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Mobile: A primer

It’s not enough for news sites to be “mobile compatible” or “mobile friendly.” They must be mobile oriented.

There’s a reasonable chance you’re viewing this page on your mobile device. And if not, almost certainly you’ve used your phone or tablet in the last few hours. There’s a good chance that when you did, you checked the latest news.

Mobile news consumption has skyrocketed the past few years. As devices become more ubiquitous, so too has the habit of checking news sites, news apps, and social feeds. According to a Pew Research Center study, 85 percent of Americans get at least some of their news via a mobile device. And for Americans aged 18-29, that figure is 94 percent. Even among Americans 65 and older, the figure tops two-thirds.

It’s not enough for news sites to be “mobile compatible” or “mobile friendly.” They must be mobile oriented. That’s not to say the desktop need no longer be considered — a significant percentage of users still use (and often prefer) that experience. But mobile is the driving force.

Here are some issues to consider as you determine your news organization’s mobile strategy:

  1. Your mobile platform must be a priority: Avoid the common trap of bootstrapping a new platform to your existing systems and workflow. Treating your mobile platform as an adjunct to your current process will ensure a second-rate mobile experience that will fail to take advantage of its benefits. A mobile-first strategy prioritizes the fastest and most intimate method of sharing news, and can successfully tee up downstream platforms like desktop, broadcast and print.
  2. Mobile is a use case, not simply a platform: It would be a mistake to think of mobile simply as content for a phone. It is (often) that, but a successful mobile strategy must also think about the use case of taking in content on your phone. How do people come across news on their phones? Where, when and for how long do they read or watch that content? How frequently do mobile users return to your site? The answers to these questions can help you make decisions about page load, design, frequency of updates, etc.
  3. Mobile is everyone’s responsibility: It may be tempting to hire a mobile product manager and congratulation yourself for a job well done. Don’t. Mobile shouldn’t be one person’s job; it’s everyone’s responsibility. Writers, editors, photographers, designers, developers, business staff — they must all understand how their work is affected by your mobile strategy, from how stories are assigned and written, to the publishing process, to a review of analytics to evaluate the story’s impact.
  4. You must experience the technology to understand it: People can’t understand what they don’t know. If people aren’t using mobile technologies in a meaningful way, they’re going to struggle to implement any mobile strategy. Make sure staff are familiar with the tools, language and norms of the mobile universe. Otherwise you risk confusing or alienating readers, and setting back your entire strategy.
  5. Adapt with shifts in technology: The pace of technological change is increasing, and nowhere is that happening faster than with mobile. Faster devices, faster networks, bigger screens, more powerful processors, and new features have all transformed the mobile landscape in the last few years. Expect that to continue, and as a result, expect that you will need to adapt to keep pace, and make space in your strategy accordingly.