Digital transformation

Why 2016 will be the year of mobile and what newsrooms can do about it

There’s this happy thing happening in the world of news: growth in mobile readership. A line on a chart that’s going up instead of down. In some cases, this is just another transition. First, print to digital. Now, desktop to mobile. Still, growth is good.

So far, this growth – mobile users increasingly finding news on their phones – is happening without our work in newsrooms changing very much.

Behind the scenes, we work to improve user experience. People want quick load times, or they bail before they see your work. And design can keep readers engaged or drive them away. I’m likely to read more when I’m on a site that loads quickly, has a nice amount of space between lines, and doesn’t force me to follow a word or two of text strung out next to an ad.

But has content changed to accommodate a format that rests in the palm of my hand? Are reporters thinking of stories differently because more people are reading them on a tiny screen?

Mobile is growing as more people find their news there. What can newsrooms do about it?
Mobile is growing as more people find their news there. What can newsrooms do about it?

Some news organizations are thinking about mobile, but I think there’s more to be done, and 2016 is the perfect year to do it (because if we don’t hop on this now, our fickle online readers will find someplace else to read interesting stuff).

Here are four ways to incorporate mobile thinking into your newsroom:

  1. Play a little game in which reporters, editors and photographers get all of their news on mobile for a week. Make sure they are on your mobile website and on your app (if you have one) every day. How does your story look to a reader? Do links from social media work? Does video load? Do interactives work? What news organizations are doing this well? What can you learn? By the way, once the week is up, you will probably want to continue to have everyone look at mobile every day.
  2. Start your morning meeting with a look at mobile analytics. How do these differ from desktop? Do we need to make adjustments in how we cover the news based on this audience? For example, we can live Tweet and Storify the hot meeting, or Periscope the protest.
  3. Examine your workflow. In 2015, our larger GateHouse newsrooms examined their workflow to ensure it was focused less on getting out the paper and more on getting out the news. Let’s go one step further and explore those workflows to focus on mobile. People are on their phones while they watch TV at night, while they watch their kids play soccer on weekends, and definitely on the holidays. People have an appetite for interesting content every day, nights and weekends. Let’s make sure we’re there for them on social media with links to stories they won’t want to pass up.
  4. Think of stories differently. This is going to be the toughest adjustment, but we need to blow up stories. We need to tell stories in alternative formats and with layers of content. For example, has its background and explainers organized into cards on topics such as “the war on drugs, explained” or “18 things about ISIS you need to know.” Instead of having to regurgitate lots of background in each story, you can layer the background and allow readers who want more to read the cards. And readers who already know about ISIS, for example, can just read the new info without being bogged down in tons of background or explainers. We can make our own version of this system for local news.

The bottom line is that readers are interested in great content, interesting content, different ways to experience stories. Let’s roll up our sleeves and try something new. I bet we can grow our mobile audience even faster than they are gravitating toward us now.

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