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Tool of the week for journalists: WolframAlpha

Tool of the week: WolframAlpha

What is it? WolframAlpha bills itself as “a computational knowledge engine”.

It is like a search engine but where search engines “index web pages, then look for textual matches, then give you lists of links to follow”, WolframAlpha uses “built-in knowledge curated by human experts”.

According to the site, “it works by using its vast store of expert-level knowledge and algorithms to automatically answer questions, do analysis, and generate reports”.

In a video introducing the engine, Stephen Wolfram explains that it’s an “ambitious project that’s just getting started”, and encourages users to expect it to get better with age.

How is it of use to journalists? One of the reasons journalists turn to WolframAlpha rather than Google is to verify information.

For example, in this guide to verifying information from social media, Claire Wardle, director of development and integration at social news agency Storyful, says journalists there use WolframAlpha to ask certain questions, such as the weather in a certain place at a certain time, to verify images or video shared on social media.

In the above example I asked WolframAlpha for the weather in Damascus, Syria. You can also get cleverer and ask a question such as “what was the weather in Islamabad the day Osama bin Laden was killed?

A word of warning: as with all statistics, do cross-check. For example, ask WolframAlpha how many journalists there are in the UK and it encourages you to ask the question around “reporters and correspondents” in the US.

WolframAlpha tells you there were 46,130 reporters and correspondents in the US in 2009 (which seems low, although Jon Slattery’s blog does report a 2012 figure of 40,600 “editors and reporters” in 2012 based on stats from the American Society of News Editors). It gives average salary ($34,360 in 2009) and the median wage yearly change (-$430) and presents you with graphs and charts.

Do you use WolframAlpha as a journalist? Any tips? Share yours in the comments section below.

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#Tip of the day from – online writing tools from Wolfram Alpha

Tools: Wolfram Alpha offers a range of options for journalists looking for dictionary/thesaurus/grammar tools online. Check out this blog post outlining them all. Tipster: Laura Oliver.

To submit a tip to, use this link – we will pay a fiver for the best ones published.

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Online Journalism Blog: ‘Wolfram Alpha for journalists’

Paul Bradshaw takes a look at new seach engine (or computational knowledge engine) Wolfram Alpha, with a journalist’s hat on.

Bradshaw finds, for example: “From a journalistic perspective, [some of its] features are a time-saver if you don’t fancy browsing through almanacs and biographies for the same facts. But that’s it. And it’s not clear where the information is coming from or how accurate it is (Karen Blakeman, whose review is worth reading, told me it gets some things wrong, ‘even chemical structures’) – that’s the advantage of Google or Wikipedia: you can evaluate the credibility of the source relatively intuitively; Wolfram, however, presents itself as the source, and where links are given in ‘Source Information’ these are often just to homepages.”

Full post at this link…

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