GateHouse Newsroom

How to connect with your mobile audience: 5 lessons from 2016

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Reprinted from GateHouse Newsroom

Our phones are still changing our lives, from Siri to Alexa, and from 360 video to Facebook Live. Mobile is the gift that keeps giving. So much innovation right in the palms of our hands.

Since more than half of readers who access news digitally prefer to get their news on mobile / (Pew Research released in July 2016), the industry has been working hard to make it easier for them:

Speed: Projects like Google AMP  and Facebook Instant Articles are forays into connecting readers with content quickly. Mobile readers just won't wait more than a few seconds for a story to load.

Video: Still super hot on mobile, video came to life in 2016. It's hard to remember a time when Facebook Live didn't exist, but it's only been around since spring. Virtual reality is still a niche, but this holiday VR headsets are making headway. And news organizations dipped their toes into VR with 360 cameras this year.

Audience: News organizations have been more mindful of their mobile audience, although most of the digital editors I spoke with think we have more adjusting to do.

How have news organizations responded?

Here are the top five ways we have adapted to mobile:

  • ATTENTION TO MOBILE METRICS: Most newsrooms know how much of their audience is coming from mobile (consistently over half). This attention to mobile metrics has led to better conversations about graphics and how they will display on mobile. For example, at the Worcester Telegram in Massachusetts, mobile readers gravitate to sports stories, such as this Q&A. Meanwhile, the Providence Journal offers a simple graphic that explains roundabouts in four slides.

projo-graphic-on-mobile

  • BETTER HEADLINES: Engaging headlines are key to drawing in readers online in general and on mobile specifically. Mobile readers seem to be drawn to catchy headlines for alternative story forms, according to Sherry Jones, managing editor of StarNews in Wilmington, N.C. You do need to have someone writing an ASF to create that fun headline, and we'll talk about that in a bit. Cape Cod Times' Jason Kolnos created an election wrap-up that pulled together the many stories before the November election. The headline: "Everything you must know about Election Day on Cape Cod."
  • MOBILE PLANNING: People are thinking about mobile earlier in the story planning process. This allows newsrooms to use digital tools, such as the digital slider (JuxtaposeJS from Knight Lab) showing historic landmarks' preservation.
  • ADDING LAYERS: Speaking of digital tools, our newsrooms have been exploring new ways to tell stories for mobile. For a sculpture garden walk in Peoria, the Journal Star used StoryMapJS from Knight Lab, which allows you to showcase a photo, description and map.
  • ASFs: Exploring alternative story forms was a big emphasis. The thinking is that lists and chunkier presentations help a mobile reader absorb info more. Some editors said they didn't do much A/B testing to see if ASFs resonated more than their longer, narrative counterpart. But this one from the Rockford Register Star that covered five things to know about a county employee's new home in prison did do better than the straight sentencing story. Readers learned what the official faced in prison, from TV limits to a prohibition on applying makeup to another inmate. The Lakeland Ledger found sports stories often do well as ASFs, as does meeting coverage. At the Springfield State Journal-Register, a routine 10-inch story on a groundbreaking was posted and then rewritten as a "5 things to know." Numbers on the ASF picked up. At The Columbus Dispatch in Ohio, a web producer also saw an opportunity to turn a column about regional phrases into an ASF, and 80 percent of its traffic came from mobile.  
  • rrstar-5-things-asf

    pjstar-sculpture-walk

    middletown-juxtapose

    cape-election-day-asf

We're still learning what works for our mobile readers. For instance, an ASF isn't necessarily going to increase pageviews unless the headline reflects that the story is presented differently. But once a reader clicks on an ASF, the fact that you have bold and regular fonts and the story is organized into a list or chunks can help readers digest the information on the smallest screen. I'll add my usual disclaimer that ASFs aren't for every story. Keep writing beautifully crafted stories, by all means. But consider ASFs for information and updates.

As senior director of content, Jean Hodges develops strategy and works with newsroom leaders on digital transformation, from newsroom structure to using analytics to inform news decisions. As journalists face myriad challenges, the best are experimenting with new ways to draw readers in, while fearlessly tackling watchdog reporting and sticking up for the underdog. Hey, there's hope for us yet.

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