Twitter  Thought Catalog acknowledges that giving contributors the ability to publish and tweet offensive content is risky  
Nieman Journalism Lab
Pushing to the future of journalism — A project of the Nieman Foundation at Harvard

The mobile majority: Engaging people on smartphones is the next big challenge to the news

Maybe it’s not quite as big a change as the rise of the web — but the rise of the smartphone deserves to be in the conversation. And traditional news companies are falling behind.

NiemanReports_Spring2014_CoverEditor’s note: The new issue of our sister publication Nieman Reports is out and ready for you to read, online and in print.

There’s lots of great stuff in there as usual, with articles on the state of journalism education, citizen journalism in Turkey, comics journalism, epic poetry (!), and more.

I write a column for the print edition of the magazine. Here’s mine from the new issue.

It almost seems unfair — a case of double jeopardy.

Traditional news organizations have spent the past decade responding to an enormously disruptive piece of technology: the web browser. Their old monopolies, their old claims on the audience’s attention, were broken by a platform that let anyone publish — no printing press or broadcast tower required. The impact on their business models, particularly at newspapers…well, you know all about that.

But just when news organizations were starting to feel more at home on the web — just when, in many newsrooms, digital was no longer being treated as a sad sister to print — along comes another blow-up-the-model moment: mobile.

It would be an exaggeration to say that the rise of the smartphone is a shift on par with the rise of the web. But it wouldn’t be that much of one. Seven years after the iPhone, smartphones have moved from a tool of the tech elite to a handheld computer in everyone’s pocket. They’re radically changing how people are getting their news. And I fear that many news outlets still haven’t wrestled with how big a change they represent.

emarketer-mobile-dataNew data from eMarketer estimates that, in the United States, about 23 percent of Americans’ total media consumption in 2014 will come on mobile devices. That’s counting all media formats, including television, radio and print. Mobile’s already ahead of the total for laptops and desktops, 18 percent. And its share will keep growing as networks get faster and devices get cheaper.

It’s not uncommon for major news organizations to see 40 percent of their online audience on mobile devices, most of them smartphones. And at peak mobile times — mornings before work, weekends, evenings — their digital audience is often a mobile majority.

But those numbers hide the fact that traditional news outlets are being outcompeted for mobile users’ attention. Data from comScore shows that while consuming newspaper content takes up a mere 0.9 percent of total connected time on desktops and laptops, the total’s even worse on phones — just 0.2 percent.

Aren’t phones just web browsers with smaller screens? Not really. Smartphones are personal, social machines, optimized for communication and entertainment. Offered the choice, there are lots of people who’d rather spend time with Flappy Bird than The Fresno Bee. The tap-and-scroll interface works beautifully with social networks like Facebook and Twitter — less so with old-fashioned news presentation. And an interface built around apps and icons can make it a challenge for any single news source to earn a prominent spot on someone’s home screen.

The other big challenge is — surprise, surprise — money. Online advertising has long been dominated by a few big players, but their market power is even stronger on mobile. Just two companies — Google and Facebook — will earn 68.5 percent of all the mobile advertising revenue worldwide in 2014. They can do so because they have the best data about individual users: Google knows what you’re searching for, Facebook knows who and what you like. That advantage is almost impossible for a small news outlet to beat. The Newspaper Association of America estimates that mobile ads contributed less than 1 percent of all newspaper revenue in 2013.

So: News outlets are watching their audiences move rapidly to a new platform — one where they have a number of competitive disadvantages and where they have a hard time making money. Sound familiar? You can be excused for thinking 2014 sounds a lot like 2004.

Part of the problem is that many news organizations, seeing this new generation of devices, made a bad bet. They decided that tablets, not smartphones, were the place to invest. Magazines, in particular, spent many millions building interactive iPad apps that promised to transfer the magazine-reading experience to a flat piece of glass about the same size.

These apps were often lovely. They were also often slow to download, clunky to use, and papered over with only the thinnest layer of interactivity.

Publishers thought tablets would be a chance to retake control of the publishing channel. Anyone can publish on the web, they thought, but not everyone can create an experience like this; it’ll be a recreation of the old evening newspaper, a lean-back read that they’re uniquely able to provide.

That tablet boom never came. Most of those fancy magazine apps sunk into disuse, never attracting the kind of subscription numbers publishers hoped. Sales of the iPad, the most popular tablet and the one most publishers targeted, fell this spring, year-over-year. Cheaper Android tablets keep selling, but there’s little evidence people are paying for news on them en masse. Research from Ball State University found that, among college students, the percentage owning a tablet actually declined between 2012 and 2014.

