News for Digital Journalists

Posts tagged with: Mobile

November 29, 2010

RJI: Mobile tools guide for journalists

Mobile tools and skills offer journalists a range of new options for reporting. To help journalists decide how best to go mobile, this week Reynolds Journalism Institute fellow Will Sullivan published a mobile journalism reporting tools guide.

This guide covers mobile hardware and software that can enhance your field reporting. It’s a great resource if you’re doing some holiday shopping for your journalist friends—or for yourself!

Here’s what it covers…

In the “hardware” section, the guide compares the features of several devices that can help you get the most out of your smartphone:

  • Chargers and batteries
  • Keyboards
  • Lenses
  • External microphones
  • External lights
  • Tripods
  • Miscellaneous gear

And the mobile apps section compares programs for your phone that can enhance your mobile production capabilities for:

  • Audio editing
  • File transmission
  • Geolocation
  • Live Streaming
  • Micro-reporting (i.e., Twitter)
  • Note taking
  • Photo editing
  • Video editing

In addition to comparison tables, the guide also presents detailed product reviews.

December 07, 2010

Android apps contest brings together journalists, programmers

In a contest to foster journalism innovation - or even help birth a new breed of journalist-programmer - the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri is bringing together journalism students with computer science, engineering and business students to create new apps for Google’s open-source Android mobile operating system.

The several month-long competition, sponsored by Google, Adobe, Sprint, and Hearst Corp., is in its fourth year, having previously developed apps for the iPhone and for Adobe. One winning idea from last year’s contest is now in development as a potential business at Hearst.

The contest form itself is nicely innovative. Students form ad-hoc, cross-disciplinary teams, with project management from Hearst employees. Adobe provides tools for generating Android apps, while Sprint provides help from developers and phones for testing apps. The winner ultimately gets to present its idea to Google execs in California next spring.

The Neiman Journalism Lab blog has a detailed writeup on the contest and its interdisciplinary approach.

December 28, 2010

Political/election news should go mobile, Pew research indicates

More than one in four US adults used cell phones to participate in some election-related activity during the November 2010 elections, according to the new Politics Goes Mobile report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

This research suggests some important implications for a news organization’s strategy for political and election coverage…

According to Pew, the most popular election-related mobile activities reported were:

  • 14% of all US adults used cell phones to tell others that they voted.
  • 12% used mobile phones to keep up with election or political news.
  • 10% sent text messages related to the election.

What’s striking is that none of these top activities   requires a smartphone. Text messaging, simple web browsing, e-mail, and social media are among the many communication channels available to users of “feature phones”—the less-expensive, simpler phones which lack the ability to run native apps or access wireless broadband networks.

According to Pew, only 1% of US adults used an election-related smartphone app that provided updates from candidates, parties, or groups. Undoubtedly, some of that 12% who kept up with political/election news via mobile were doing this through news apps for smartphones. (Pew did not specifically inquire about news apps in this survey.) But most mobile phones these days can access news through other channels.

Over 75% of US mobile users still rely on feature phones—and while smartphones are getting more popular, feature phones are likely to remain the majority in any mobile news audience for at least the next few years. Why? Feature phones cost far less to buy and use. They’re easily available on flat-rate, unlimited month-to-month plans (or even prepaid plans). And most models can do much more than just voice calls, texting, and photos.

Pew’s research indicates that the mobile audience for political and election news is substantial, so it’s worth having a mobile strategy for this coverage. Consider options such as:

  • Opt-in, customizable text alert services for political or election news updates.
  • Mobile-friendly (and mobile-searchable) web-based quick guides for candidates, issues, election processes, polling places, etc.
  • Promoting political and election coverage via social media.
  • Inviting crowdsourced reporting from polling places (text, audio reports, photos, social media); and promoting/distributing this via traditional and digital channels.

All of these options can reach a larger potential audience than app-focused mobile strategies, and require less expense and effort to develop.

January 04, 2011

Google heats up digital newsstand competition

As print publishers seek new ways to make money, they’re getting more interested in turning to digital newsstands for distribution. New options may be opening in that market in 2011…

Apple already sells digital editions of many major newspapers and magazines through the iTunes store, and Amazon and Barnes & Noble also sells newspaper and magazines subscriptions for users of their e-reader devices and apps.

But on Jan. 2, the Wall Street Journal reported that Google is planning to launch its own digital newsstand, targeted at smartphones and tablet computers running the Android operating system…

“The e-newsstand would include apps from media companies offering versions of their publications for smartphones or tablets running Android, say people familiar with the matter. Google hopes to launch it in part to provide a more consistent experience for consumers who want to read periodicals on Android devices, and to help publishers collect payment for their apps, these people say.”

