Sunday, October 17, 2010

Students newspapers should take mobile-first approach

You’re at a major intersection near the entrance to your campus and you see that a car has collided with a motorcycle. An ambulance is on the scene. What do you do?

If you don’t have a conventional camera, whip out your cell phone and snap a picture. Send it back to the newsroom with a text message reporting the basic details of the accident. Within seconds you can have a brief news report up on your news website. If the accident is causing a traffic jam you may want to send out a news alert via Twitter or short message service (SMS).

That’s mobile journalism.

Mobile technology puts the basic tools of multimedia journalism into every journalist’s – really every person’s -- pocket.

The trick is knowing when and how to use these tools.

While some journalists carry a backpack of equipment – a digital camera, a video camera, an audio recorder, mics, cables and tripods -- with them at all times, others rely on their cell phones to help them capture the news.

But to be a true mobile journalist, you don’t just need the right equipment, you need the right mindset. You have to think: There’s news here. I’m a reporter. I need to cover this. Now!

Report what you know

Mobile journalism means not waiting to get the complete story, the verification from police, the quote from the official source. You need to go with what you have. That doesn’t mean spreading groundless rumors. But if you see fire crews in front of a building with smoke coming out of it or you witness police arresting a man outside the Humanities Building, you can report that and get additional facts and details later.

Steve Buttry, director of community engagement for TBD, a local news operation covering the Washington, D.C., area, says news organizations need to take a “mobile-first” approach at every level. “Reporters, editors and visual journalists need to think first about how to package and deliver news for mobile devices,” he wrote in a post for his blog, The Buttry Diary. “Information technology staffs need to work first on development of mobile applications for popular devices.… Designers need to present content that is clear and easy to read on the small screen (even if this means spending less staff resources on design of print or web products).”

As Buttry notes, mobile technology isn’t just changing the way journalists collect information, it’s changing the way they distribute it. You no longer can assume that readers are looking at your site on a wide computer screen; they may be checking you out on their cell phones or iPods. That means you need to optimize your site for mobile devices, simplifying your pages so they are easy to read on a 1- or 2-inch screen.

Devise a mobile strategy

If your news organization doesn’t already have a mobile strategy, it may be time to craft one. Think about who your readers are and what will be useful to them. Keep in mind that mobile readers tend to be more local than online readers. In that way, they’re more like your print readers.

But they also tend to be younger and more technologically savvy – more students, less faculty and staff. And they're constantly plugged in. You want to be one of the sources they scan regularly, whether it's on Twitter, Facebook, SMS or your website.

Think about what your audience wants. “Mobile users like local information, video, breaking news and weather,” Regina McCombs, who teaches multimedia at the Poynter Institute, writes in a column for PoynterOnline. “Mobile users are socializing, multitasking, and passing time. And they're conscious of data rates and battery life, so they want it fast.” Check out McCombs' "10 Questions to Help You Craft a Mobile Strategy (Before it's too late)."

What do readers care about?

College news organizations should consider what their readers care about: on-campus activities, sports, building or campus closures, traffic conditions, disruptions in public transportation, crime, bargains.

If you're at the on-campus farmers market and a merchant is offering everything half off for the final hour, snap a picture and tweet it. If you're on the train to school and the driver announces a 20-minute delay, let your readers know.

The more you use mobile technology to report what's happening, the more your readers will look to your news organization as the definitive, can't-live-without-it source on the information they care about.

How is your news organization using mobile journalism? Respond to this post and I may use you in an example in a future column.

1 comment:

natdalton said...

Awesome blog! I work for my schools online newspaper and I would love to get involved abroad someday. Thanks for the great information!