Meanwhile, social networks took over the phone. Journalists spend a lot of time on Twitter, and everyone knows about Facebook. But other platforms — YouTube, WhatsApp, Instagram, Vine, Snapchat — are also huge competitors for readers’ attention, and increasingly important for news discovery on mobile. The interconnection between mobile devices and social media has been a powerful one, fueling the rise of new outlets like BuzzFeed. New phone-first startups like Circa and Inside, products like Facebook Paper and Yahoo News Digest, and tablet emigrants like Flipboard are all presenting news in mobile-friendly ways. It’s hard for the old guard to compete.

But hard doesn’t mean impossible. Breaking News, the app-centric outfit run as an inhouse startup by NBC News, has done creative work to take advantage of push notifications and to increase customization. Atlantic Media, home to a 157-year-old magazine, has found early success with Quartz, a business site built around social content and designed with mobile devices in mind. (Quartz was originally targeted primarily at tablets, but it’s found smartphone users are three times as common.)

And The New York Times’s new iPhone app, NYT Now, rethinks the news app paradigm in interesting ways — including a scroll-friendly presentation, smart aggregation, and twice-a-day summaries of the day’s most interesting and important news. Even though it only includes a fraction of the Times’s stories, I’m not the only person to think NYT Now offers a far better news experience than the Times’ regular iPhone app or mobile site.

It’s not hopeless; the smartest news companies will adapt. Bright journalists will figure out how to shape their work for a mobile audience; smart developers will build new experiences to delight readers; entrepreneurial businesspeople will come up with new ways to make money on it all. But for traditional news companies, the rise of smartphones is as big a challenge as they’ve seen since the early days of the web. It’ll be up to them to see if the story plays out any differently this time.

What to read next
Ken Doctor    Aug. 13, 2014
If newspapers are going to have to survive on their own, the first numbers aren’t encouraging. In southern California, we could see big movement fast.
  • courtney lambert

    great read thanks –so right about the tablet vs mobile phone news investment

  • software7001

    After some of these kids learn that they can earn large salaries by playing basketball they might need extra time during the day to devote to playing basketball. A parent will be closer than ever before to a guarantee that their child is not going to be exposed to any type of trouble or unsavory characters while active on the basketball court. With the adult supervision being offered by the coaches, a parent can relax and take care of things that they are supposed to take care of.You will need a candy thermometer and a bit of patience, but it worth it. They are chewy and delicious, and I have yet to meet someone who doesn enjoy them. I be including a tin Nike Air Max For Sale of these with the gifts I put together for my children teachers.

    if salaries for the last month are not paid, no entry will appear in books of accounts unless these are paid. So profit and loss account in respect of salaries will thus be under charged than the actual expenditure, therefore the profit will be more.The, benefit of some of the expenses already spent will be available in the next accounting year also, Such a portion of the expense is called pre-paid expense; since such expenses are already paid, they are also recorded in the books of accounts of

    For a few other excellent camping tips and hints check out the webpage camping water purifier.Reader CommentsNo comments cheap nike air max 2012 yet.You must login to leave a comment.You will see the line go tight and that will give you a chance to pick up the rod and set the hook which will give you a better chance at catching the fish.The people that are patient when it comes to catfishing will figure out that bait soaking is the way to go. It will also work to put random pieces of bait in the water to help in attracting the catfish to your bait.A further problem with the background of the big-five model is that Goldberg used undergraduates to determine if his stable trait descriptors were understandable by laypersons. Block suggests that undergraduates are not the best judge of this and it would be better to use a more expert judgement to avoid losing fairly unheard of, but possibly vitally important descriptors. He says that novices do not make the same discriminations that experts do.

    XHTML is the next generation web language, and is said to replace HTML eventually. XHTML was released in January 2000.XHTML is not a difficult language to learn, it is basically identical nike blazers women to HTML but the main difference is that tags in XHTML always have an end tag.Anyone Care For A Head ScarfThe fashion moguls and geniuses of today have done it again. They have revolutionized that piece of cloth or plain scarf carelessly wound around the head to keep hair back while doing household chores, or hide those bald patches from age or chemotherapy.A composite total of time devoted to each phase of the game can be invaluable in determining the reason for individual and team weaknesses and enable an adjustment in practice plans for future seasons aimed at correction of these weaknesses.Types of Plans Needed The Master Plan.

    El llamado a declarar se deriva de algunas denuncias que ha recibido el Alto Tribunal de una persona condenada precisamente por lavado de activos y quien habria tenido negocios con el esposo de la parlamentaria.Investigadores de la Unidad Administrativa Especial de Informaci n Analisis Financiero (Uiaf) de la Fiscalia colombiana registraron una serie de movimientos econ micos y financieros de Toro y los entregaron a la CSJ.La exsenadora declar hoy en varias emisoras que nunca ha tenido vinculos