“...Apple, meanwhile, is readying several changes in iTunes to address publishers’ frustrations with the online store, according to people familiar with the matter. Among the changes, Apple would make it easier for publishers to sell subscriptions on iTunes, in addition to single issues, with Apple keeping 30% of the tab.”

It’s uncertain when and how Google’s digital newsstand might launch—and indeed, it might never materialize. But it’s creating considerable buzz.

The CBS Business Network noted: “This isn’t about a war between Google and Apple, even if it looks that way. It’s about a market that is far more complex than the online market for music was when iTunes launched… The magazine industry comes to the marketplace with the wisdom of history—and a slew of tablets to rewrite it on. Everyone, from Barnes & Noble to Vizio and Lenovo, is launching one. So, while the iPad poses a formidable challenge to any comer, it is not the only game in town.”

This is an interesting market for news organizations to watch, and perhaps to experiment in as a premium service. However, don’t expect that a digital newsstand could be used as an absolute paywall to protect all of a news organization’s content. Free web-based publishing will probably always be necessary to attract a mass audience online, and to support much-needed shareability and search visibility.

But if digital newsstands can offer not just more convenient content delivery (you pay for it once, and it keeps coming to you), but also a superior reading experience (a la Flipboard), that might be a value-add that more readers would be willing to pay for.

January 11, 2011

Mobile lessons for independent media from The Media Consortium

2010 was a busy digital-media year for The Media Consortium (a network of the country’s leading progressive, independent media outlets). TMC’s year-end roundup report details the results of several digital media initiatives. On the mobile front, TMC’s work produced some especially valuable lessons…

One part of TMC’s Digital Innovation Studio (a program of small-group phone conference meetings) focused on mobile media strategy. Participants arrived at several key conclusions:

  • Mobile web before apps. “For most small to mid-sized organizations, building a mobile site was more of a priority than building an expensive application.”
  • Go with the flow of mobile devices and environments. “Future mobile applications will be successful in proportion to the degree by which they incorporate community interaction and gaming mechanics that take advantage of mobile device features. Shovelware that replicates what’s on the news organization’s web or mobile site will not have the same level of impact.”
  • Apps are a lot of work. “Mobile apps require constant innovation, updates and management.”
  • Don’t delay. “Now is the time to start investing in long-term infrastructure, such as APIs, that will allow content to be readily accessed and used by many applications on many different devices.
  • More connections with mobile developers needed. “One of the biggest barriers for independent media in developing mobile strategies is the lack of a connection with programmers in the mobile space. This led to TMC’s successful Mobile Hackathon, held in Chicago last October.

Read TMC’s 2010 report for more insight into community-building, revenue models, and more for independent progressive media outlets. Much of this information applies equally well to mainstream news organizations.

January 21, 2011

Got accessibility? Mobile-friendly sites also help disabled users

One in four Americans live with a disability that interferes with activities of daily living. These people can benefit significantly from easy access to news, information, communication, services, community, and resources—all of which are widely available online. But 2% US adults report having a disability or illness that makes it harder or impossible for them to use the internet. This can further impair their quality of life and even their health.

A new report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project, Americans living with disability and their technology profile, describes this problem in more detail. There are some ways to make digital media more widely accessible—including some options that news organizations could (and should) implement…

Some highlights from this report:

“54% of adults living with a disability use the internet, compared with 81% of adults who report none of the disabilities listed in the survey.”

“Statistically speaking, disability is associated with being older, less educated, and living in a lower-income household. By contrast, internet use is statistically associated with being younger, college-educated, and living in a higher-income household. Thus, it is not surprising that people living with disability report lower rates of internet access than other adults. However, when all of these demographic factors are controlled, living with a disability in and of itself is negatively correlated with someone’s likelihood to have internet access.”

“People living with disability, once they are online, are also less likely than other internet users to have high-speed access or wireless access.”

Earlier Pew research also found that people with wireless (mobile) internet access are “more likely than other internet users to post their own health experiences online or to access the health information created by other people in online forums and discussion groups.”

Pew supports extending enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act to include web sites operated by “certain entities.” Through Jan. 24, the US Dept. of Justice is taking public comments on its proposed new ADA accessibility requirements for web sites.

Specifically, the new rules would “revise the regulations implementing titles II and III of the ADA to establish specific requirements for state and local governments and public accommodations to make their web sites accessible to individuals with disabilities.”

In an informational sense, a news organization could conceivably be considered a “public accommodation.”

But even if news orgs don’t specifically fall under these new rules, there’s one easy way to start to make your digital presence far more accessible: Create a mobile-friendly version of your site, and make it simple and obvious to access from the top of every page on your site.

The W3C consortium outlined how making a site mobile friendly also enhances accessibility. “Most Mobile Web specialists don’t know about design issues for people with disabilities. Likewise, most Web accessibility specialists don’t know Mobile Web design best practices. Web sites can more efficiently meet both goals when developers understand the significant overlap between making a Web site accessible for a mobile device and for people with disabilities.”

