6 ways to think like a “mobile first” journalist/publisher
Technology keeps changing our experience of media. This week my friend and colleague Steve Buttry (director of community engagement & social media at Journal Register Co. and Digital First Media) posted an excellent list of 10 ways to think like a Digital First journalist. Which got me to thinking, especially in light of my recent interview with mobile design expert Luke Wroblewski—what might be unique about the mindset of “mobile first” journalists and news publishers?...
Technology keeps changing our experience of media. This week my friend and colleague Steve Buttry (director of community engagement & social media at Journal Register Co. and Digital First Media) posted an excellent list of 10 ways to think like a Digital First journalist.
Which got me to thinking, especially in light of my recent interview with mobile design expert Luke Wroblewski—what might be unique about the mindset of “mobile first” journalists and news publishers?...
By Amy Gahran
Before I get into the mobile first news mindset, it’s worth considering why people in the news business should be putting mobile first now.
Like it or not—and whether you’re ready for it or not—a sizeable and fast-growing portion of your digital audience is already accessing your offerings via mobile devices.
According to comScore, currently half of the total U.S. mobile population (about 116 million people) use mobile media—which means they browse the mobile web, access applications, or download content using cell phones or tablets over wireless networks.
Also comScore noted: “In August 2011, 7.7% of total traffic going to newspaper sites came from mobile devices—3.3% higher than the amount of mobile traffic going to the total Internet.” And the Newspaper Association of America found recently that mobile traffic to U.S. news venues increased 65% in the last year.
In the bigger picture of digital media, IDC recently predicted that by 2015, “more U.S. internet users will access the internet through mobile devices than through PCs or other wireline devices.”
Mobile users represent a unique set of use cases that are distinct from the print, broadcast, or computer-based experience of news and information. They present different constraints, opportunities, preferences, and goals.
Rather than perpetually playing technology catch-up (a strategy that has left much of the news business struggling), savvy news organizations and journalists can use this next point of disruptive change to try to get ahead of the wave.
HALLMARKS OF THE “MOBILE FIRST” NEWS MINDSET:
1. You already use your phone for everything.
From reading the news and creating content, to keeping track of your grocery list and banking, to watching a TV show, to accessing social media, to getting alerts about crime in your neighborhood—if it’s something you do on a regular basis, you’re going to find a way to do it on your phone. Just on general principles, because you enjoy knowing what phones can do.
2. You embrace, and are curious about, the diversity of mobile devices.
You ask friends and colleagues about their phones, tablets, e-readers, and mobile gaming devices—and you get them to show you how they use them, or even let you try them out. You spend time hanging out in electronics stores, demoing the latest models.
You are not a mobile snob. You realize that every type of device, platform, form factor, mobile channel (including simple text messaging) and network access occupies its own niche. You value reaching a diverse community with your news and information, so you deliberately seek to learn why and how people use simpler, older, or less costly technology, or lower-bandwidth mobile networks. You also explore the bleeding edge of high-end devices—and everything in between.
3. You welcome constraints as a creative inspiration.
As Luke Wroblewski mentioned, thinking “mobile first” means that news publishers should “focus and prioritize your digital offerings by embracing the constraints inherent in mobile design. With responsive web design, you can set a baseline mobile experience first, then progressively enhance or adapt your layout as device capabilities change.”
This affects everything from which kinds of information you choose to gather and publish first, to which channels you use to gather, corroborate, and distribute information. You’re always focusing on identifying the core value of each piece of content—what it is, how it might vary for different users and use cases, and what’s the most effective way to convey that value across a diverse mobile landscape.
Being a mobile first journalist or publisher is rather like mastering the art skill of quick gesture drawing. Not every piece of news needs to be a finished, crafted narrative. There’s value in being about to produce a quick sketch with the tools you have in hand. It’s not just a matter of being fast, or accurate (though they both count)—it’s about being able to zero in on the essence of what matters.
Then, from your vast experience playing with a number of mobile devices, from low-end feature phones to a top-of-the-line iPad, you’ll know how to scale up your mobile news to provide a progressively richer and more rewarding mobile experience.
4. You expect divided attention.
The traditional narrative-format news story (print, broadcast, and even on the web) assumes that audience members are willing and able to provide mostly undivided attention—at least for a minute or two. These stories are constructed with a beginning, middle, and end. They are standalone, complete works of content.
But in a mobile media environment—at least for cell phones—continuous partial attention is the norm. This isn’t just a matter of people looking or walking around while using their phones. It also means that they may first encounter your news or information amidst a stream of unrelated content, such as in a Facebook newsfeed, or a Yelp comment.
Fortunately, since mobile users prize connection and efficiency, the upside of this continuous partial attention is that mobile users probably are more likely to encounter your content via some sort of direct or implied recommendation—either by getting a link from someone they know, or from a curated experience. This means that the smaller pieces of attention they’ll offer you could yield more impact—as long as you can quickly deliver value and demonstrate relevance.
5. You always consider what people might want to DO with your content.
This means that rather than focusing solely on telling a story or reporting a fact or update—as if that’s the goal in and of itself—you always consider what people will want to do with your news or information, how they might take your story further. Cell phone users in particular tend to have a very active mindset. (Tablets tend to be more of a passive media experience.)
So before you post or publish some news or information, you pause and think: What context is needed for people to determine relevance? A map? A link? A Twitter handle or hashtag to follow? Keywords? Audio? Video? Photos? In making decisions about how to assemble media components for your coverage, you give priority to items that will help users establish relevance.
...That’s how you’ll get their attention, the first step in engagement. But then, you’re also thinking about how your users might want to share your content—with others, or with themselves for future reference when they’re on a different device. Your digital audience is increasingly likely to switch from one device to another over the course of the day. The experience of your news should both follow this shift and respond to it to deliver more value.
This includes making it easy for users to bookmark something for later reading, viewing, or listening—when they’re on a device and have the time to support that deeper-dive experience.
6. You’re willing and able to tell stories in an emergent style, not just a narrative one.
This is the part that still unnerves a lot of journalists: they don’t get to define the story. Especially for mobile users, you probably won’t really be able to convey a complete story well.
This is where the Lego approach to storytelling is becoming important. It means embracing that how people experience your news and information will to some extent always resemble the blind men and the elephant. Mobile users will see and share the pieces of your content that they encounter. They will have many entry points and channels. They will be constrained by what their devices can display and network connections can support. They will not see the whole story. But they must still get some value.
This can be a good thing. By finding ways to engage with your users, especially mobile users, you’ll get to see other possible interpretations emerge while your story in unfolding in progress. In this way, reporting the news can become more collaborative and improvisational—especially in terms of knowing which questions to ask and points to clarify or amplify.
The News Leadership 3.0 blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
Very useful, Amy, esp #6. Thanks for posting this.
By jestevens, 12/30/11 at 5:26 pm
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