Legacy Media Websites Need a Mobile Lesson

{N.B. – DPMG}

I’d like to call this post “Giving The Finger to Legacy Media Sites,” but I know that’s not going to be picked up by search engines. I’m a Web journalist, and I bow down to search. No search engine would understand the nuance in the headline.

Yes, I believe the trend of established media organizations launching redesigns of their websites with much fanfare (see Washingtonpost.com) and the “redesign” still taking cues from a template from two decades ago, is a mistake. It’s worth “giving the finger” to those sites. But what I really mean is those sites should take a lesson from the way today’s news consumers use their fingers when navigating mobile devices.

Photo taken with iPhone 4 for story on Patch.com

The Web Journalism class I taught last semester at the University of Maryland, College Park, welcomed NPR user interface developer Wes Lindamood, who quickly told us that his Project Argo blog team worked with mobile applications in mind and made sure their tools were backwards compatible to desktops and laptops.

For someone who always considered himself a “modern journalist” it was an “aha” moment. My circa 2008 Verizon cell phone in my pocket was saving me money on data charges, but putting me behind the curve.

Since that day in early February, I’ve made an effort to familiarize myself with the mobile journalism world as much as possible. Bought the iPhone 4, added iMovie for iPhone to my shopping cart. Downloaded the Photoshop mobile version, added Twitter and Facebook apps.

The Blue Screen of Death

My girlfriend says I’m addicted to my phone, and while she may have a point, I counter with the idea that the phone and newer tablet devices are much friendlier to digital news consumers than a laptop. No power cables, at least for eight or nine hours. No crazy bugs or blue screens of death (at least so far). You find something camera-worthy? Your 5-to-8 megapixel camera is always in your pocket. The best thing about consuming information this way is that if you have your Twitter and Facebook preferences set to your satisfaction, reading news can no longer be compared to eating spinach. If you’re following me or my organization on Twitter, you’ve made a choice. It’s active buy-in, not passive spoon-feeding.

To that point, I argue that news websites are still trying to polish a piece of coal into a diamond if they’re working on an old-fashioned newspaper-style template for their home page and sub-fronts. (Ahem, NPR.org.)

Take a lesson from Lindamood and take your content mobile, but also make your website mobile-user friendly. Instead of trying to train the new breed of user to interact with your site the same way their predecessors did a decade ago, embrace the training they’ve already received from iPhones and Droids, and display your breaking news Web stories in the same style as a Twitter timeline. Interface with your reader in a modern fashion instead of making your reader behave as if it were 1999.

What’s the payoff?

It’s fine to opine about how mobile-user friendliness can bridge the gap between “old media” and “new users,” but what’s a benefit of this perspective?

I say it’s stronger journalism. And strong journalism these days means an engaged audience. An audience that feels like a collaborator, not just a receiver. It requires a newsroom that believes sometimes “giving the people what they want” based on search trends or local buzz is a positive step, not just folding to pressure.

My Dipity timeline below attempts to show how Gay Talese’s famous Esquire piece “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold,” had it been assigned today, could have been influenced by social media. Perhaps Talese might have even gotten an interview instead of being forced to eavesdrop.


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