referred to as the 90-9-1 rule, which means 90 percent of people won’t post any comments, 9 percent will post infrequently, and 1 percent will account for the vast majority of the postings.

On the 90-9-1 rule, see Jakob Nielsen’s article on “Participation Inequality: Encouraging More Users to Contribute.”

One survey by AdAge found that 63% of readers said they were not more likely to visit a news site because it allowed posting of comments (although young adults were much more inclined to visit sites with commenting).

A few people also will post comments that are offensive or disruptive, quickly turning an intelligent discussion into an online food fight. In the blogging community, such posters are referred to as “trolls.”

Another major problem is spammers, who will bombard comments with messages that hawk products or promote online scams.

Because of the offensive postings, a number of news organizations have closed down comments – either temporarily or permanently – after the discussions degenerated into name calling or worse. The Washington Post, for example, shut down comments on its blog in January 2006.

As Jim Brady, executive editor of, explained the decision:

“…there are things that we said we would not allow, including personal attacks, the use of profanity and hate speech. Because a significant number of folks who have posted in this blog have refused to follow any of those relatively simple rules, we’ve decided not to allow comments for the time being.”

For more on the Post’s decision, see the online chat with Brady.

News organizations also feel the nasty and offensive comments threaten their brands as reputable sources of news.

Some have argued that news organizations just need to swallow hard and live with offensive comments because the value of opening up  to reader comments outweighs the downsides.

Others have adopted various schemes for trying to regulate and upgrade the conversations:

  • Human editors vet comments, either before they’re posted or afterward, and remove any that are deemed offensive or violate the publication’s guidelines for comment posting.
  • Readers are invited to report offensive comments to editors so they can be reviewed and removed.
  • Software solutions are adopted to filter comments, such as allowing readers to rank the value of comments and try to relegate offensive ones to the bottom. See SlashDot for one such system.
  • Tiered commenting systems are implemented, in which comments by people who have a track record of posting valuable comments appear first, while comments by everyone else appear on second tier below.
  • Requiring that people sign in using their social network identities such as Facebook in order to post comments. See the section of this tutorial on Facebook Connect.
  • The New York Times in 2013 began placing selected comments in the body of news stories at approprite points. This seemed to help elevate the overall quality of comments on the stories. And it gave more importance to reader feedback, integrating it into the story rather that exiling it to the end.
  • The Quartz news site in 2013 began placing comments adjacent to paragraphs in its stories, so comments are contextual rather than buried at the end of a story. The approach is modeled on how the site Medium places its comments, which it calls notes.

Readings and Resources

Online Forums

Besides commenting on individual stories, many news organizations provide online forums or discussion boards where people can start conversations and post comments. Forums allow more control by users because they can pick the topics they want to discuss, rather than just responding to a news story.

For example, check out the dozens of online forums the Cleveland Plain Dealer hosts on its site.

Online forums have proliferated at many other websites besides online publications. Boardtracker is a search engine for finding online forums by topic.

But online forums face many of the same problems as allowing comments on stories and blog entries – offensive postings by a relative handful of disruptive people and postings by spammers.

The problem of off-topic and offensive postings and spam is one that has plagued the Internet for years. One of the Internet’s original online forums – Usenet newsgroups – fell into relative disuse because of the volume of spam and “flame wars” on the newsgroups.

Chat Sessions

Another form of communicating with readers and soliciting comments is an online chat with reporters, editors or people in the news.

Chat has a long history on the Internet, dating to the introduction in 1988 of Internet Relay Chat. In 1991 IRC gained attention because   people were using it to post notes and discuss the Persian Gulf War. For more on Internet Relay Chat, see the Internet Relay Chat help archive.

For news organizations and journalists, online chats improve transparency, allowing people to ask questions about how a story was reported or written and providing insight into how a news organization operates.

One good example is the Washington Post’s live chats section.


The rise of weblogs in the early 2000s helped define the concept of Web 2.0.

Blogs are a reference to both a form of publishing content online and the software programs that make such publishing very easy for the average person.

Websites that later were referred to as the first weblogs surfaced in the mid 1990s. They often were short postings to static web pages of updates on particular topics by people interested in those subjects. One of the earliest by an individual was Dave Winer’s Scripting News.

In 1999 a company called Pyra, which was developing project management software, released a software program – Blogger – that made it simple to set up and constantly update a website. With Blogger a person didn’t need to know HTML coding to create a web page or to post content to it.

For the first several years, blogging was mostly done by people working in the technology sector or hobbyists in other fields. And their postings were usually very short and just informative.

The 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States brought to the fore two more aspects of blogging – the ability of people to post first-person accounts of news events and provide commentary on political issues. People who were eye-witnesses to the collapse of the World Trade Center towers in New York City posted what they saw on their blogs. Other bloggers engaged in debate over how the U.S. should respond to the attacks. The term “warbloggers” was coined to describe them.

Blogging then took off and by 2002 several thousand weblogs were being launched every day, according to an estimate by David Sifry of Technorati, which tracks weblogs.

By 2008, the number of weblogs was estimated to be well over 100 million, according to Technorati (although many of these blogs are dormant).

But at least among teens blogging may now be in decline. While 28 percent of teens blogged in 2006, only 14 percent said they did so in 2009, according to a survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.  Younger people are gravitating instead to social networks like Facebook or Twitter (see this New York Times story).

Journalism and Blogging

News organizations initially were very reluctant to have their reporters or editors set up weblogs, and many viewed bloggers with suspicion or contempt. Bloggers were derided as “pajama-clad” amateurs writing late at night from the comfort of their bedrooms or basements, or “parasites” who did no original reporting and instead were just pundits feasting on the reporting labors of traditional media organizations.

But some news organizations embraced blogging early on, with blogs written by columnists, editors or reporters, often on technology beats. These early adopters of blogs included:

  • San Jose Mercury News, which had one of the earlierst blogs by a reporter, Dan Gillmor, who covered the technology beat
  • Christian Science Monitor, which sponsored a blog by Tim Regan, editor of the Monitor online
  • Spokane Spokesman Review, which had 10 blogs up and running by 2003
  • Dallas Morning News, which launched a group blog by its editorial board members
  •, which hosted blogs by a half dozen of its popular commentators
  • InfoWorld, which had a group blog called Tech Watch to which any staff reporter could post

In Fall 2002 the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism launched a weblog – biPlog – to cover digital copyright and intellectual property issues.

As blogs gained widespread public adoption in the mid 2000s, more and more media companies embraced them. Columnists and reporters set up  personal blogs, usually on their beats, and some news organizations began hosting blogs by members of the public or linking to popular blogs in their coverage areas.

The Spokane Spokesman Review hosts a number of staff written blogs and also has a directory to other bloggers in the Spokane area. The Lawrence Journal World has about 3 dozen staff blogs and also hosts weblogs by readers. Other papers are now following suit – see MediaShift’s story, Newspaper Try Again with Local Blog Networks.

Other papers began using blogs to report on breaking news stories – everything from political campaigns and elections to courtroom trials and natural disasters. See for example the Philadelphia Inquirer’s From the Source breaking news blog (and this story about the blog by Chris Krewson, the Inquirer’s executive editor of online news).

Despite the now widespread acceptance of blogging by news organizations, tensions remain over the role a journalist should play as a blogger and how news organizations should handle their staff produced blogs.

Most successful bloggers have their own voice or point of view. That’s fine for a columnist who starts blogging, but it can be at odds with the traditional media definition of the objective, impartial reporter.

Blog postings are usually not polished editorial products, like a heavily edited story, and a premium is put on doing frequent postings, especially on breaking news. The demands of individual blogging thus can clash with editing and fact-checking functions of news organizations.

News organizations have responded by adopting standards for postings by their in-house staff bloggers. Some publications require that blog posts be edited before being made public, while others allow a reporter to go public with a posting, and then have editors review the postings afterward.

Blogging is not for everyone. Some reporters take to it with enthusiasm, but forcing reluctant reporters to blog is usually a recipe for boring blogs and a demoralized staff.

For reporters who like blogging, it can be an invaluable form of personal branding – establishing themselves in an online community, connecting and engaging with the public, getting feedback and story ideas, and participating in the larger conversations going on all over the Internet.

Blogging Software

There are many software programs for easily setting up a weblog, either hosted on the blog software company’s website or on a web server at your news organization or at a private hosting service. Blogging software even can serve as a basic content management system for many publications.

Blogger, which helped touch off the blogging revolution, provides simple blogs hosted for free on its website.

Another popular site that provides a simple-to-set-up-and-use blogging service is Tumblr.

Two other popular and more versatile and sophisticated blogging programs are WordPress and Movable Type.

We use WordPress for our blogs at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. See our tutorial on Using WordPress.

If you pick one blogging program and decide later you’d prefer a different one, check out Google’s Blog Converters, which allow you to transfer your data, such as postings, from one blogging platform to another.

Readings and Resources

Top 10 blogging tips from around the web – Mark Luckie, 10,000 Words, 9/17/2008

Social Media & Mobile Internet Use Among Teens and Young Adults – Pew Internet & American Life Project, 2/3/2010

Blogs Wane as the Young Drift to Sites Like Twitter – New York Times, 2/20/2011

RSS – Syndicating Content

RSS, which stands for Really Simple Syndication, is just that – a very easy way to distribute news content to people, rather than requiring them to visit a news website.

RSS software, created in 1999, lets a website set up a feed of its content such as news stories that people can download and read using an application called an RSS Reader.

The reader can be a software application a person installs on their computer, such as NetNewsWire for Mac computers and FeedDemon for Windows machines.

Or a person can sign up to use a reader hosted on a website, such as Google Reader or My Yahoo!.

RSS feeds also are a way to distribute your audio or video to mobile devices like the iPod or iPod Touch.

News organizations increasingly are offering RSS feeds of their news stories. For examples, see

Blogging applications such as WordPress and Movable Type also make it easy to provide RSS feeds of postings to a weblog. For journalists who have their own blogs, RSS is yet another way of extending their personal brand by providing a feed of stories they produce.

Aggregators – Selecting and Sharing Content

Some of the most popular news sites on the web are aggregators that pull together news stories produced by a wide variety of other news organizations.

The aggregators usually do a better job of packaging and presenting the stories than the original sites. And they take advantage of social media to extend their reach to people and dissseminate their content.

Social Media Aggregators

Some aggregators are citizen journalism based. So rather than having professional editors at news organizations determine the important stories of the day, people are taking on this role themselves at aggregation sites where users select and share what they deem the most important news or websites.

Users submit stories or websites to be listed on the aggregation sites, and other users then vote on or help rank the importance of the stories or sites and how prominently they should be displayed.

Examples of these social media aggregators include:

  • Reddit – a news stories aggregator that was purchased in 2006 by magazine publisher Conde Nast.
  • Mixx – Their motto: “So why should some faceless editor get to decide what’s important? But now you’re in charge. You find it; we’ll Mixx it.”
  • Delicious – people submit bookmarks of their favorite websites to share them with others. The bookmarks are arranged topically and are ranked by the most popular submissions. You also can find the personal bookmarks of the person who posted them.
  • Digg – a news stories aggregator, at which a vote for a story is called a “digg” (Digg was sold in 2012 and is being relaunched as a different service)
  • StumbleUpon – another site for sharing favorite websites.
  • Publish2 – this site is designed for news organizations that want their journalists to share links on news stories and have those links aggregated on the publication’s website.

Aggregators also have widgets people can use to embed story feeds on their blogs, websites or personal pages on social networks.

And news websites can place icons for the aggregation services at the end of stories, so readers can click on the icons to submit the stories for inclusion in the listings by the aggregators.

See for example, the CNN website. Click on a story there, scroll to the end and click on the Share button.

Aggregators also have developed applications for tablet computers or cellphones, such as Flipboard, Pulse, news360, Zite (owned by CNN) and Google Currents.

Computer Algorithm Aggregators

Other services like Google News rely on computer algorithms to aggregate links to news stories.

Professionally Edited Aggregators

Then there are human edited aggregators that employ professional journalists to curate content. Many of these sites also are increasingly employing journalists to produce original content. They include:

News sites also often have blogs or other features that aggregate or curate links to stories published elsewhere.

Resources and Readings

Facebook and Social Media

Beginning in the early 2000s, a new form of online social interaction emerged – social network websites.

Social networks provided people with a way to set up a personal page or profile to which they could post updates on what they were doing, while also keeping track of the activities of family, friends and colleagues.

People also can engage in group activities online and display feeds of information on their home pages – everything from personal photo slideshows and videos to musical playlists and calendars to weather reports and news stories. The applications that allow social network users to display this information on their profile pages are called widgets.

Some of the early social networks were Friendster, started in 2002, and Tribe, launched in 2003.

