Going beyond mobile-first

“The opportunity lies in developing services and products that respond to the when, where, and how of news consumption.”

The washroom has become the newsroom. Or at least, it has become the newsroom for one in three of us.

According to the 2017 Digital News Report from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, 32 percent of us take advantage of private moments in the toilet and use our mobile phone to check the news.

The figure illustrates a broader trend around shifting news consumption habits, given the rise of smartphones as the leading digital gateway to news and information. As the Reuters report noted, “2017 marks the tipping point in the United States, United Kingdom, and Norway where smartphones have reached a par with computers in terms of news access.”

But there is another story here, and that is the story of how people are getting the news in what used to be dead times, using the one device that never leaves their side.

This phenomenon goes beyond the washroom. Almost half of us reach out for our mobiles for news when we get out of bed in the morning or are going to bed at night. More than 40 percent of us are staring at our screens during the work commute.

News is becoming something we cram into the minutes in between other activities — be it waiting for a bus to turn up or a trip to the toilet. Once, these dead times may have been filled by reading a free news daily or an out-of-date magazine, or by indulging in a spot of daydreaming. Now, the lure of the smartphone is becoming hard to resist.

Reaching news consumers during these dead times is a challenge for news publishers. The mobile screen is becoming a crowded space. Notifications, news apps, social platforms, and news aggregators battle for attention.

Browsing news sites, hopping from one to another, is difficult on mobile. More appealing are services that offer a one-stop destination for that quick hit of headlines. Similarly, many people may not get to the end of a lengthy story. It may just take too much time to read in the minutes of dead time before a friend to turn ups for lunch.

Despite the obstacles, there is an opportunity for news publishers to reach news consumers in creative and innovative ways during these in-between spaces of our lives. The opportunity lies in developing services and products that respond to the when, where, and how of news consumption.

In 2018, it is not enough to think mobile-first without considering how news can work into those minutes of dead time filled by smartphones.

Next time you’re in the washroom, reading the headlines on your mobile, just think: How can I offer a compelling news service for this captive audience?

Alfred Hermida is director and associate professor at the School of Journalism, University of British Columbia.

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