Using responsive design to enhance storytelling: WSJ digital editor, John Crowley

Since joining the The Wall Street Journal in 2010 and in his new role as digital editor for Europe, Middle East and Africa, John Crowley has sought to make storytelling more accessible, compelling and far-reaching through online, multi-platform innovation.

by WAN-IFRA Staff | October 8, 2014

He now leads a team at the who use social media, search-engine optimisation and other platforms of digital interaction and engagement to boost the level and impact of digital journalism within the organisation.

The World Editor’s Forum got a small sample of the smart new ways to reach your audience that Crowley will be speaking about at the International Newsroom Summit next week in Amsterdam next week.

How has The Wall Street Journal adapted to mobile reporting in past two years? 

Our approach has changed immeasurably. Two years ago around 20% of our unique monthly visitors came to us via mobile. That figure now stands at 43%. As we approach mobile majority, we’ve had to think deeply (and fast) about what we do. Our graphics team in London now test on a range of mobile devices in addition to their trusty desktop computers throughout the development process. An example [is] of one we built on the percentage of women across Europe past childbearing age who had not given birth and another on a digital scrapbook from one of our reporters of three epic European rail journeys.

How have you dealt with the technical complexities involved with creating mobile-friendly data that is accessible across a wide and varying range of mobile devices?

On the Web, we are in the process of rolling out a new responsive article template in our Methode CMS which simply scales according to the dimensions of the screen you’re working on. As my colleague [graphics editor] Elliot Bentley notes, responsive design ‘future-proofs’ you against new sized screens that haven’t been developed yet. This is pretty much industry-standard.

Can you tell us about any other responsive reporting templates you’re working with and what they are designed to achieve?

Emily Banks, lead news editor for mobile, joined The Wall Street Journal this year. She helped develop the ‘briefly’ blogs: ‘Five Things’, ‘At a Glance,’ ‘The Short Answer’ and ‘The Numbers.’ These are easily digestible, visual ways to tell a story. This other template is designed to be used on our WordPress blog platform so development time was saved. We wanted to tap into the growing demand for quick, concise explainers and we feel this template answers that demand. As my colleague Sarah Marshall notes in her blog, these explainers are designed with mobile in mind, have a long shelf life and are a gateway to our in-depth subscriber content.

What lessons are you learning about mobile from start-ups like Netflix? 

Netflix has revolutionised the way people watch TV and now it’s looking at shorter, more mobile friendly clips. My New York-based colleague Jason Bellini helms ‘The Short Answer’ – a series of mobile-first video explainers on a topical news story. A great example of this was his investigation involving the ‘ghost plane scenario’ for missing Malaysia Airlines MH370. Another one he did recently on the laborious time it takes for those treating Ebola victims to remove their scrubs.

NOTE: John Crowley will join the BBC’s Trushar Barot and RGB Media Inc’s Grig Davidovitz on a panel titled Smart New Ways to Reach Your Audience at the International Newsroom Summit on Tuesday morning. Follow the action on Twitter #Newsroom2014

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