By 2008, 35 percent of adult Internet users had created a profile on a social network, quadruple the percentage in 2005, according to a Pew Internet & American Life Project survey in December 2008. The numbers are even more striking for younger people – 75 percent of Internet users aged 18-24 have a social network profile.

By May 2013, 72 percentage of adult Internet users were using social networking sites like Facebook, up from 67 percent in late 2012 according to a Pew Internet & American Life Project survey. The number in 2005 was only  8 percent.

Journalists and Social Networks

For journalists and news organizations, social networks provide an opportunity for connecting with people, distributing news stories and complementing news coverage with feeds from social media.

  • Reporters can join the networks, converse with people and showcase their stories. It’s yet another way for reporters to develop personal brands for their work.
  • News organizations can create their own pages on social networks, such as a fan page on Facebook, and use that to alert people to important news stories the news organization has published or post other items of interest to its followers. Or they can set up their own social networks, using third-party software like Ning or their own homegrown platforms.
  • Social networks are great for generating conversations among people about stories. Many news media have found that the volume of reader comments on a story posted on Facebook can exceed comments posted on the news organization’s website.
  • News organizations can develop widgets that provide feeds of news stories that can be displayed on the personal pages of social network members. See for example the New York Times Widgets page that people can used to embed news feeds from the Times on their personal profile pages or on blogs or other websites.
  • News sites can use an application like Storify to pull together postings to Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites on a particular topic in the news, especially a breaking news story.
  • News media can tell first-person stories using Facebook postings, such as the Washington Post’s A Facebook story: A mother’s joy and a family’s sorrow, which published a mother’s Facebook postings about giving birth and her  subsequent medical complications. Read also this Poynter article describing why and how the Washington Post story was done.
  • Journalists also can use social networks like Facebook to find sources for stories. See for example Facebook’s Graph Search that can be used to locate people who work at particular companies or organizations, live in specific towns or cities or have particular interests. You also can create Interest Lists in Facebook to create a custom feed of postings by people around specific topics.

Social Networks as a Source of News

People are increasingly learning about news stories via social networks, but the percentage is still small.

About 47 percent of adult U.S. Facebook users “ever” get news on Facebook, according to a Pew Research Center survey in August-September 2013. Just 4 percent said Facebook was the most important way they got news.

Only 27 percent of American adults regularly or sometimes get news or news headlines through social networking sites, according to a report by the Pew Research Center released in September 2011. The number increased to 38 percent for people under 30.

During the 2012 presidential primary elections, only 20 percent of people regularly or sometimes got campaign information from Facebook and only 5 percent from Twitter, according to a Pew Research Center survey in February 2012.

A survey by the Reynolds Journalism Institute found that nearly 63 percent of people surveyed said they prefer news stories produced by professional journalists, while less than 21 percent said they prefer to get most of their news from friends they trust.

But Facebook is more popular as a news source among younger people.

Among people 18 to 29 years old, 52 percent get news from Facebook, the top news source for the young, according to a USC Annenberg/Los Angeles Times poll in 2012. That  compares with 25 percent of people overall who get news from Facebook.

Driving Traffic to News Sites

Social networks are driving an increasing percentage of the traffic to news sites, beginning to rival search engines like Google as sources of referrals to news stories.

Facebook reported that the average media site saw referral traffic from Facebook more than double in 2010.

News websites got 9 percent of their traffic from social media such as Facebook and Twitter in 2011, about a 57 percent increase over 2009, according to the State of the News Media 2012 report on digital news by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

We saw this at the Oakland North community news site run by the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism after we made a concerted effort in Spring 2010 to post story links on our site’s Facebook page. We saw the percentage of referrals to the Oakland North website from Facebook increase to 13.2 percent in December 2010, up from 5.5 percent in December 2009.

Some have even speculated that social networks will supplant news websites as the place where people get news.

One online news site, Rockville Central in Maryland, decided in early 2011 to stop publication of its website and instead publish entirely on a Facebook page. See The Hyperlocalist’s analysis of the move.

Making Effective Posts to Social Networks

News organizations also need to do more than just post links to stories on Facebook or services like Twitter.

Instead the postings need to be more informal and conversational, provide commentary or analysis on the news and invite people to participate, such as asking them to answer a question or provide suggestions for stories or story angles to pursue.

Adding a quality photo to a posting also signficantly increases reader responses, such as likes or comments. According to Liz Heron, who manages the team of social media editors at the Wall Street Journal:

Whenever possible, use images to tell a story. We often put photos and charts directly into tweets, and almost everything we post on Facebook has an image….Really putting a priority on being able to tell a story in a visual way has been one of the biggest shifts for us and the most important shifts in terms of growing our community.

Source: Five social media tips from The Wall Street Journal –, 2/4/2014

Stories that evoke emotions are more popular than straight news articles.

Based on studies of the kind of content people are most likely to share with others, stories that are fun or cute or made people happy are most effective, followed by stories that evoke anger or disgust. Least effective would be stories that provoke little emotion.

See this FastCompany article, These Scientists Studied Why Internet Stories Go Viral. You Won’t Believe What They Found, and this New Yorker story, The Six Things That Make Stories Go Viral Will Amaze, And Maybe Infuriate, You.

Postings need to be regular, but not overwhelming. So perhaps 5 – 10 posts a day.

There’s no optimum length, and both short or long posts can engage people depending on the subject matter. That said, in general 4-5 line posts seem to work best.

For the analyses behind these suggestions and more tips on effective postings, see Facebook’s “How Journalists Are Using Facebook Subscribe” and “Analysis: How News Pages Are Keeping Readers Engaged.

When Journalists Should Post to Social Networks

An analysis by Dan Zarrella of posts of news story links to Facebook found that people tend to share articles more on weekends (especially Saturdays) than during weekdays, and in the mornings and evenings rather than mid day. This is the reverse of traffic patterns at most news web sites, which usually are busiest during weekdays and then experience a huge drop-off in traffic in the evening and on Saturdays and Sundays.

A Facebook analysis of news pages similarly found a “20% increase on Saturday and 9% increase in (reader) feedback on Sunday.” People were checking in throughout the day, with the most engagement in the mornings, according to the Facebook analysis.

A study by social marketing company Buddy Media of its clients Facebook postings found that Thursday and Friday postings by media companies produced the best engagement with readers. As for time of day, the Buddy Media study reported three peaks in Facebook user engagement – early morning (7 a.m.), right after work hours (5 pm) and late at night (11 p.m.).

We discovered the value of weekend posts at the Richmond Confidential community news site we run at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism when we posted a story and photo slideshow about a high school football game.The story was published on a Saturday and helped set a new one-day record for traffic to the site, much of it referred by Facebook users who linked to the football story.

So using social networks like Facebook to alert people to news articles on Saturdays and Sundays may increase weekend traffic at news websites.

Note: A study by Bitly, the URL shortening service, came up with different findings on the best times and days to post on Facebook. Bitly reported that links posted in the afternoon got the most click throughs on average, while links posted on weekends performed relatively poorly.


The social network that emerged as the most popular in the late 2000s is Facebook

Founded in February 2004, Facebook started as a service for college students but then opened its doors to anyone to join.

By October 2013, Facebook reported having nearly 1.2 billion monthly active users. That compared to 800 million in December 2011.

The median age of a Facebook user also increased from 26 in May 2008 to 33 in October 2009, according to a Pew Internet and American Life survey.

By 2011, more than 42 percent of the U.S. population were Facebook users, according to an eMarketer survey.

By August-September 2013, 64 percent of U.S. adults were Facebook users, according to a Pew Research Center survey.

Facebook Connect

In May 2008, Facebook launched Facebook Connect, which lets other websites utliize Facebook users’ profiles and networking features. A news website can have users register at the site using their Facebook accounts and then explore content on the site, comment on it or share links to it with their friends on the Facebook network.

Thus a news organization can integrate a social network into its website without having to create one itself and take advantage of the huge audience of an existing social network like Facebook.

See, for example, The Huffington Post’s Social News page at which people can login using their Facebook or other social media accounts. Huffington Post credits its use of Facebook with driving a significant part of the traffic to its site.

People who use social networks like being able to sign in to websites using their social network accounts like Facebook, according to one study, while they really dislike being forced to register using the site’s own signup process.

Having people use their Facebook profiles to register and then requiring such registration to post comments on stories may also cut down on the number of inapproprite comments people post. See the Poynter story about news organizations that have seen higher quality discussion by readers after switching to Facebook’s commenting system. And this Poynter article about more news outlets using Facebook Connect to help with comments.

If a person’s comments are traceable to their Facebook identity they may be more hesitant to make offensive remarks. And a very small percentage of people on Facebook use fake names, according to a study by Entrustet.

But also check this study by Disqus that concluded people with pseudonyms made higher quality comments than those using their Facebook identities.

For another implementation of Facebook Connect at a news site, see the News Mixer project developed by students at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.

Also check out NewsCloud, an application media organizations like the Boston Globe and Baristanet are using to create community sites inside Facebook.

Other Facebook Features

In April 2010 Facebook also released “Like” buttons that news sites can add to stories so people can use their Facebook accounts to share stories they like with others on Facebook.

In March 2011 Facebook released an upgrade of its comments plug-in for websites, so a Facebook comments box can appear next to news stories on a publication’s website.

When a person posts a comment in the box, they also can have that comment appear in their news feed on Facebook. Publishers can moderate comments, such as deleting inappropriate ones posted in the Facebook comments box.

See this MediaShift story explaining the new features of Facebook comments. And read about TechCrunch’s experience using Facebook comments.

In September 2011 Facebook introduced “frictionless sharing,” in which people can automatically share on their Facebook pages the news stories they are reading.

News organizations also started developing “social reader apps” – Facebook applications people could install to read news stories while logged into Facebook.

The social reader apps deliver a feed of stories based in part on what your Facebook friends are reading, and stories you read are automatically shared with your friends. But by late 2012 the gloss appeared to be wearing off social reader apps, and several news organizations that developed them were dropping them.

In November 2011 Facebook unveiled the then-titled “subscribe” feature that allowed people to “Follow” postings to a news organization’s or a journalist’s facebook page without having to add them as a friend.

In March 2012 Facebook introduced interest lists to “help you turn Facebook into your own personalized newspaper, with special sections—or feeds—for topics that matter to you.”

In July 2013 Facebook launched Embedded Posts, which makes it easy to embed on a news site a newsworthy post someone made to their Facebook page.

Facebook also has a media page on best practices for journalists in using Facebook.

Facebook Fading with Teens?

But are young people starting to feel ambivalent about Facebook?

The Pew Internet & American Life Project conducted a series of focus groups with teenagers around the U.S. in early 2013 and found the teens:

“…have waning enthusiasm for Facebook, disliking the increasing adult presence, people sharing excessively, and stressful ‘drama,’ but they keep using it because participation is an important part of overall teenage socializing.”

This CNN story has Facebook’s response.

Other evidence that Facebook may be waning in importance for young people:

  • A study in the United Kingdom that found that “with 16-18 year olds in the UK…Facebook is not just on the slide, it is basically dead and buried. Mostly they feel embarrassed even to be associated with it,” according to one of the researchers. The reason? As more and more adults have joined Facebook, teens associate it with their parents, not their peers.  See this Guardian story for more on the study.
  • This post by a 13-year-old to Mashable about why her peers are not using Facebook
  • A research paper by Princeton University graduate students that applied models on the ebb and flow of infectious diseases to Facebook and concluded there would be a rapid decline in use in the late 2010s (although the paper’s conclusions have been challenged, such as in this Slate article).

Other Social Networks

Among the major social networks are (in alphabetical order):


Google launched its own social network, Google+, in 2011 and by December 2012 had 500 million registered users.

Previously Google had operated Google Buzz, launched in February 2010, which automatically created a social network around Google’s Gmail service, using the person’s Gmail contact list. It was discontinued the following year, when Google+ debuted.


Now owned by Facebook, Instagram is a cellphone application and social network for photo sharing that includes tools for applying simple filters to photos to alter their appearance. The Boston Globe used Instagram photos to help portray what it’s like to live in a Boston neighborhood.


LinkedIn is a social network that targets professionals and promotes itself as a way to find business contacts and jobs. It launched in 2003 and as of 2008 claimed to have 30 million users.


MySpace launched in 2003 and initially attracted a lot of young music lovers because of its MySpace Music feature. This let bands post their songs on the site, which other people then could add to their personal profile pages.

MySpace quickly evolved into a more general interest social network, mainly for young people. It was purchased by News Corp. in 2005 and by 2006 claimed to have more than 100 million users. But it then fell way behind Facebook as the most popular social network.


Ning is a website founded in 2004 that allows easy creation of a social network, hosted on Ning’s site for free. Some news organizations have used Ning to create social networks for the communities they serve.