For more resources, see Web Content Accessibility and Mobile Web: Making a Web Site Accessible Both for People with Disabilities and for Mobile Devices

February 09, 2011

Yahoo to launch personalized mobile content platform

It looks like Yahoo views mobile media as a possible solution to its recent struggles. On Feb. 6, the New York Times reported that at next week’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Yahoo plans to announce a new mobile publishing platform which would make it easier for users to get personalized content on cell phones and other mobile devices.

Here’s why news organizations should watch this move…

Yahoo is not offering details about the project prior to the official announcement. However, according to the Times:

“The Yahoo platform aims to draw from a user’s declared preferences, search items, social media and other sources to find and highlight the most relevant content, according to the people familiar with the matter. It will be available on Yahoo’s web site, but is optimized to work as an app on tablets and smartphones, and especially on Google Android and Apple devices.

“The project, initially named ‘Deadeye,’ has been the focus of a team of more than 50 engineers for the last several months. The company is also planning to work with outside publishers, like Hearst, to create third-party apps powered by the same software engine, they said.”

On the personalization front, Mobile Marketing Watch notes: “Although Yahoo! hasn’t enjoyed many shining moments of innovation in recent years, the company has experienced considerable success with its personalization efforts, particularly with regard to its homepage tweaks. As a result, Yahoo! is believed to be heavily banking on a major push toward greater personalized content.”

What in this for news orgs? If Yahoo’s platform works well and becomes popular, it could become a useful distribution channel for news publishers.

It’s likely that Yahoo will serve ads via this platform. What’s unknown so far is whether content publishers might be able to either serve their own ads along with their content, or get a percentage of Yahoo’s revenue for ads served with their content. Since the platform apparently aims to provide full content (not just teasers with links) to users, Yahoo would probably get pressure to strike some kind of ad-related deal with publishers.

Another open question is how well this platform will really work for non-smart “feature phones,” which according to new figures from ComScore still comprise a the vast majority (nearly three-fourths) of the current US mobile market.

Many (perhaps most) feature phones currently in use are capable of web browsing or even running simple javascript-based apps. But so far, news organizations generally have neglected to offer feature phone users a good mobile web experience.

Meanwhile, Yahoo’s mobile offerings (including Yahoo News) are often listed by wireless carriers in the main menus of their feature phones’ browsers—so Yahoo apparently already understands the importance of reaching this huge consumer market.

Feature phone users are especially likely to desire content personalization, given the difficulty of navigating and searching web sites from those devices. If this Yahoo platform makes that easier for consumers, and if Yahoo offers some fair revenue opportunities for news publishers, then a platform like this might be a useful complement to a news organization’s own direct mobile offerings.

The News for Digital Journalists blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

February 15, 2011

Qualcomm, Opera deal could dramatically boost mobile web audience

Mobile web browsing on feature phones soon may become much easier and more fun, thanks to a just-announced deal that will make Opera Mini the default web browser on new handsets using Qualcomm’s popular BREW MP feature phone platform.

This could be a key breakthrough for news publishers’ mobile strategy…

To give an idea of the scale and speed of this deal, AT&T plans for all of its feature phones to eventually run on Brew MP. These new phones could start appearing in stores in as little as four months.

Feature phones still comprise nearly three-fourths of the US mobile market—and over 90% of feature phones come with a web browser. However, the clunky, limited, slow browsers packaged on most feature phones have been dampening web use in this market segment.

Since feature phones cost much less than smartphones to buy (and for typical monthly bills), and since feature phones are widely available on no-contract plans, they’re likely to remain popular among cost-conscious consumers for several years yet.

More people are accessing more content of all kinds on their mobile devices—but most of this is happening through mobile web browsers, not apps.

A new report from ComScore notes that “Even though applications received much more attention by the media throughout 2010, our analysis in the U.S. ...showed that by a small margin, application usage is still second to browser usage when it comes to the mobile web. For example 36 percent of mobile using Americans ...browsed the mobile web in December 2010, while application access reached 34 percent of Americans.”

It’s generally far easier and cheaper to develop offerings for the mobile web than to build native smartphone apps, with the added benefit that mobile web offerings have a much larger potential audience. The Qualcomm-Opera deal indicates that more than ever, the mobile web might be the best first place for news orgs to focus their initial mobile strategy. Apps are cool—but in a business and market sense, they’re cul-de-sacs.

May 23, 2011

Google News changes: Good and bad for local news startups

This month Google News unveiled some changes that are a mixed bag for local news sites struggling for search visibility…

First the good news: Android and iPhone smartphone users now have the option to see news stories relevant to their current location via the Google News mobile News Near You feature.

