You don’t tip competitors on Twitter; you beat them. Lots of journalists use Twitter for sharing links — especially links to their own published stories. Well, that’s just one of the many ways a really savvy reporter can use Twitter. Steve Buttry, a top editor for Digital First Media, talks about letting go of fear — fear that you are tipping your competition when you are first to tweet. Get over it! You’re there, they’re not, and the way to let everyone know that is to tweet.

Takeaways: Being first does not mean being careless. Accuracy still rules. However, being incomplete is not the same as being wrong. People who follow you on Twitter are not necessarily people who buy your newspaper or watch your newscast — and that’s fine. “Scooping the competition” has a new face nowadays.

The Intrinsic Value of Blogging. In this short blog post, Matthew Mullenweg (a founding developer of WordPress) writes about the frustrations of knowing who is reading what you’ve written. Or rather, we don’t know. We have loads of statistics about how many people viewed a page and what they clicked and where they came from, but we don’t know who these people are — not really.

Takeaways: Writing “just for yourself” is not sufficient. Writing for a faceless mass audience will not push you to do your best — and neither will writing for massive pageviews and retweets. Decide whom you’re writing for, in addition to yourself. This is a tool that can help you improve.

How David O. Russell Made Me a Journalist. I’ve read a lot of essays about “my first story as a journalist” and “how I wrote my first story.” Usually they do not really wow me. This one is different. (It was published in August, but I found it a week ago, via Explore.)

Takeaways: You won’t get a blueprint for how to become a journalist from this story, but you will get some strong hints: “people can surprise you in the most unexpected ways”; “life-changing moments are within reach .” You might say this essay is not so much about the future in journalism, but for me it is about the courage and good luck that make a start for many young journalists.

Tomorrow’s metric for news is action. Measuring things is important, especially when those things are growing or shrinking and we’re not sure why. Newspapers, magazines, and TV networks always liked to measure (or count) subscribers or viewers. Online, however, that measurement breaks apart into individual stories or segments, and journalists look to the numbers as indicators of what they should produce more of. But wait — does that mean more stupid viral videos? NPR reporter Elise Hu says no — in this article for Nieman Journalism Lab, she suggests we should really be measuring how our journalism influences real outcomes in the world. In other words: Measure the difference your journalism makes.

Takeaways: Students should make themselves familiar with the terms Hu uses in this article, such as “social lift,” “impact,” “engagement,” “time reading” (also called “time spent”). Follow her links to learn about the engagement strategies of ProPublica and Medium, two journalism organizations you definitely should be following. If you don’t know exactly what she means by “agency,” “participation,” and “community,” then get busy. Hu is writing about journalism that has value, and that’s journalism that knows what its purpose is. How do you measure that?

Even the New York Times can’t resist going lowbrow with native advertising. Writers now inhabit “a flattened world … in which there is only one real measure, traffic,” says Guardian columnist Michael Wolff. He means traffic to stories, which means audience, and sharing, and how many people view (and presumably also read, although that’s up for debate). Native advertising (also known as branded content) “can sometimes blur the distinction between advertising and editorial, especially in the digital space” (Joe Pompeo, writing at Capital), and that’s something most journalists know to be both dangerous and distasteful. For the esteemed New York Times to stoop so low(brow) is, well, a giant flashing confirmation that the business of journalism has changed. The question remains whether the ethics and values of journalism can survive this.

Takeaways: Students who want to be writers might scoff at the idea, but everyone who works in journalism today needs to be looking at the business side. It’s how you get paid, after all! Wolff’s column provides a good introduction to the stakes and the present playing field. If you read it carefully, you’ll understand why he says: “How advertising is handled has always been a key distinction between low and high order publishing,” and “it’s very hard, if not pointless, to separate real content from phony stuff.” Pay attention to what he means by “content disaggregation” and “traffic aggregation” — these are two very important factors in the business of journalism online. Those who aspire to be writers need to understand that even The New York Times has “lost the wherewithal to sell high publishing.” 

Refuge: 18 stories from the Syrian exodus. Many Americans are unaware of what is going on in Syria. The civil war there started almost three years ago. This collection shows — with photographs, videos, text and maps — what happens after Syrians have fled from the fighting. This is “one of the largest forced migrations of people since World War II” — more than 2 million people.

Takeaways: We can scan through these stories in a random, casual way, and stop whenever something catches our attention. It might be a photo. It might be a pullout quote. This is not a traditionally structured “long form” journalism narrative. How does that affect our understanding of the Syrian situation? Does this manner of storytelling have a stronger chance of getting attention in a media-saturated world? 

Scooped by code. There’s been plenty of discussion among journalists lately about learning to code. Here, Scott Klein of ProPublica (a nonprofit investigative journalism organization) explains how journalists use their code skills to uncover stories that no one else has found.

Takeaways: ”Scraping websites, cleaning data, and querying Excel-breaking data sets are enormously useful ways to get great stories.” If you don’t know what “scraping” means, get busy with Google. If you think code is only used for making apps, check out the three story examples Klein links to in his essay. If you want to be the journalist who gets stories that others don’t, learn how learning code can help you.

National Geographic: Year in Review. Get on your big screen for this lush, photo-filled extravaganza. Each of 12 categories (Adventure, Animals, Cultures, Space, and more) offers 10 or more glimpses into amazement (brain-eating amoebas! Kyrgyz nomads! nano flowers! Eurasian otters! cougars!), and most link out to a full-text story from NatGeo’s famous magazine. Just browsing provides plenty of satisfaction, but it’s nice to know that when your curiosity is truly piqued, you’re one click away from deeper details.

Takeaways: Having perfected this full-screen interface in the brilliant Serengeti Lion multimedia epic, NatGeo applied it to a year-end roundup that features its own best stories. There are two lessons here: (1) Re-use and repurpose code and design when appropriate; and (2) Do not let your past stories, photos, etc., go to waste, forgotten and unviewed. NatGeo plays to its strengths here, showcasing stories and images that other publications do not have.

Data and visualization year in review, 2013. Do you like seeing cool charts that explain things clearly? This roundup of examples and links highlights a wide range of information graphics that help us understand things better. Some of them come from journalists, and some come from scientists and statisticians. This was published on the excellent blog Flowing Data, by Nathan Yau.

Takeaways: Maybe you’re not an artist, and maybe you lack love for statistics, but most of us comprehend numeric data more quickly when we see it represented in graphic form. Notice how many of these examples use a map. Have you played with Google Maps Engine? How much do you know about making accurate charts and graphics to communicate about money, people, and amounts of things? Did you ever use Excel to make a chart (say, in high school)? If data visualization is a good tool for explaining, then more journalists should be able to do it. 

Why Are Upworthy Headlines Suddenly Everywhere? Don’t let the headline fool you — this article from The Atlantic is not all about Upworthy OR headlines! It’s actually about how Facebook and Twitter drive traffic to news sites, which in turn drives editors to try anything they can think of to get people to click what they post on Facebook and Twitter. The power of these sites was illustrated in October when Facebook changed the algorithm that controls its News Feed, and traffic to news sites from Facebook increased even more.

Takeaways: It used to be that people bought a newspaper or tuned in to their favorite nightly news show on TV. That’s not how most people get news today. The phrase “drives traffic” obscures a larger truth: Facebook is responsible for what a lot of people find out about what’s happening in the world. This affects how they think about issues and maybe even how they vote. Find out how Facebook determines what appears in your News Feed.