Ning announced in April 2010 that it would be charging for its service. Non-educational organizations that had set up Ning social networks also would have to pay to continue them or move the content to some other service.


Launched in 2011, Pinterest has virtual pinboards to which people “pin” photos including images from websites they like and want to link to. You also can follow what someone else is pinning, and integrate your pins into your Facebook page or Twitter postings.

The Wall Street Journal makes extensive use of Pinterest, with 38 different boards on topics like food & drink, fashion, design & decorating, real estate, cars and the Journal’s trademark “hedcut” dot-ink illustrations.

The Pottstown Mercury newspaper in Pennsylvania uses Pinterest to publish a Wanted by Police mugshots gallery.

In September 2013 Pinterest added the ability for people to pin news articles, a response to increasing use of Pinterest by journalists.

There is some data indicating that Pinterest is one of the leading social networks for referring people to news stories. See the Mashable story: “Pinterest Drives More Traffic to Publishers Than Twitter, LinkedIn, Reddit Combined.”

For good overviews of the site and how news organizations are using Pinterest see:


A service particularly popular among teens, SnapChat lets you snap a photo or record a short video on a cellphone, add a caption and upload it for viewing by your friends. But the experience is ephemeral – the file disappears after a short time (how long is set by the user).


A cellphone application, Vine lets you quickly shoot a video of up to 6 seconds and then share it with friends. Vine was purchased by Twitter in lae 2012.


The video sharing site launched in 2005 and then purchased by Google, YouTube was exceeding 4 billion views of its videos per day and 1 billion unique visitors each month by 2012.

Social Networks at News Organization Sites

Here are some news sites that have set up their own social networks:

Bakersfield Californian – Bakotopia

The Bakersfield Californian newspaper developed a home-grown social networking application – Bakotopia – that people use to create their own profiles and personal pages. Bakotopia started in 2005 as a preemptive move against craigslist by providing an online classified ad service. As it evolved other features were added, including social networking.

Denver Post/Denver Newspaper Agency – YourHub

YourHub is a series of local online communities developed by the Denver Newspaper Agency, in which people can create profiles and blogs, and post their events, personal stories and photos.

New York Times – Times People

At the Times People page you create a profile and “share articles, videos, slideshows, blog posts, reader comments, and ratings and reviews of movies, restaurants and hotels.”

Social Media Tools and Services


Storyful scours social media postings, uses human editors to evaluate the validity of the postings and then aggregates them into topical news feeds.


RebelMouse takes postings you’ve made to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social media and puts them together on a personal page or pages. You also can embed the RebelMouse page on another website, such as a blog.

News organizations also are using RebelMouse to aggregate social media postings by members of the public on particular topics or breaking news stories.

See How newsrooms are using social media curator RebelMouse – International Journalists’ Network, 10/13/2013.


Use Branch to post a reference to something you read on the web or an idea you have, share it with people via email or Twitter to start a conversation about it, and then post the conversation (the branch) on your blog or share it as a link.


Pluck provides a suite of tools for websites that want to create social networks, as well as blogs, forums and comments.

Resources and Readings

Presentation Links


When Twitter was publicly released in August 2006 there were plenty of skeptics. The idea was to give people an easy way to post very short – 140 characters or less – notes about what they were doing in their daily lives. Postings from people saying they were about to go to lunch or board a plane seemed trivial.

People can set up accounts on Twitter for free and then post the short messages (called “tweets”) that appear on their personal pages on the Twitter website. The notes can be posted at the Twitter website or from cellphones and other mobile devices.

Others then can check a person’s postings by subscribing to them (referred to as “following” a person) on the Twitter website. The notes can be viewed on the website or on a cellphone or other mobile device. They also can be embedded in a personal blog or website.

Twitter’s Growth

Despite early reservations about the usefulness of Twitter, the service took off, launching what has been referred to as the “microblogging” phenomenon. Twitter had 7 million visitors to its website in February 2009, a 1,382 percent increase over a year earlier, according to Nielsen Online. By March 2009, Twitter was growing at a 2,565 percent annual rate, according to Nielsen Online data.

Twitter’s growth appeared to slow in late 2009, according to some studies, and a relatively small percentage of Twitter users actively post (see the studies cited in the Readings and Resources section below).

In May 2013, 18 percent of adult American Internet users were Twitter users, according to a Pew Internet & American Life survey. That’s up from 15 percent in February 2012, 13 percent in May 2011 and 8 percent in November 2010.

survey by the Pew Research Center in August-September 2013 reported that 16 percent of U.S. adults were Twitter users (people polled in this survey included non-Internet users, which probably accounts for the slightly smaller percentage of Twitter users than the May 2013 survey above).

The number of people using Twitter to get news remains small. During the 2012 presidential primary elections, only 5 percent of people regularly or sometimes got campaign information from Twitter, according to a Pew Research Center survey in February 2012. A year later still only 8 percent of of people were using Twitter for news, according to an August-September 2013 Pew Research survey.

People using Twitter to Report News Events

People often use Twitter to report on news events they witness or participate in:

  • Iranians protesting their country’s elections in June 2009 used Twitter to report on and organize demonstrations. See this New York Times story.
  • A passenger on a plane that went off the runway at the Denver Airport in December 2008 used twitter to post notes about the crash and the evacuation from the plane right after they occurred.
  • During the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, in November 2008, some of the first reports on what was happening came on Twitter. See TechCrunch’s summary on the Mumbai Twitter postings.
  • A UC Berkeley journalism student used Twitter to report he had been detained by Egyptian police while covering anti-government protests there in April 2008.
  • A passenger on a ferry posted a photo on twitpic of a plane that crash landed in the Hudson River in New York in January 2009
  • Amy Stewart, a bookstore owner in Eureka, California, reported on a January 9, 2010, earthquake there via text posts and photos to Twitter. See the story at Mashable. And check out Stewart’s Twitter feed for Jan. 9, including the many requests from media companies to use her photos.
  • A small local paper, the Ferndale Enterprise, also used Twitter to cover the Eureka earthquake (and the paper’s editor and publisher learned about using Twitter from her 20-year-old daughter).
  • Twitter outdistanced news sites in breaking news coverage of the man who took hostages at the Discovery Channel’s headquarters in September 2010.
  • News of singer Whitney Houston’s death was reported on Twitter before media organizations posted the story. Also see the mediabistro story on the first reports of Houston’s death.
  • A Reddit contributor used Twitter posts to put together a story on shootings at a party in a Toronto suburb.

Demographics of Twitter Users

When Twitter first began to take off in the late 2000s, its main demographic was not teenagers or young kids, but somewhat older professionals in metropolitan areas, according to surveys at the time.

See the 2009 story “Stats Confirm It: Teens Don’t Tweet” in Mashable, and the 2009 analysis of Twitter usage data at TechCrunch: “Why Don’t Teens Tweet? We Asked Over 10,000 of Them.” Watch this Current TV video on Twouble with Twitters on the Twitter generation gap.

A Nielsen Online study in February 2009 reported that the largest age group using Twitter was 35 – 49 years old.

Only 22 percent of 18-24 year olds used Twitter, according to a Participatory Marketing Network study in 2009. A Pew Internet and American Life survey released in October 2009 put the median age of a Twitter user at 31, compared with 26 for MySpace and 33 for Facebook (up from 26 for Facebook in May 2008).

But more recent Pew surveys found that young adults were significantly more likely to use Twitter than older people. Internet users 18 to 24 year old were the fastest growing group of Twitter users, according to a February 2012 Pew survey.

One survey of teens in 2013 reported that Twitter was more important to them than Facebook (although this was primarily because of declining popularity for Facebook among teens, according to the survey data).

Another Pew survey in August-September 2013 found that Twitter uses were younger, more mobile and more educated than Facebook users.

Urban Internet users also are twice as likely as rural residents to use Twitter, according to a Pew Internet & American Life survey in December 2010.

African American adults who use the Internet are more likely to use Twitter (28 percent) than white Internet users (12 percent), according to Pew Internet & American Life survey released in May 2012. The number for Hispanics was 14 percent.

A similar trend was found among African-American teens who are internet users: 39 percent of African-American teens use Twitter, compared with 23 percent of while teens, according to a Pew Internet & American Life report in 2013.

News Organizations Twittering

News organizations soon picked up on Twitter, using it to post quick updates on breaking news stories or just provide a more general feed of links to news stories.

See this list of news organizations using Twitter compiled in February 2008, and another list that’s more up to date. One example is the New York Times feed on Twitter of links to its news stories. Also read the postings by Knight Digital Media Center journalism fellows about how their news organizations are using Twitter.

Twitter can be particularly effective on breaking news stories, according to surveys (see, for example, NPR’s survey of its Twitter followers).

Twitter feeds on breaking news can be a mix of postings by reporters and by citizen eye-witnesses:

  • The Orange County Register used Twitter to post updates on the huge fires there in November 2008.
  • That idea was inspired by an Oregonian experiment in taking advantage of Twitter’s API to aggregate tweets by people in the Portland area about heavy rain and flooding. The Oregonian uses the Monitter service to create a widget that generated the feed and was embeddable on the Oregonian website).
  • Reporters from four publications in Washington state collaborated with citizens to post updates on Twitter about flooding in western Washington in January 2009. The journalists also used the Publish2 link aggregator service to link to each others’ stories and those by other news organizations.
  • The Ferndale Enterprise, a small local paper in northern California, used Twitter to cover an earthquake there on Jan. 10, 2009
  • The Tuscaloosa News used Twitter to file breaking news alerts on the destruction caused by a tornado in April 2011. The paper won the Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News for its coverage.
  • The Denver Post relied heavily on Twitter to post breaking news about the mass shootings at a Colorado theater

In August 2010 Twitter also released a Tweet button that a news website can place next to a news story to make it easier for people to do a Twitter post about the story.

In April 2013 Twitter released its Web Intents feature, which a news organization can use to highlighted a phrase or sentence in a story, so a reader can click on it and send it out to his/her Twitter feed. When someone then clicks on the item in the Twitter feed, they’re taken to the part of the story where the excerpt appeared.

The New York Times used this to highlight quotes for tweeting in an August 2013 article with interviews with cast members of Saturday Night Live.

Making Effective Tweets

Here are some tips for journalists on how to effectively use Twitter to engage people:

  • Tweet about breaking news rather than feature stories (this takes advantage of how most people use Twitter: “a core function of Twitter is passing along pieces of information as (a breaking news) story develops,” according to a Pew Research Center survey of Twitter users.
  • Have your individual reporters tweet rather than sending tweets from your news organization’s centralized Twitter account. Readers tend to respond better to personal rather than corporate postings.
  • Tweet not just about stories on which you’re working but also about other things you come across on your beat, and include URLs
  • Try to use more action verbs in a tweet, rather than just nouns
  • Being clear is better than being clever in a tweet
  • Include a #hashtag in your tweet to increase the number of people who see your tweet. The hashtag in effect allows you to join a larger topical conversation that’s using the hashtag or to create a new conversation that invites others to join in by using the same hashtag.
  • Include a photo.
  • Use Twitter to interact with people by asking for sources on a story or offering to answer their questions about a story
  • The best times for getting people to re-tweet your tweets are during the early afternoon and then very late afternoon and possibly on weekends (the data on best times and days to tweet is conflicting).

For more tips on how to compose an effective “tweet,” see Dan Zarrella’s How to Get More Clicks on Twitter, this Poynter story on a Twitter study and this Mashable story on a study on how marketers can best use Twitter.

While journalists have embraced Twitter probably more than any other social network, news sites get far more referrals from Facebook and even Instagram.

So journalists are to some degree out of synch with the public on the social media platforms of choice. See this Washington Post story by Ezra Klein on Why do journalists prefer Twitter to Facebook?

In 2012 a paid alternative to Twitter was launched – The rationale for is that advertising supported social networks (like Twitter) will require features that are at odds with what users need, whereas a pay-to-use network will cater better to what users want.

Readings and Resources

Presentation Links


A widget is a bit of code that can be embedded on a website, blog or a personal page on a social network to display all different types of content drawn from other websites, including a feed of news stories.

Widgets can be used to display everything from weather, traffic and stock reports to event calendars and personalized maps.

Many news organizations developed widgets to provide feeds of their news stories and other content that can be embedded on other websites and social networks.

One simple example is National Geographic’s “Photo of the Day” widget for Facebook.

Here’s the widget the Windy Citizen news site in Chicago provides for adding their news feed to  a social network or blog (scroll down to the section on “Add today’s top stories to your site”).

For more information on how widgets work, see the wikipedia entry for Web Widgets.

See also our tutorial on Creating a Publication Widget.

Readings and Resources – provides a drag and drop editor that allows non-programmers to create simple applications and widgets drawing on APIs.


