2014 General Excellence in Online Journalism, Large Newsroom finalist


About the Project

At The Wall Street Journal, the past 12 months have been some of the most exciting in our 125-year history. We’ve reinvented the way we tell stories, using new digital tools that marry our traditions of in-depth reporting, breaking news and thoughtful analysis with compelling interactive formats that break down boundaries between readers and the information they need.

The results are transforming the ways our readers learn about the world through our content. A few examples:

  • Immersive stories “The Lobotomy Files” uncovered a dark chapter in American history, when the U.S. Government lobotomized 2,000 Veterans. Our story allowed readers to interact with the musty cache of documents discovered by our reporter in the National Archives.
  • Public service tools We built an easy-to-use, mobile-friendly tool for comparing the prices of Affordable Care Act healthcare plans across 36 states. Readers could enter their age, plan type, state and county to see plan costs, then share collections of individual plans, illustrating the huge range in costs across the country.
  • Communities More than 14,000 readers now gather each month in the WSJ Book Club for interactive conversations with well-known authors including Neil Gaiman and Elizabeth Gilbert.

We’ve fundamentally changed the way we work. We’ve moved our digital newsdesk to the center of our newsroom, built new teams for data-driven investigative reporting and immersive storytelling, bolstered our staff of developers and designer and reoriented our workflow around changing news cycles.

The Wall Street Journal is committed to building a digital future around the original reporting that underpins accountability journalism. Our global staff of 1,800 journalists do the rigorous daily work of providing coverage of corporations, governments, societies and cultures, setting the foundation for all our digital storytelling.

Interactive storytelling draws readers into stories and topics
A sampling of our interactive showcases our commitment to helping readers understand complex and unfamiliar topics in new ways.

In addition to the tool for comparing the prices of Affordable Care Act plans – and “Prescribed,” a personalized interactive tour of the new healthcare law — we built a modern, mobile friendly hub for our WSJ/NBC news poll data.

Previously, we had simply created custom charts from the findings and listed links to PDF files. Now, the information is easy to read, scan and share. We also created an editor’s dashboard to generate custom charts for ongoing stories in the weeks after a poll release.

And when Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba announced plans for an IPO, we produced an interactive that combined graphics, written profiles, graphics to introduce the rest of the world to the company.

Richness and depth compliment thoughtful, evocative writing
Our journalists frequently get incomparable access to sources, data, media and other information that, over time, creates an opportunity to tell stories in great detail by creating an immersive experience for the reader.

The Wall Street Journal has worked to build – and continually develop – a platform for telling these stories. “Lobotomy Files” was one of our most important efforts of the last 12 months, but it was one of several:

  • For “Trials,” we spent six years following a group of parents and scientists seeking a treatment for a rare and fatal genetic disease that mostly strikes children. Online, video, animation, and photography merged seamlessly in a touching, intimate presentation of stories that were both deeply personal and scientific.
  • “Against the Wind” was a rich look at the America’s Cup sailing race. It combined classic reporting and writing, dramatic exclusive video, sound and graphics to tell the story of Oracle Team USA’s improbable victory in 2013.
  • “Death at 19,000 Feet” examined the Mount Everest avalanche that killed 16, the deadliest ever tragedy on the mountain. Our story gave readers unequaled access to the economy and culture that has developed around mountain’s would-be ascenders.

Tools and platforms enhance storytelling, collaborating
While we’re always working to discover and learn about new storytelling tools, we also try to constantly refine the ones we’ve used for years to better serve readers.

Social media, for example, is always a key to our distribution strategy, but we now use it increasingly for pure collaboration. In addition to the Book Club, we’ve worked closely with Spreecast to create real-time interactive videos that let readers discuss news and topics with our journalists live and on the screen. Some of those videos, particularly ones with our Chief Economics Correspondent John Hilsenrath, have kept thousands engaged with us for long periods of time as the discussion progresses and readers share questions and comments online.

Newsletters also continue to be a priority for our readers who want timely, carefully crafted summaries of important events and topics. Editor-in-Chief Gerard Baker launched “The 10-Point,” a popular daily guide to our best stories and scoops, offering unusual access to the perspective of a newsroom leader.
Finally, we introduced four new storytelling templates that help us quickly communicate important concepts to readers (they are collected in once place on our Briefly blog):

  • At a Glance is a short, scannable summary of a specific development, best kept under 200 words, we’ve deployed to summarize the crisis in Iraq, the European Central Bank’s Securities Market Program, and the battle to buy Alstom’s energy equipment business.
  • We use 5 Things to drive readers into news stories using bite-sized chunks of information in a bright, visual format. We’ve recently found it useful for explaining Federal Reserve actions, a white paper on Japan’s population, and the Supreme Court’s handling of a case involving Argentine debt.
  • The Numbers is for highlighting key data in the news, an alternative to text-heavy narratives. That’s come in handy when discussing President Obama’s job approval rating, the growing population of stay-at-home fathers in the United States, and even the historical import of Manhattan’s Apollo Theatre.
  • The Short Answer is used to explain complex, ongoing news stories. We target a maximum written length of 400 words to create a conversational “behind the headlines” look at an important topic. It’s been used to discuss Sprint/T-Mobile deal discussions, sectarian violence in Iraq, and precious metals pricing.