Digital transformationDigital/multimedia

Do your news interactives work on mobile? If not, you’re failing your readers

When news organizations think about analytics, one of the challenges is to go beyond just looking at the numbers. We want to use metrics to learn about our audience and to inform our news decisions.

One of the easy lessons we’ve learned so far is how much of our audience comes from mobile. Most news organizations are seeing more traffic from mobile than desktop these days. Industry-wide, 72 percent of readers have accessed news on mobile, according to Pew Research in July 2016. So, it’s important to put those mobile readers first.

As you’re planning a project, make sure that every element is mobile-friendly. Some news organizations get really jazzed about creating mega-interactives that allow readers to access information by clicking and moving around the page. Before going live, be sure to test that interactive on mobile. Ask these questions:

1. Are text or images cut off?
2. Are text or images large enough on a phone to allow readers to see what’s going on?
3. Do the interactives work on mobile? Click around to test.

If you don’t have a sandbox to test the interactive, find a quiet corner of your site to test it. And be sure to use a couple of different sizes and types of phones to test.

This interactive on the Atlantic slave trade was published on
This interactive on the Atlantic slave trade was published on

Digital editor extraordinaire Nicole Simmons, who works with GateHouse Media’s Wicked Local sites, spotted this powerful graphic on Slate that tracks the Atlantic slave trade in two minutes. It was previously published and recently republished because it appears in the The Best American Infographics 2016.

Here’s a screenshot of the graphic, and in the lower left corner you can see a message that Nicole saw on her iPhone6 Plus, which is one of the bigger mobile screens: “For the full interactive version, use a larger device.” Since the interactive isn’t new, it’s understandable that Slate ran with something that doesn’t quite work for mobile. And it’s handy that the little message pops up, acknowledging the issue.

Ideally, though, you want to think about mobile from the start.

When the New York Times created the stunning Snow Fall in 2012, people weren’t thinking about mobile. More people were accessing news on their desktops. The award-winning design is beautiful on desktop, but doesn’t render with the same oomph on mobile.

With every interactive you create or embed you use, be sure to think mobile first. Here are a few pointers:

  1. If you use the Knight Lab digital timeline, consider photos that are cropped tightly. A panned-out shot won’t be easy to read.
  2. Same with StoryMap, another Knight Lab tool that features photos.
  3. Be sure to set your embed width to 100 percent.
  4. Generally, take a look at your mobile site to see if feeds are pulling in correctly. Click around to ensure you aren’t keeping your mobile readers waiting.
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