API, which stands for Application Programming Interface, is a way a website or service can allow integration of its content into other websites. The API allows a computer system to interpret and use data created on another system, even if it used a different programming language or structure.

A good example is the Google Maps API, which Google released so other websites could embed customized Google maps on their pages.

Programmers are needed to create an API, and APIs often have to be customized for different types of websites that want to utilize them, such as different social networks.

See Google’s OpenSocial project that is developing common API’s that can be implemented within a variety of proprietary web services.

News organizations can develop APIs so their content can be customized and mashed up with additional information at other web sites. It’s one more way for a news organization to participate in and make its content available to a larger online network.

See for example:

  • NPR’s API which it released publicly so other web sites could develop customized feeds of podcasts of NPR radio shows.
  • The New York Times released an API in October 2008 for databases of federal campaign finance reports it had developed, so other sites could access the data and reuse it in different forms. The Times also relased an API for data on members of Congress and their voting records.
  • In February 2009 the New York Times followed up with a release of an API for 28 years of its own articles, tagged for efficient searching.
  • The BBC has released a half dozen APIs of its content.
  • The Guardian has an “Open Platform” initiative that makes its news stories, including video and photos, as well as data and statistics vetted by Guardian editors, available via an API.

Readings and Resources – provides a drag and drop editor that allows non-programmers to create simple applications and widgets drawing on APIs.

User Generated Content and Crowdsourcing

Blogs, mobile devices, social networks, microblogging and other digital tools have allowed people to publish their own stories and cover their own communities.

YouTube, which was purchased by Google, is a wildly popular site where people can post videos. It’s motto is “Broadcast Yourself.”

Flickr is a site owned by Yahoo! where people can upload and share photos.

This proliferation of user generated content (UGC) represents yet another challenge and opportunity for news organizations.

Citizens can bypass mainstream media entirely and produce content and communicate directly with others. Many journalists have decried this rise in “citizen journalism” as the triumph of amateurism over professionalism.

It also can lead to inaccuracies or worse in citizen reporting, such as when members of the Reddit social media new site claimed they had identified suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing case in April 2013, but the men were completely innocent. Reddit apologized and, in fairness, professional media also made egregious mistakes in reporting.

Many news organizations are inviting citizens to co-produce the news and contribute to the news organizations’ websites, a practice referred to as crowdsourcing.

The Bivings Group, in a 2008 survey of the websites of the 100 largest newspapers, found that:

  • 58 percent accepted user-generated photos
  • 18 percent accepted user-generated videos
  • 15 percent accepted user-generated articles

Examples of user generated content or crowdsourcing at news organizations include:

  • Bakersfield Voice – an online edition of the Bakersfield Californian produced by citizens. This began with the Northwest Voice covering a section of Bakersfield that was produced both online and in print.
  • iReport – a special section of CNN’s website where people can post their own news stories, including video or photos.
  • MP Expenses – a project by The Guardian in which people were asked to analyze hundreds of thousands of pages of expense reports of members of Parliament.
  • Free the Files – A project by ProPublica asking people to analyze filings by television stations about political  advertisements to create a database of campaign ad spending. Nearly 1,000 people participated in the project and $1 billion in advertising purchases was logged into a public database. ProPublica used a variety of techniques to get people motivated to participate in the project, including keeping the tasks simple, running contests, providing constant feedback on what a person had accomplished, and using a clean page design with few distrations so people woud stay focused on the tasks.
  • CicadaTracker– Public radio’s WNYC and Radiolab got people to put out homemade sensors in 2013 to try to track the reemergence of the Cicada insects during their 17-year cycle.

See this list of local community news sites and services that draw on citizen journalism, some created by news organizations. some by online start-ups, and others entirely by citizens.

Readings and Resources


Perhaps the ultimate form of user generated content is the wiki.

Wiki software was developed to promote collaboration in producing content, relying on the collective wisdom of the masses rather than the specialized knowledge of a limited group of experts.

It became hugely popular with the creation of the expansive wikipedia online encyclopedia, which now dwarfs traditional encyclopedias like Britannica in the amount of content it contains. Whether wikipedia is more credible than Britannica remains a subject of continuing analysis and debate. See the Guardian’s research study, “Can You Trust Wikipedia,” and a study by Nature magazine.

News organization experiments with wikis have been very tentative thus far. Part of the reason was the disastrous experience the Los Angeles Times had when it set up a wiki in 2005 to collectively write editorials. The wiki was inundated with obscene photos and other inappropriate content and shut down.

Other news media sponsored wikis include:

  • Forbes magazine set up a wiki to get people to create organization charts on companies. But little content has been contributed to the wiki.
  • The Toronto Globe and Mail is experimenting with using a wiki to get people to contribute their ideas about public policy issues in Canada, such as the federal budget.

Mobile – Cellphones

The explosion in cellphone usage during the 1990s and 2000s poses a major challenge and huge opportunity for media companies to get their content distributed to mobile devices.

While home computer ownership has pretty much plateaued in recent years (approximately three quarters of U.S. households have a computer), cellphone ownership is even higher – 82 percent, according to a survey released in September 2010 by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

The percentage of American adults with an Internet-enabled smartphone also has been increasing – up to 56 percent in 2013, according to a Pew Internet & American Life survey.

Cellphone usage also tends to be habitual, with people checking their cellphones continuously during the day and evening.

Cellphone ownership among African Americans and English-speaking Latinos is higher (87 percent for both groups) than among whites (80 percent), according to a survey released in July 2010 by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

Similarly smartphone ownership is higher for African American adults (64 percent) and Hispanic adults (60 percent) that for white adults (53 percent), according to a Pew Internet & American Life survey. in 2013.

Cellphones and News Sites

A steadily increasing percentage of people regularly get news on their cellphones, according to surveys.

In 2010 only 10 percent of cellphone owners in the United States said they regularly got news or news headlines on their cell phones and 8 percent sometimes did, according to a Pew Research Center survey released in September 2010.

In 2012 41 percent of men and 30 percent of women were getting news daily on their cellphones, according to a Pew Research Center survey released in December 2012.

In 2011 51 percent of smartphone owners got news on the devices (compared to 70 percent of laptop/desktop computer owners), according to a survey by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

A 2012 national survey by the Reynolds Journalism Institute of users of mobile devices, both cellphones and tablets, reported that 63 percent used one or more of the devices to consume news in the previous 7 days.

And news organizations are reporting an increasing percentage of traffic to their websites comes from mobile devices. The New York Times reported in November 2012 that of combined visits to the Times’ website, mobile website and apps, 37 percent came from cellphones or tablets.

Websites developed by news organizations for traditional web browsers often display poorly on mobile devices, requiring new strategies for delivering stories and other content to cellphone users:

  • Media companies create mobile versions of their websites that are compatible with small cellphone screens. Check out the mobile websites of the New York Times or CNN and Consumer Reports.
  • Some sites use “responsive design” in coding their web sites: the site resizes itself based on the screen size or resolution of standard mobile devices. See the Boston Globe’s responsive design website (click on a corner of your web browser and drag to shrink the page and see the responsive design in action).
  • Other sites deliver news stories to cellphones using applications developed specficially for mobile devices.  custom applications for mobile devices. See, for example, the New York Times, which has custom apps for the iPhone, Android and Blackberry cellphones.
  • Some news organizations just provide news feeds for mobile devices that deliver stories via text messages. See for example ESPN’s text message alerts service. Companies such as foneshow work with media companies to deliver audio feeds of news stories to cellphones, which can be heard on older, less sophisticated devices.

Web usability expert Jakob Nielsen reported that his tests of user experiences found that mobile versions of websites should be created because their usability is significantly better on cellphones.  On the question of whether to create a mobile website or a separate mobile apps, Nielsen concluded that while apps currently have the upper hand, in the future it will be mobile websites.

A survey of cellphone users by Yahoo and Ipsos reported that people prefer apps for acquiring information, but prefer mobile browsers for searching for information.

A Reynolds Journalism Institute survey of mobile device users (both cellphones and tablets) found that 54 percent prefer reading news on a news organization’s website, compared with 22 percent who prefer a news organization’s application.

Among only smartphone users, news organization websites again were preferred over news applications, according to the RJI survey. Android users preferred news websites over news apps 63 percent to 23 percent, while iPhone users preferred news websites 49 percent to 34 percent.

Cellphones equipped with GPS (Global Positioning System) technology provide another opportunity for news organizations to deliver stories and information to people based on their location. Thus feeds of information like restaurant reviews or stories on traffic problems could be tailored to where a person is at any given moment.

Smartphone users are more likely to access local information like maps, event locations and local services than owners of tablet devices, according to a survey by Keynote.


Apple’s introduction of the iPhone in June 2007 improved the web browsing experience on a cellphone.

With the introduction of the 3G version of the iPhone with GPS technology in July 2008, information could be delivered to an iPhone based on the user’s location. See for example Apple’s description of how to use the iPhone to get maps with GPS.

While the iPhone display and touch screen technology made web browsing easier, it still proved unsatisfying for many users.

iPhone Applications

So content companies developed applications custom tailored for the iPhone to improve usability. For news organizations, these usually mean apps that deliver feeds of news stories.

See for example the iPhone applications for:

  • ABC News
  • Indianapolis Star Tribune. This app delivers not just the usual feed of headlines of stories, but also a photo gallery from the Star Tribune; a quick and easy way to take a photo and upload a photo to the Star Tribune’s site; a map of local road conditions and a news and events feed customized to your location.
  • New York Times. Besides the iPhone, the New York Times has apps for Android and Blackberry phones.

iPods and Podcasts

Another Apple device that has exploded in popularity is the iPod. While this portable device is primarily used for downloading music, news organizations also are providing audio podcasts of news stories that can be downloaded onto an iPod or iPhone.

See for example NPR’s directory of podcasts.


Google created the Android operating system for cellphones that has quickly become a major competitor for the iPhone. “Droid” software is used by a variety of cellphone manufacturers.

Android Applications

News organizations also designed custom applications to deliver news stories to droid cellphones.

Google has created an App Inventor software program that allows people without any programming skills to design their own Android applications.

Cellphones and Social Media

People who use mobile devices are only very slightly more likely than laptop/desktop users to access news based on recommendations from social media like Facebook or Twitter, according to a 2011 survey by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

But people who use both cellphones and tablets to get news rely more on social networks for recommendations on news than laptop/desktop news consumers.

The survey found that 67 percent of people who get news on mobile devices follow news recommendations from Facebook, compared to 41 percent of laptop/desktop users. Similarly, 39 percent of mobile device users follow news recommendations from Twitter, compared to 9 percent of laptop/desktop users.

Cellphones and User Generated Content

The flip side of delivering news to cellphone users is their ability to use photo and video cameras built into many of the devices to create and publish their own content, especially eye-witness accounts of news events. A classic case was the execution of Sadam Hussein captured on a cellphone video camera.

News organizations can take advantage of this by encouraging people to submit their cellphone photos and videos. The Indianapolis Star Tribune iPhone application includes a simple button to take a photo and/or upload a photo to the Star Tribune’s site.

Cellphones as Multimedia Reporting Tools

Many reporters are using cellphones, especially the iPhone, to take photographs and record video and audio for stories.

See this video of a man being hit and kicked by a security guard that was recorded on an iPhone by a UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalsm student while working as an intern at a paper in Iceland. The video had 50,000 views within 48 hours.

The iPhone now records HD quality video that can rival the quality of video shot on consumer and even lower-end profesional grade video cameras.

Many accessories and applications also are available to do everything from improving the quality of recorded audio to letting you edit video on the phone.

Read The Essential Mobile Journalism Field Kit posting by Richard Koci Hernandez, co-instructor in a UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism class that wrote a “Mobile Reporting Field Guide” iBook on accessories and applications for the iPhone.

See also this 10,000 Words story about an earlier UC Berkeley Journalism School class taught by Jeremy Rue on using the iPhone as a multimedia reporting device that includes tips on how to use cellphones for multimedia.

Cellphone Applications

Cellphone applications have become popular because they usually provide a better experience than using a cellphone browser.

About 43 percent of cellphone users have downloaded apps onto their phones, according to a survey released in September 2010 by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. But only 68 percent of those people actually have used the applications, and apps rank low among the cellphone features people prefer to use.

Use of cellphone applications also usually tapers off dramatically in days or weeks.

Still, news, sports score and weather apps score relatively high in continued use after 90 days compared with other types of apps (such as music or entertainment), and to a lesser degree in frequency of usage, according to a 2012 study by Flurry, an application advertising and analysis company.

Many companies are developing applications for the iPhone and other cellphones that provide geo-locational information and take advantage of social media.

They’re often providing the kinds of information such as events listings, restaurant reviews, store coupons, home sales or reports on problems in a community that used to be the domain of local newspapers. They include:

* Location-Based Social Media – Companies like Foursquare, brightkite, loopt and MyTown have cellphone apps people can use to tell their friends where they are or submit comments on restaurants, nightclubs or other places to hang out.