When visiting Google News from one of these devices, you are prompted via popup whether you want to see news near you. If you choose yes, then this section will be added to your standard Google News layout on that device. (Note: This feature does not appear to be compatible with the FireFox browser for Android.)

Google assesses the local relevance of news via semantic analysis. According to the Google blog: “We analyze every word in every story to understand what location the news is about and where the source is located.”

This service surfaces local news from a variety of local venues. For instance, right now I’m at the Burbank, CA airport. Under “news near you” I’m seeing stories from mostly from local newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times, the Ventura County Star, and the Burbank Leader—but also from Eater LA (a local food blog), LAist (a local multi-contributor blog), and the Hollywood Reporter (news for the entertainment industry).

From the perspective of a local news startup, News Near You is good news. The mobile market is booming, and news/information is one of the most popular activities for mobile users.

So as long as your site gets indexed by Google News (apply here)—and your site’s name, headlines, and content routinely offer enough semantic clues for Google to establish the “where” of your content—chances are good that Google News will serve up your stories to local mobile users.

This is likely to broaden the audiences for local news sites and grow their traffic—which is valuable, because otherwise generally can’t compete well with long-established legacy news brands for search visibility.

The (possible) bad news: Option to drop blogs from Google News. Google News has quietly introduced an option that allows all users (on any device type) to remove blogs and press releases from the stories they see in Google News. Search Engine Land explains how this works.

From the user’s perspective, this is generally good news—Google News users have long complained especially about seeing press releases listed as “news”.

However, often small local news startups get indexed as “blogs” by Google News, regardless of how they present themselves to Google. This could render them invisible to Google News users who choose not to see blogs in Google News.

Google makes its own decisions about which sites to index in Google News, and how to categorize them. Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land wrote:

“Back in September 2009, Google started classifying some news sources as blogs. It was never really clear how Google determined this. Looking today, I still see nothing within Google News that explains what it considers to be a blog versus a news source.

“Blog? News source? It [used to have] no impact on how you were listed in Google News. But now, blogs definitely get to be second-class citizens within Google News, with an option to filter them out entirely.”

If your news site has been misclassified as a blog in Google News, you can request that Google change your category via this form. But the decision is entirely up to Google, and it’s not clear what criteria Google considers in this decision.

Further complicating this issue is that many local news sites also feature commentary and blog posts by community members. It’s not clear whether Google News could or would index a site’s news content as “news”, while indexing blog content as “blogs.” It may be that housing your blog content under a “blogs” subdomain (such as might help. But so far there are no clear answers from Google on this.

The News for Digital Journalists blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

May 31, 2011

Building an iPad app? Research tells how to make it user friendly

Many news organizations have built, or are building, iPad apps to deliver their content—but sometimes these aren’t as user-friendly as they should be. A new report from the Nielsen Norman Group explains where apps and web sites are going wrong for iPad users, and how to fix these problems…

The latest report is a followup to a report that came out soon after the iPad was now introduced. In that time, both users and developers have gained considerable iPad experience. But there some common app and site design errors persist.

The report contains detailed examples, many from popular news sites and apps. Navigation was a problem for several sites. Here are a few excerpts about what NNG had to say about the iPad experience offered by some major news brands:

“Whenever users did not have a direct link to the table of contents (in apps such as The Daily or Esquire), they complained—they were annoyed to have to flip through the magazine or through the page viewer in order to find the page containing the table of contents.”

...“The problem with USA Today is twofold:

  1. the logo looks flat (and not touchable)
  2. the label on the logo has no connection with the current task (finding the news sections).

USA Today’s iPad navigation problem spanned the first full year of its app’s life: “As we were writing this report, USA Today came out with an update: an explicit button with the label ‘Sections’ has been placed above the logo in the new version. We haven’t tested this new design, but it can’t help being better than the old one which doesn’t work—as we’ve known for a full year since the data from our first study.”

Don’t forget the back button: “A lot of newspaper apps do not use back buttons. The Telegraph is one of the few newspapers that uses a back button and has a navigation bar on every page, enabling users to move between different sections without going back to a news-listing page.”

About the popular Newsy app: ”[It] uses a carousel to display news videos; users need to swipe through the videos, one at a time. [Although this is simple for users to understand, and it] may seem exciting in the beginning, swiping through a lot of videos gets tiring quickly, especially because there is not a lot of content to be read about each of them (so the users end up swiping almost continuously).”

The report also noted that some news apps (such as BBC and Wired) offer different information or navigation depending on whether the tablet is held in landscape or portrait position. This inconsistency can confuse or frustrate readers. NNG’s advice:

“When content is not available in one orientation, tell users that they may find extra information when they turn the tablet. This is exactly what The Daily does: when one of their interactive features was only available in portrait mode, they had an icon in landscape to suggest users to switch orientations. Also, The Daily does not shy away from telling users how they are supposed to interact with their feature.”

The News for Digital Journalists blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

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