See Foursquare’s partnerships with Canada’s Metro newspaper and the New York Times and how the Wall Street Journal is using Foursquare’s tips and check-ins features to feed entertainment and news stories to locations Foursquare users are visiting. Read about how the Washington Post and National Geographic created tour-guide-like trips for Gowalla.

Nieman Reports has a summary of a research study on what has worked for news organizations using Foursquare.

(for a different take on Foursquare and similar social media see the Onion’s “New Social Networking Site Changing The Way Oh, Christ, Forget It“)

* Photo Sharing –  Instagram is a cellphone application and social network for photo sharing that includes tools for applying simple filters to photos to alter their appearance. It’s now owned by Facebook.

* Reporting Community ProblemsSeeClickFix has an app people can use to report public nuisances and problems that need fixing in their communities – everything from potholes and broken traffic lights to graffiti and trash.

News organizations such as the San Francisco Chronicle, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Miami Herald and the Dallas Morning News have partnered with SeeClickFix to use its widget to display maps of problems in those cities on the newspapers’ websites. See this New York Times story on how the Journal Inquirer in Connecticut is using SeeClickFix. And check out how the Mission Local site embeds the SeeClickFix widget on its home page (scroll down and look in the middle column).

* Restaurant and Business ReviewsYelp provides user-submitted reviews of restaurants and businesses via its cellphone app.

* City Guides and Tours – News and other organizations have created cellphone applications that are guides and tours of various cities.

Check out the New York Times’ “The Scoop” guide to New York City (Mashable has more on the application)

You can make simple iPhone applications like local guides using free services like Sutro Media. You just enter content into a template and Sutro Media generates a custom iPhone application (you set a price for the application and split the revenue with Sutro Media).

See for example this Mission Bars guide developed by two students at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, and this tour of historic spots in Richmond, CA, also created by UC Berkeley journalism students, both done in collaboration with Sutro Media.

* Augmented Reality – Companies like Layar developed augmented reality or “AR” applications: a person points a cellphone at a location and information about the location is overlaid on the phone’s camera display. The location is determined by the GPS location of the cellphone, the cellphone’s internal compass or software that recognizes the shape of an object seen through the cellphone’s camera.

See the Museum of London app that overlays historic photos on London landmarks. Yelp also has an augmented reality application for mobile viewing of its business reviews. And read about how the Boston Globe quickly and inexpensively developed an AR application to display animated versions of artwork on display at art events.

However, Layar has found it’s difficult to get people to consistently use its AR application, so the popularity of AR applications remains a question mark.

* Real Estate SalesZillow has an iPhone app that displays information about nearby houses and homes for sale based on your location.

* Coupons and Group Discounts – A number of companies like Groupon, Yowza and LivingSocial have cellphone apps that provide access to discount coupons at stores or group discount offers. The coupons also can be accessed at the companies’ websites.

Read about how 3,000 people signed up for a Groupon half price offer on cupcakes at a bakery in San Francisco and how other businesses have been overwhelmed by customers after using Groupon. But another study by a Rice University found some businesses were less satisfied with the customers they got using Groupon. See also this New York Times story that raises questions about the viability of these discount coupon services.

See Poynter Online’s Rick Edmonds’ analysis of the opportunty and threat Groupon poses for newspapers.

See also the Nieman Journalism Lab story on how news organizations can use discount coupons or gift certificates to become “deal brokers” between local businesses and residents. The Minneapolis Star Tribune has launched one such coupon service called STeal.

* Barcodes – With RedLaser you use your phone to scan a barcode on a product (often displayed as a two-dimensional QR or “quick response” code) at a store to find sites online that offer the same product often at a cheaper price. ShopSavvy displays product prices at online sites and at other local stores.

* Street Vendors – the Taco Loco iPhone app provides a map so people can locate nearby taco trucks and stands. People also can update the map with the latest location of the vendors and rate the quality of the tacos.

Readings and Resources

Presentation Links

Wearable Devices

The next generation of mobile devices will be wearable – from eye glasses to wrist watches to…

Eye Glasses

In 2012 Google introduced Google Glass, a pair of eye glasses that you can use to retrieve and display information and perform various electronic tasks like sending emails or sharing photos.

Tasks are performed using voice commands or by tapping or swiping with you finger a tiny sensor on the side of the glasses.

You can use Google Glass to do a Google search, send an email, get directions, take a photograph, record a video, and access Facebook and Twitter

Smart Watches

Several smart watches were introduced in 2013, and many more are in development. They alert you to incoming emails, texts or calls to your cellphone. You can read messages on the watch screens or answer voice calls.

You also can add health and fitness apps to monitor you exercise routines.

Some of the watches under development include photo and video cameras.

The smart watches include:

Readings and Resources

Sensors, Drones and the Internet of Things

Sensors and other devices that collect data and other information and transmit it via the Internet are proliferating. This has been referred to as “The Internet of Things” or “ubiquitous computing.”

Predictions about how sensors would transform how we live and work have been around for a long time. But the proliferation of smart phones that can communicate with sensing devices has increased interest in the area.

The home is one place where sensors connected to smart phones are being deployed to measure, track or automate everything from heating and lighting to when doors should be unlocked. See for example how a company called Smart Things connects together devices in a home, which then can be manipulated using a smartphone.

Another major area of sensor deployment is measuring environmental hazards like air pollution.

See for example the Air Quality Egg project, which allows people to deploy air-quality sensors to gather air quality information that then is uploaded to the Internet. An earlier, similar project was called Common Sense.

And UC Berkeley Professor of Art Practice Greg Niemeyer used air-quality sensors in a game called Black Cloud that high school students played to track down the sources of air pollution in their community.

Using sensors to obtain this kind of information opens new possibilities for data driven news stories.

WNYC in New York in 2013, for example, had people build DIY Cicada Tracker temperature sensors. People would stick the sensors in the ground and track rising temperatures that would predict the arrival of Cicada bugs that emerge from underground every 17 years.


Another type of device being deployed for news gathering is the drone. Also referred to as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or UAVs, drones can be used to get videos, photos and other information for news stories such as natural disasters or public protests.

Journalism schools at the University of Nebraska and the University of Missouri set up drone labs or programs to explore their use in reporting.

But those programs hit a major roadblock in August 2013 when the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration notified them they required Certificates of Authorization to use the drones. The FAA now is drafting regulations on how drones deployed for commercial purposes can use U.S. airspace.

Other countries allow regulated use of drones, and some news organizations have experimented with using them for newss coverage, such as the BBC with its Hexacopter.

But there are a number of issues that are likely to restrict their use for news gathering. These range from public safety and privacy concerns to limited flight time due to short battery life.

Readings and Resources


While cellphones have become ubiquitous as mobile devices, it’s been a much longer road to popularity for tablet computers – portable electronic devices that try to fill a void between tiny screen cellphones and more cumbersome laptops.

Roger Fidler was one of the original proponents of these portable “electronic tablets” when he ran the Knight Ridder Information Design Lab in the early 1990s. See this story and this 1994 video showing Fidler’s vision (Fidler is now at the Reynolds Journalism Institute as  Program Director for Digital Publishing).

Many companies subsequently produced various forms of tablet computers as reading devices, such as the SoftBook and the Rocket eBook in the late 1990s and Sony’s e-book readers in the mid to late 2000s. But most of the devices failed to gain much traction with consumers.

Other companies in the 1990s also worked on developing “electronic paper” or “e-ink” technology that would be used in wafer-thin flexible displays that theoretically could be rolled up and put in a briefcase, backpack or purse. But years passed with no consumer product hitting store shelves.

Then with Amazon’s release of the popular Kindle e-book reader in late 2007, buzz about portable tablet computers heated up again.

By 2010 and 2011 a number of sophisticated tablet computers were being produced, usually with color displays and/or wireless Internet connections for downloading up-to-date news and information. The new tablets include:

  • Apple’s iPad announced in January 2010. The iPad quickly became the leading tablet computing device, and 25 million of the devices had been sold by June 2011.
  • Barnes & Noble introduced the Nook eBook reader
  • Amazon in 2011 released an upgraded version of its Kindle reader called Kindle Fire
  • Microsoft in 2012 released its Surface tablet computer

By January 2012, 19 percent of U.S. adults owned a tablet computer, 19 percent owned an eBook reader, and 29 percent owned one or the other, according to a survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project. In a June 2013 report the percentage of adult tablet owners was up to 34 percent

The increased popularity of portable tablet computers has sparked debate over whether news organizations will be able to take advantage of them as a new, and potentially profitable content delivery platform.

Display Formats

A key question is what form publications and stories will take on tablets:

  • Will consumers favor the look and feel of websites or will more traditional magazine or newspaper style presentations prove popular?
  • Will people prefer using a web browser to access websites of publications, or will they gravitate toward dedicated applications that publications create to display content on a tablet device?  A Miratech study found that people prefer a dedicated app to web browsing on the iPad. But a Pew Research Center survey in October 2011 reported that while two-thirds of tablet news users have a news app, the web browser was still the more popular way to consume news (40 percent of tablet news users got their news mainly via a web browser). An Online Publishers Association study in June 2012 reported that tablet owners preferred websites to applications for accessing newspaper and magazine content. A usability study by Jakob Nielsen found that websites displayed pretty well on an iPad and reading a web page thus was fairly easy.
  • Will the HTML5 standard for the web and JavaScript allow creation of immersive and interactive story packages and web apps viewed via a web browser that rival the experience of dedicated applications developed for the iPad and other tablet devices? See Ken Doctor’s analysis of the HTML5 vs. apps debate and the Financial Times’ success with an HTML5 web app
  • Will a new form emerge that improves the reader experience, making it more immersive and engaging while also allowing for more compelling and effective advertising?

Tablet News Applications

Many news organizations have experimented with different types of tablet applications to deliver news and other content.

Look at Sports Illustrated’s idea for how its content might be displayed on a tablet, the Mag+ concept for putting magazines on tablets and Wired magazine’s vision for what it might look like on an iPad.

The Orange County Register in November 2011 launched The Peel iPad app that included stories featured in the next day’s paper, a live feed of weather, traffic and breaking news and multimedia content. The application was customized for a tablet and looked nothing like the newspaper’s website or the print product. But the app was discontinued in September 2012 – see Goodnight Peel. Lessons Learned.

News Corp. launched The Daily tablet app in February 2011 to deliver daily news stories and interactive features. But the app was shut down in December 2012 after it failed to generate enough subscriptions and revenue to sustain it.

Flyp presented multimedia stories in a more magazine-like format that also included video, photos, animations, interactive graphics and text on pages you flipped through (Flyp later became Zemi, which produces multimedia stories for publishers).

And vook takes a traditional book format and adds video, interactivity and social networking.

Apple also announced in January 2012 its iBooks Author tool that journalists can use to easily create interactive multimedia long-form stories for display on the iPad.

Other applications provide personalized aggregated newsfeeds:

  • Flipboard provides a customized feed that combines stories from news publications and postings to social media sites
  • Pulse pulls in stories people select from a variety of different publications

How People Use the iPad

Especially important is whether tablet devices like the iPad offer a more leisurely lean-back reading experience at home than either cellphone browsers/applications, which people use while on the go, or computer terminals, on which people usually read news stories while at work, rather than during leisure time at home.

Here’s what studies and surveys of iPad users have found:

Time Spent on a Tablet

– Some early research by Conde Nast on how people use iPad applications of the company’s magazines indicates that reading of stories is more of a “lean back activity” done at home.

– A survey by the Reynolds Journalism Institute of iPad users found that:

  • people were spending significant amounts of time with the devices (75 percent spent 30 minutes or more a day reading news)
  • they most frequently used the iPad at home (73%)
  • the most popular use of the iPad was reading about breaking news and current events (84 percent of users listed this as one of their main uses).

– 77 percent of tablet owners use them every day and spend an average of 90 minutes a day on them, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism released in October 2011. Reading news stories was also one of the most popular activities for tablet owners, and 42 percent said they regularly read in-depth stories or analyses on their tablets.

– A study by Localytics found that people spend 2 1/2 times longer using iPad news applications than other types of iPad apps.

– A study by Miratech that used eyetracking technology to compare how people read a print newspaper vs. an iPad found that readers are more likely to skim an iPad article than a printed article.

– A study by the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri reported that two-thirds of mobile media consumers 18 to 34 years old said they spent an average of 5 hours  week using their mobile devices to access news provided by news organizations.

When People Read on a Tablet

– Data compiled by Read It Later found that iPad users are most likely to read articles during “personal prime time” in the evening.

– Data from ComScore shows that readership of content produced by newspapers increases on the iPad in the evening, compared with readership on a laptop or cellphone.

– An Online Publishers Association survey in June 2012 also found that the biggest usage of tablets was between 5 and 11 p.m.

What Information People Access on a Tablet

Tablet users are somewhat different in the kind of information they consume than users of other mobile devices like smartphones. Tablet users ore somewhat more likely than smartphone users to access news and information or watch videos on their devices, according to a survey of mobile device users by Keynote.

A Pew study in 2012 reported that about 60 percent of ews consumers preferred a “print-like” experience on tablet applications, but 40 percent preferred interactive components with video, audio or graphics.

Tablet Aggregator Applications

– An eMedia Vitals analysis of the most popular iPad applications in 2010 found they tended to be aggregators of content from a variety of sources, practical applications that provide useful information to people, and those that are free – rather than paid apps that only present news stories from a particular publication.

– But a survey by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism released in October 2011 reported in a  that 90 percent of tablet application users went directly to the app of a specific news organization to get news headlines, comparied with 36 percent who went to a news aggregator application.

Paying for News on a Tablet

– A Knowledge Networks survey of iPad users found that only 13 percent are willing to pay a fee to read a magazine or watch a TV program to which they already have access. The most popular uses of the iPad were search, web browsing and email, while applications to read news media content were much less popular.

– A survey by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism released in October 2011 found that only 14 percent of tablet users had paid directly to access news and the vast majority preferred free or very low cost access to news.

– A Nielsen report on data for the fourth quarter of 2011 found that 62 percent of U.S. tablet owners have paid for downloaded music, 58 percent for books, 51 percent for movies, but only 19 percent for news.

– An Online Publishers Association survey in June 2012 found that while the amount of money tablet users spent on paid applications had doubled in the last year, 54 percent of tablet owners preferred free, ad-supported applications vs. paid apps, up from 40 percent the year before. Tablet users also were more likely to have purchased magazines or ebooks than newspaper subscriptions.

Advertising on a Tablet

– An Adobe-sponsored study by a University of Connecticut researcher of iPad users found that interactive advertising in digital magazines can engage people more than static print ads.

Tablets and Traditional Media

A majority of tablet owners who frequently used the devices to get news still subscribed to traditional media like newspapers or news magazines, according to a 2012 survey by the Reynolds Journalism Institute.

But 60 percent of large tablet users said consuming news on the devices was a superior experience to reading a printed newspaper, and 63 percent said the experience was better than watching news on a TV, according to the RJI survey.

Readings and Resources

Presentation Links

Websites and Engagement

For news media organizations, the focus on Web 2.0 tools and strategies that gathered momentum in the mid-2000s has mainly been about using the Internet to distribute stories to and participate in a larger network. Blogs, widgets, social networks, mobile devices, etc. are being used to reach people wherever they are engaged on the Internet.

Also important is the need to create news websites that are engaging and draw people to them. This is reminiscent of discussions that occurred back in the 1990s over “push versus pull” strategies for online news sites, which then meant pushing out content via email story feeds or, in the case of the Pointcast service, delivering news stories to a desktop application, versus pulling people to more in-depth stories and content on news websites.

Pulling people to news websites serve two important functions:

  • More in-depth stories and richer content can be published on a website than in the relatively short snippets of information distributed to people via mobile devices, on YouTube and Flickr, or through blogs and micro-blog postings. Providing deeper content fulfills the public service function of journalism and can help form online communities at news websites where people can gather to discuss issues of importance to their communities, both geographic and topical.
  • Attracting a loyal audience of repeat users to a news website offers a way to monetize journalistic content by selling that dedicated audience to advertisers. Creating a viable business model for online content has been a particular challenge for news organizations, with web site advertising rates, as measured by CPM’s or costs per thousand views/impressions,  usually a fraction of what can be charged for a print or broadcast product.

The problem of generating revenue from news content is exemplified in the struggles of newspapers. Most newspapers boasted big increases in unique visitors to their websites from 2004 – 2009, due in part to their distributing links to their stories via blogs, social networks and other Web 2.0 techniques.

But most of those new visitors dive in, glance at a single story and then leave (behavior referred to as a website’s “bounce rate”), spending little time on the newspaper’s website and developing no sense of loyalty to it.

Time Spent Online and Engagement

Thus while the total number of unique visitors and pageviews at the newspaper websites has been increasing from 2004 – 2009, the average time spent by each person on a site declined.

Check Editor & Publisher for their monthly reports on time spent at top newspaper sites and reports by the Newspaper Association of America on newspaper website audiences, especially the average time spent per month on newspaper websites.

Time spent online at a newspaper website is also only a fraction of the time people spend reading a print newspaper.

A visitor spends an average of a little over 1 minute per day on a newspaper website. Compare that with the 27 minutes per day that newspaper readers say they spent perusing the print product on a weekday, and 57 minutes on Sundays, according to a 2008 survey by Northwestern University’s Research Institute.

At the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism where we operate three local news sites in Bay Area communities we’ve seen the same pattern – increasing traffic inevitably results in a decline in the average time spent online.

Here’s the data on monthly pageviews and vistors’ average time on site  at our three sites in Spring 2010:

Richmond Confidential
20,000 pageviews
8:45 minutes

Oakland North
61,000 pageviews
3:07 minutes

Mission Local
203,000 page views
1:47 minutes

The more successful a site is as measured by pageviews, the less successful it is in engaging people for longer periods of time on a site.

Part of the problem with engagement is due to when people tend to access online news sites. Traffic data from many sites, including the ones we run at the UC Berkeley Journalism School, shows that most people are going to the sites while at work. Thus traffic increases steadily starting in the early morning, peaks around noon or a little afterward, and then steadily declines through the rest of the afternoon and evening.

On Saturdays and Sundays, most sites report a huge drop-off in traffic compared with weekdays.

So a lot of news content is being consumed by people in between tasks at work, rather than during leisure time.

Increasing leisure time spent at news sites and developing engaged and loyal audiences requires creating more focused and in-depth topical content and making use of multimedia and digital tools like databases, games and online communities and social media to engage people.

Resources and Readings


Newspapers, TV and radio news shows and general interest magazines generally built audiences by bundling together a variety of content – general news, sports, weather, business reporting, lifestyle and entertainment, and so on.

The Internet dismantled those bundles, creating opportunities for niche products in each topical area that competed with general interest publications and networks.

See, for example, the book “Blown to Bits: How the New Economics of Information Transforms Strategy” by two Boston Consulting Group executives. The book grew out of a 1997 Harvard Business Review article they wrote, in which they pointed to newspaper  classified advertising as a prime example of a product that could be un-bundled from the print product and done better online.

General news stories have increasingly become a commodity, available at numerous websites such as Yahoo! News or Google News or a variety of other online news aggregators.

Some general interest publications will survive in this environment, such as major national newspapers like the New York Times and USA Today, or cable networks like CNN, Fox News or

But local news sources, especially metro newspapers that serve a wide geographic area with a variety of content, have been forced to re-think their online strategy in the face of a new competitive environment online in which a myriad of highly focused sites chip away at the traditional bundled product.

Some news organizations are forming alliances with competitors to share more generic news stories and thus reduce the cost of providing news that is easily obtainable from a variety of sources.

Rise of Hyperlocal Sites


Many newspapers are also adopting a hyperlocal strategy. Rather than delivering one product with commoditized news to a large geographical area, they’re creating locally focused products for individual communities that offer more extensive and in-depth coverage on local issues.

And within those very local communities, online sites can slice up content even more, creating “verticals” on specific topics of concern to local residents.

Thus a local site would have sections on crime, education, health care, etc. similar to the beats of traditional newspapers but with much deep and richer “evergreen” content (stories supplemented by databases and background information). See for example the Online Journalism Review story urging local newspaper sites to create online sections on health care reform – Newspaper websites offer no cure on health-care reform.

Independent Startups

Besides newspapers, the local market has attracted many independent community news site startups, as well as companies that have rolled out platforms for creating hyperlocal websites across the country.

These sites are often filling a void in neighborhood coverage left by metro newspapers as their staffs have shrunk.

In some areas, such as Sacramento, Calfornia, the independent sites are now partnering with local metro papers.

Check out in particular BaristanetWest Seattle Blog, and the Batavian, which many point to as examples of successful local sites that are generating signficant revenue.

Students at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism also run three local sites – Mission Local, Oakland North and Richmond Confidential.

But many ventures in the local online news space also have failed – see Rem Rieder’s list in USA Today of some of the notable failures.

Other Local Site Ventures

Many other companies are targeting the local space, from aggregators of local news feeds and companies starting networks of local news sites to social networks adding location based features. They include:

  • AOL’s Patch sites, about 900 of which were rolled out in communities around the U.S. after AOL bought Patch in 2009. However in August 2013 AOL CEO Tim Armstrong announced that up to 400 of the unprofitable Patch sites were being closed or turned over to partnerships with other media companies.
  • DNAinfo, a chain of neighborhood news sites in New York, Chicago and elsewhere staffed by professional journalists.
  • Yahoo Local, including Yahoo’s purchase of Associated Content to provide stories about local concerns
  • Facebook, which in August 2010 launched its Facebook Places initiative.

Lists of Local Sites

Several online sites are trying to catalog the local community news sites that are proliferating around the country:

  • Placeblogger – a database of more than 7,000 local blogs, put together by Lisa Williams and Tish Grier, and supported by a Knight News Challenge Grant from the Knight Foundation.
  • Go Hyperlocal has a directory that showcases local online news sites
  • Michele McLellan has compiled a list of promising local news sites, categorized by type of site.
  • See this list we’ve put together of several hundred hyperlocal websites, and this list of stories about and profiles of individual local sites.
  • Bay News Network, a site we run, tracks local independent online news sites in the San Francisco Bay Area and Northern California.

Community History

One particularly popular feature at many local sites is exploring the history of a community. Historic photos are especially popular.

Readings and Resources

Niche Sites

Publications such as magazines that don’t serve a particular geographic area also face a much more competitive environment online. General interest publications and broadcast networks have found their audiences chipped away by niche products that offer more in-depth coverage of particular topics.

This trend toward specialized niche publications, often referred to as “verticals,” parallels what happened in the magazine business in the 1980s when there was an explosion of more narrow interest magazines serving audiences with specific interests.

The Internet has exponentially increased the economic viability of publications that serve smaller audiences interested in particular subjects. For one perspective on this, see Chris Anderson’s “The Long Tail.”

Examples of niche sites:

  • Beliefnet – which provides news and information on religious issues
  • Politico – a site focused on national politics. See “The Nich News Buffet” article on Politico.
  • Main Justice – coverage of the U.S. Department of Justice. See the Nieman Journalism Lab article on Main Justice.
  • TimTeblog – A site about football star Tim Tebow, created by an columnist and blogger
  • NPR’s Argo network – a partnership between NPR and 12 of its local member stations to run networks of blogs, each focused on a particular topic and geographical area.

Many news publications are being forced to define what their core competencies are – that is what particular niche can they stake out and what specific kind of information can they deliver to effectively compete in this new environment?

And how can they best organize the stories and other information they produce on their websites to serve people with more narrowly defined interests?

Readings and Resources

Topics Sections

One strategy for news organizations to compete in an environment in which narrow-interest competitors abound is to re-organize the content on their websites into topical sections, which are sometimes referred to as “verticals,” “niche sites” or “shells.”

Instead of trying to lure people to a home page with a variety of general interest news stories, sections of a news site are built out with deep content in each to serve the more particular interests of people within the publication’s broader audience.

A topics section will feature not just news stories, but other kinds of information about a topic to give people a sense of context and continuity on the subject. Thus a topical shell will include a lot of “evergreen” content such as background information and searchable databases, as well a strong online community component so people with common interests have a place to gather online and discuss those interests.

One model for the topics pages approach is Wikipedia, which has subject pages that routinely show up at or near the top of search engine rankings for searches on particular topics.

Examples of topics sections:

  • BBC News’ Special Reports on areas of continuing, in-depth news coverage by the BBC. These are topical shells with extensive background information.
  • The Seattle Post Intelligencer’s Transportation section. (which continues even as the Post Intelligencer has discontinued its print product) In this section of the website you’ll find live webcams of traffic conditions, traffic incident reports and links to other information on traffic and transit, as well as news stories.
  • The New York Times’ Real Estate section that has multimedia stories, community guides and searchable databases on housing prices and building permits. See the Times’ Auto section for similar features.
  • The New York Times also has started Times Topics which uses a similar approach with many other news topics. See, for example, the Times’ Global Warming topic page. The Times Topics pages account for 2.5 percent of the Times’ website’s total pageviews. See this Nieman Journalism Lab story for more on the Times’ topics pages.
  • The Spokane Spokesman Review has created Topics pages that provide background information on stories.
  • The Chicago Tribune has created hundreds of topics pages, although they only aggregate articles from the paper (see also this Nieman Journalism Lab story on how the topics pages are driving Google search traffic to the site).
  • The Associate Press is considering creating topical “news guide landing pages.” See the Nieman Journalism Lab posting about an AP memo on this plan.
  • is similarly focusing its site on deep, rich article and topics pages (look for the “hot topics” link at the top of the home page).
  • Hearst Entertainment launched, a topically organized site. See the story on it.
  • The New York Times, The Washington Post and Google teamed up to produce topical Living Story Pages (see the articles about this at the Times, the Post and the Google Blog)
  • Oakland North, a local news site run by the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, created a California’s Education Budget Crisis section on reductions in state education funding and the protests against the cutbacks
  • The San Francisco Chronicle’s SFGate site has topics pages that feature a Wikipedia summary of the topic, related stories from the Chronicle and other news sources and a Twitter feed.
  • The Davis Wiki organizes information about the city of Davis, California, by topic using a wiki platform to which anyone can contribute.
  • The Washington Post in September 2013 launched Topicly, a web page on which Post text stories and multimedia are organized by topics. See also the Washington Post press release on Topicly.

Here’s what Martin Nisenholtz, senior vice president of digital operations at the Times, had to say about the Times Topics sections:

“..we are now grouping many of our articles in things we call ‘Times Topics’ (see the tab at the top of home.) This introduces a new taxonomy to our site, one that is based on persistent topics with links to resources under those topics, rather than the traditional section and article structure. This makes it much easier for our content to be found in search, as the engines can look at a single URL for any given topic.

“The development of our Topic architecture is a critical one for”

Google’s Living Stories

See also the testimony (pdf file) of Marissa Mayer, Google Vice President, at the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, on May 6. 2009, in which she discusses the “atomic unit of consumption” of news and praises the New York Times’ Topics approach.

Mayer argues that news organizations need to focus on developing topical web pages that are “a consistent reference point that gains clout and a following of users over time,” and where an “evolving story (is) published under a permanent, single URL as a living, changing, updating entity” with “obvious and engaging next steps for users.”

Google worked with the New York Times and the Washington Post on this concept of “living stories” and then released the code for creating living story pages.

Other Advantages of Topical Pages is taking this approach at its site. At a UC Berkeley Media Technology Summit in September 2009, Salon Chief Executive Officer Richard Gingras said “‘the core of the matrix'” for news outlets in making transactions is no longer an entire website but individual stories.

Because at least half of the audience on most websites arrives there after an Internet search, stories become much more attractive when they are enriched with articles, graphics, reader discussion and the like, Gingras said.” (this summary of Gingras’ remarks was in a Los Angeles Times story about the conference by James Rainey).

For more on Salon’s approach see a webcast of Richard Gingras’ presentation on Innovating Online News Publications at our December 2009 digital training workshop.

Also look at the approach taken by the hugely popular wikipedia, which embeds breaking news in the context and background for the topic that’s in the news. See Matt Thompson’s article on Wikipedia-ing the News at the Reynolds Journalism Institute.

Young people in particular are interested in background information on a topic, especially if it’s well organized, uncluttered and accompanied by visual elements like photos and graphics. See the Northwestern University Media Management Center study on “Teens Know What They Want From Online News: Do You?

See also a 2008 study of 18 to 34 year olds by Context-Based Research Group that found they suffered from “news fatigue, meaning they were overloaded with facts and updates and had trouble connecting to more in-depth stories. Participants yearned for quality and in-depth reporting, but had difficulty immediately accessing such content.”

On how to create a topics page, see our tutorial on Building a “Topics” Site with WordPress.

What’s in a Topical Section

Besides stories, here are some of the elements that could be included in a topical section:

  • A summary narrative on the topic with basic background information. This can be a short item at the top of the main topic page, with a “more” button for additional material. See, for example, the “explainers” being produced by Mother Jones on topics in the news.
  • Databases and data visualizations of information related to the topic. Thus a crime page would have links to crime databases that people can explore by type or crime or location.
  • Timelines that provide historical context for the topic.
  • Maps for topics where location is an important aspect of the subject matter.
  • Additional resources on the topic, such as the websites for organizations that are active in the subject area. This gives people the opportunity to follow up on a story and act on it by getting involved (selective lists of resources also could be included at the end of each story, so people have the sense that there is something they can do about a news development).
  • Multimedia presentations, such as video or photo slideshows, on different aspects of a topic.
  • Games that provide an interactive way for people to engage with and learn about a topic.
  • Online polls to get a sense of community sentiment on the topic.
  • Comments or forums so people can discuss the topic. These can be at the end of each story or more general forums on the topic page.
  • Archives of previous stories on the topic.

Note: A special credit to Jane Stevens who has been recommending for many years that online news sites focus on developing topical sections (which she calls “shells”). See, for example, her August 2002 article for the Online Journalism Review on Web Shells: An Introduction.

Readings and Resources

Presentation Links

Online Community

Also essential to engaging people in topical sections of an online news site is to create online communities around the different subjects that provide an avenue for people to exchange ideas and discuss issues.

These can range from creating news forums or social networks on particular subjects at websites, to providing space for user-generated content that is topically organized.

One very popular example of an online community organized around a particular topic is the “mom” sites that many newspapers, such as those in the Gannett chain, have launched. See for example the Indy Moms website (now called Moms Like Me) launched by the Indianapolis Star. Here’s a directory of all the Moms Like Me sites Gannett runs across the country.

For a valuable guide to creating online communities, see the “Online Community Cookbook: Recipes for Building Audience Interaction at Newspaper Web Sites,” produced by Rich Gordon at Northwestern University’s Medill School for the Newspaper Association of America” (a pdf file).


Online video took off as broadband access to the Internet grew. About 65 percent of the U.S. adult population had home broadband access as of December 2012, compared to less than 10 percent in 2001, according to surveys by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. The percent of home broadband connections has been steady since about 2009 – fluctuating between 62 and 66 percent.

The popularity of online video is exemplified by the success of YouTube, which launched in Februrary 2005 and in 2012 was exceeding 4 billion views of its videos per day and 1 billion unique visitors each month. For more data on YouTube videos, see YouTube’s statistics page.

Newspapers and Video

The explosion in online video prompted many print publishers, especially newspapers, to hire videographers and push their news staffs to start producing lots of videos in the mid to late 2000s.

Newspapers surpassed broadcasters in total minutes of video streamed online in the 3rd quarter of 2010, according to a  study Brightcove did of a sample of traffic on its video platform. Newspapers also tended to produce more shorter pieces than broadcast companies, according to the study done by Brightcove and the TubeMogul video analytics and advertising platform.

Some of the fervor about video waned in 2011, and a lot of newspapers are cutting back on video production and laying off video journalists, according to an Associated Press study. This was in part due to the continuing economic slump that caused major reductions in newsroom staffs.

Another problem is that video production hasn’t necessarily translated into big viewership numbers. See, for example, this GigaOM story on the Brightcove study of newspaper video streams.

Too often newspapers have adopted a helter skelter approach to shooting videos that results in lousy videos and few viewers. See the Onion’s take on this: Blood-Drenched, Berserk CEO Demands More Web Videos.

Despite the challenges, media companies continued to launch new video initiatives, in part to try to cash in on increased  interest by advertisers in placing ads in online videos.

Huffington Post launched its own HuffPost Live video channel in August 2012, featuring a live newscast with an accompanying stream of live viewer comments.

The Center for Investigative Reporting launched a YouTube channel called I Files in August 2012 that features videos of investigative stories done by a variety of investigative journalism organizations. The project is designed to promote investigative stories using YouTube and better understand best practices in web video produced by investigative organizations.

The Washington Post launched PostTV, a series of online video news shows, in July 2013. In December 2013 the format was changed from the TV-style shows format to individual video segments.

Other newspapers also have dropped the news shows format in favor of producing individual videos on specific topics, a reflection of the difference in how video is consumed on the web versus on a television screen.

The New York Times began producing Times Documentaries in summer 2013.

See below in the Popular Videos section for additional video initiatives by the Wall Street Journal and other media outlets.

Popular Videos

Videos about stories that play to the power of visual storytelling have proven quite popular.

This Detroit Free Press video of Ernie’s Market and its 1 1/2 pound made-to-order sandwiches got 5,000 page views the day it ran (the video was produced by Free Press photo and video journalist Eric Seals, who attended the May 2008 Knight Digital Media Center multimedia training workshop).

Video can be very effective at bringing to life an interesting or animated character or a central place in a story, like Ernie and his sandwich shop. Video also is a very good for telling stories about food and places that serve food.

Video of natural disasters and political turmoil also is extremely popular. See the study by Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism on the most popular news videos on YouTube.

Raw video of dramatic events, including clips shot by regular people, also is usually very popular, sometimes more than professionally done newscasts of the same events. The Project for Excellence in Journalism study of YouTube found that 42 percent of the most popular news videos was raw footage, and 39 percent was done by citizens.

Based on studies of the kind of content people are most likely to share with others, videos that are fun or cute are most effective, followed by videos that evoke anger or disgust. Least effective would be videos that provoke little emotion. See this FastCompany article, These Scientists Studied Why Internet Stories Go Viral. You Won’t Believe What They Found.

One news outlet that has had success with news videos is the Wall Street Journal, which was doing 10 million video streams a month in 2010 and nearly 20 million by May 2012. Raju Narisetti, managing editor for The Wall Street Journal’s Digital Network, told Nieman Journalism Lab:

“From a business point of view, we cannot generate enough video streams,” he said. “We are sold out. There is no shortage of demand to generate more video views.”

In 2011 the Journal launched WSJ Live, which provides live and on-demand videos to multiple platforms. In 2012 the Journal added WorldStream – very short news video segments shot by reporters on their mobile devices.

The Miami Herald said its video traffic grew 25 percent in 2010 and was the 2nd biggest driver of visits to its website behind text stories.

See also the Boston Globe’s 7-part series on Ted Kennedy that received 2.5 million pageviews the month it was published in February 2009. There were video centerpieces on each day, which were heavily viewed.

Other publications have found that just using a larger video player and displaying it more prominently on the home page can substantially increase viewership. Gannett reported that viewing of videos at its newspaper websites increased 700 percent after it introduced a larger, more prominent video player in 2011.

Because so many options are available to viewers online, videos need a strong opening to grab the viewer, and then usually need to be fast paced to keep the viewer’s attention.

Short Videos

With people consuming more and more news on social networks and mobile devices, many news organizations are catering to that market with short news videos – usually 15, 30 or 60 seconds. Among them:

  • New York Times Minute – “Daily video dispatch of news, ideas and culture” in 1 minute.
  • NowThisNews – Six, 15 and 30-second news videos produced for distribution on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat and Vine, as well as for apps for Android and Apple apps
  • BBC News Instafax – Videos of 15 seconds distributed on Instagram. Some are single topic, others are quick news roundups

Optimum Length of Videos

People generally prefer shorter videos on the web, in part because a lot of video viewing is done while at work, rather than during leisure time.

But there are indications evening viewing of web videos is growing, and tablet devices may increase leisure time viewing of video even more. On the other hand video viewing on cellphones is also on the rise, and smaller videos may be more popular for cellphone users because they’re often consuming media on their phones while on the go.

Still, if the video is compelling, it can be pretty long.

The Project for Excellence in Journalism study of YouTube found that the average length of the most popular news videos was 2 minutes and 1 second – significantly longer than a typical local TV news story but somewhat shorter than a network evening news story.

And while TV news stories follow pretty rigid rules for length, popular videos on YouTube were of widely different lengths. Thus 29 percent of the most popular YouTube news videos were less than a minute, 21 percent were one to two minutes, 33 percent were two to five minutes and 18 percent were longer than five minutes, according to the Project for Excellence in Journalism YouTube study.

Bottom line – the videos should be as long as you think the story warrants. To quote Brian Storm of MediaStorm:

“It is a common misconception that video on the web has to be less than three minutes or no one will watch it. We have proven that to be false. Our video stories are usually in the 10-15 minute range and the average viewer of our stories has a completion rate of 65% regardless of duration. For us, it’s about producing a story that is worth your time.”

Readings and Resources

Presentation Links – Digital Transition

Presentation Links – Picking Media

Photos and Photo Slideshows

The popularity of online photos can be measured by the growth of the Flickr photo sharing website. Launched in 2004 and now owned by Yahoo, Fiickr passed 8 billion photos uploaded to its site by 2012.

But that is surpassed by the more than 15 billion photos Facebook reports having in its database.

And Instagram, launched in October 2010, has 100 million active monthly users who upload 40 million photos a day.

Photo galleries and photo slideshows have proven to be especially popular at online news sites.

The New York Times reported in 2007 that photo slideshows were accounting for about 10 percent of the website’s total pageviews, according to a MarketWatch story (note: each photo clicked on can count as a pageview, accounting for some of the large number of pageviews for photo slideshows).

The Mansfield News Journal similarly found that visitors to its website spent the most time looking at the paper’s online photo galleries..

An example of a successful photo gallery was’s “The Clarks: An American story of wealth, scandal and mystery,”  which got 78 million page views by 2.2 million unique vistors and generated 500 emails from viewers. The average viewer spent 13 minutes looking at the photos and reading the story  (the story was done by Bill Dedman, who attended the Knight Digital Media Center multimedia training workshop in January 2008).

A photo essay on Buzzfeed, “21 Pictures That Will Restore Your Faith In Humanity,” got 10.4 million pageviews

Readings and Resources

Presentation Links – Digital Transition

Presentation Links – Picking Media

Audio and Podcasts

Paralleling the increase in YouTube videos has been the spectacular grown of digital audio podcasts playable on devices like the iPod. Apple put the iPod on the market in Fall 2001, and by 2012 more than 350 million iPods had been sold.

While music is the most popular media played on the iPod and similar devices, some news organizations also have had success with audio podcasts.

National Public Radio reported the number of podcasts downloaded from its website each month reached 29 million in 2012, up from 28 million in 2011 and 12 million in 2008, according to data compiled in the State of the News Media 2013 report by the Pew Research Center.

But the total number of podcasts produced by all sources began leveling off in 2012. To see what kinds of podcasts are most popular with listeners, check out the PodcastAlley website and its monthly Top 10 listings for podcasts.

Besides radio stations, other news organizations, especially newspapers, had jumped on the podcasts bandwagon in the late 2000s, but usually with disappointing results in terms of listenership.

Thus the Boston Globe discontinued its podcasts – “Big time commitment, little gain,” said former Globe Editor Marty Baron.

The New York Times said it would be cutting back on its podcasts in 2012.

On the other hand, Slate reports big success with its podcasts, but in number of listeners and advertisers. Slate attributes the success to emphasizing opinion and personality in the podcasts and focusing them more on niche topics.

Audio podcasts also can be valuable as a way to provide content for mobile devices that are increasingly in use.

But on a website, combining audio with photos in a photo slideshow can be more effective as a storytelling device.

Readings and Resources

Presentation Links – Digital Transition

Presentation Links – Picking Media

Databases, Data Visualizations and Map Mashups

One very effective way to add depth to a particular topic on an online news site is to include interactive databases and map mashups that people can use to explore subjects on their own according to their particular interests.

Databases are popular with Internet users – “40% of adult internet users have gone online for raw data about government spending and activities,” according to a survey published in April 2010 by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

Databases have proven very popular at news sites, with people spending large amounts of time on news sites exploring the information in the databases.

  • The Texas Tribune reports that a third of the traffic to its website is for its online databases.
  • Mission Local, a local news site run by the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, created a restaurant health inspections map that had more than 8,700 page views the day it was posted – more than 51 percent of the total pageviews at the site that day. City inspection data for the map was supplied by the EveryBlock project.
  • The Data Blog run by the Guardian in Great Britain is one of the more popular features on the publication’s website.
  • An interactive census map produced by in February 2011 led the news site in page views for an entire month.
  • Gannett newspapers have been pioneers in adding databases to their local websites, as part of their Information Center online strategy. See MediaShift’s October 2008 story on Gannett’s Information Centers strategy.

Check out these other examples of databases and map mashups at online sites.

Databases and map mashups allow people to customize data to their own interests and explore it to develop their own analyses of what the data means.

Providing people with a place to post comments on the data then can lead reporters to do stories exploring trends readers have identified in the data, correct erroneous conclusions, or provide context for a better understanding of the raw data.

Readings and Resources

Presentation Links – Digital Transformation

Presentation Links – Picking Media

Text and Writing

People won’t read long stories online is a familiar refrain. But while scanning web pages is a common practice for online readers, they will read long text stories that they find of interest.

The EyeTrack 2007 study of online and print readers found that “63 percent of story text chosen by online participants was read to completion. Reading in the two print formats (broadsheet and tabloid) was considerably lower. Forty percent of stories selected were read all the way through in broadsheets, 36 percent in tabloids.”

For two more conflicting views on whether long stories work online, see Long form journalism on the Web is “not working,” Managing Editor and Talk to the Times: Assistant Managing Editor Gerald Marzorati (scroll down to the section on “The Future of Long-Form Journalism”).

Or read about how Forbes online found that short breaking news stories and longer explanatory stories both attract large numbers of readers. See also this Forbes article on the popularity of long-form writing.

Web Sites and Services for Long-Form Stories

  • – Twitter alerts and links to longer stories (usually more than 1,500 words). Longreads also has a partnership with The Atlantic to promote the service.
  • – links to longer articles, new and old.
  • Atavist – a platform for publishing stories to tablet computers and other mobile devices. The stories usually are longer than magazine articles but shorter than books.
  • Byliner – a site that publishes 10,000 to 35,000 word narratives, especially by accomplished writers.
  • Matter – “Every week, we will publish a single piece of top-tier long-form journalism about big issues in technology and science.” They raised $100,000 for the project using Kickstarter and plan to charge 99 cents per copy of each story they publish
  • Medium – A site that features in-depth text stories (with some photos). It was co-founded in 2012 by Ev Williams, one of the creators of Twitter and Blogger. But an analysis in Poynter online found that stories on Medium are acutally relatively short.
  • The Big Roundtable – website featuring longer non-fiction stories, founded by a Columbia Journalism School professor.
  • Inkshare – a crowdfunding site where writers can raise money for and publish longform stories
Several other online publications, known for breaking news or aggregating other content, began emphasizing long-form or investigative journalism or adding special sections on long-form stories. They include:

Another resurgence in longform writing online is “subcompact publishing.” These are publications that shun the multi-column, non-linear format and extensive use of rich multimedia content at many news sites in favor of simple scrollable linear stories with photos or illustrations.

The publications have a simple design and navigation and the stories are prominently displayed and easily accessible. Attention is paid to attractive typography rather than multimedia embellishments.

The publications come out regularly and fairly frequently (such as weekly) and are optimized for mobile devices, especially tablets. See this Smashing Magazine article for a good summary and examples of subcompact publications.

Services for Saving and Reading Stories Later

Automating the Journalism Narrative

While some sites see a renaissance for the long-form narrative online, other services are trying to automate the narrative:

Narrative Science – this site uses a computer program to analyze data such as sports scores and corporate earnings  statements and generate stories about the scores and statements.

Journatic – this company analyzes local community data to identify stories that then are out-sourced to inexpensive, often out-of-the-country writers to turn into news articles. The company came under fire in summer 2012 for using fake bylines and other questionable actions.

Readings and Resources

Presentation Links – Digital Transition

Presentation Links – Picking Media

Games and Immersive Environments

Another effective way of increasing participation in and time spent at an online news site is adding news-related games people can play or immersive virtual worlds people can explore.

Games by definition are more engaging for people, and well designed games can lead people to spend hours of their time playing them online.  Games are particularly popular with young people, an age group many news organizations are struggling to attract as readers or viewers.

On the general popularity of video games, see the Entertainment Software Association’s Industry Facts section of its website.

Many news organizations have experimented with developing games for their websites.

One early news game was Waterfront Renaissance created in 2001 by the Everett Herald newspaper in Washington (the link is to a version of the game preserved by the Internet Archive). The city of Everett at the time was planning to redevelop its waterfront, and the game invited people to “develop your own vision for our waterfront areas” by placing on a map of the waterfront area icons for different features, such as an amphitheater, park areas, a horse arena, a golf course, etc.

Another early classic news game was’s baggage screening game that showed people the challenge of trying to scan baggage at airport security checkpoints. The game, produced in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, won the Online News Association award for most creative use of the medium in 2002.


The Gotham Gazette has developed numerous online games on public policy issues.

Another common news game was about balancing the budgets of various governments. The New York Times in 2010 created a Budget Puzzle: You Fix the Budget that people could play with to reduce the federal budget deficit.

Ian Bogost, game designer and professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, is developing the Cartoonist, a tool for quickly generating news video games. He also wrote Newsgames: Journalism at Play, a book on games created by news organizations.

See also the research done by Nora Paul and Kathleen Hansen at the University of Minnesota on the effectiveness of online news games.

For more examples of online games developed by news organizations, see this list.

Simple Games

Games can be kept very simple and thus require little development time, and still be very popular. See for example the Guess Where SF game people created on Flickr, in which photos are posted and people are asked to try to identify them.

The Berkeleyside local news blog regularly posts a Where in Berkeley? feature inviting people to ID the place depicted in a photo. Another California local news blog,, asked people to help identify a wild bird, prompting 87 responses.

Other examples of very popular simple games created by news organizations include:

Sophisticated Games

Other games are much more complex and create immersive, virtual worlds people can explore together online.

See for example Zynga’s Farmville and its Facebook version called FrontierVille. Farmville reportedly has 200 million and Frontierville 5 million active users.

At the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism we developed Remembering 7th Street, an online virtual world and video game that re-created Oakland’s 7th Street blues and jazz club scene from the 1940s and 1950s so people could experience this important part of the city’s cultural heritage.

Readings and Resources

Multimedia Storytelling

Many journalists entered the profession for a simple reason – a love of storytelling.

The enjoyment of a good narrative also appears to be something that is hard-wired into the human brain. See the Scientific American article on “The Secrets of Storytelling: Why We Love a Good Yarn.”

The Internet has raised concerns that digital media will spell doom for the narrative, replaced by constant bursts of information lacking any context and a flood of raw video and data. Younger people in particular are said to lack the attention span for reading in-depth stories and are supposedly turned off by long and complex narratives.

But the reverse may actually be the case. A 2008 study of 18 to 34 year olds by Context-Based Research Group found they suffered from “news fatigue, meaning they were overloaded with facts and updates and had trouble connecting to more in-depth stories. Participants yearned for quality and in-depth reporting, but had difficulty immediately accessing such content.”

Another study by the Newspaper Association of America Foundation and Northwestern University’s Media Management Center found that teens want background information and context for stories, as well as visuals like photos and graphics to make the content more compelling.

Rather than undermining the traditional narrative, the Internet is an opportunity to experiment with multi-dimensional storytelling and new narrative approaches that provide context and depth and also are more compelling and engaging.

So instead of a single linear narrative, a story can be broken up into a series of narratives organized as topical subsections that people can explore according to their own interests.

See, for example, this study by Nora Paul and Kathleen A. Hansen at the University of Minnesota that tested five different forms of storytelling, including a more traditional narrative, news games and a topic oriented presentation. The topic approach was “by far the favorite approach of those we tested,” and people who used this format also were “most likely to say they learned something new about the topic.”

By dividing a story into topical segments in this way, different aspects of stories then can be told in different media formats – text, video, audio, photo slideshows, graphics – that are most appropriate to the specific topic, making storytelling more engaging. Check out our tutorial on Multimedia Storytelling to learn more about this approach to putting together a more comprehensive multimedia presentation.

The best multimedia storytelling presents content in the type of media most appropriate to the nature of the story being told. See our tutorial on Picking the Right Media for Reporting a Story on how to take advantage of the different characteristics of video, audio, photos, text and other media forms.

For a successful multimedia package, see the Boston Globe’s 7-part series on Ted Kennedy, that received 2.5 million pageviews the month it was published in February 2009.

The package included video stories as centerpieces, long text articles, photo slideshows and other background materials (two of the Globe staff members who worked on the story, Thea Breit and Scott Lapierre, attended the Knight Digital Media Center multimedia training workshops in March 2006 and May 2005, respectively). See the Nieman Journalism Lab article on the Globe’s package: For the Boston Globe’s Kennedy series, video is dominant.

For examples of the many different approaches that news organizations and journalists have taken to online storytelling, see our Taxonomy of Digital Story Packages guide.

Multimedia Story Sites

Check out the multimedia packages cataloged at these sites to see how they use different types of media.

Readings and Resources

Presentation Links – Multimedia Storytelling I

Presentation Links – Multimedia Storytelling II

About this Tutorial

This guide grew out of the opening presentations at the Knight Digital Media Center Multimedia Program’s training workshops. It was written by Paul Grabowicz with contributions from members of the Berkeley Advanced Media Institute training staff.

A special acknowledgment to Jane Stevens, who developed the initial ideas for some sections of this guide, especially those on multimedia storytelling and topics sections. Jane’s ideas also helped shape our Berkeley Advanced Media Institute multimedia workshops and the multimedia curriculum at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

Republishing Policy

This content may not be republished in print or digital form without express written permission from Berkeley Advanced Media Institute. Please see our Content Redistribution Policy at

Upcoming Workshops: