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Web site redesigns suggest mobile coming-of-age in traditional publishing

A recent slew of responsive news Web site launches show how traditional publishers are beginning to see mobile as a tool with unique storytelling and engagement potential and moving away from a view of the technology as a novelty or extension of their operations.

The Chicago Tribune, the Montreal Gazette and other news brands have unveiled redesigns with improved site speed and performance and features that let consumers create their own personalized mobile newspapers. The redesigns represent a redefinition of news delivery and a bow to the mobile audience?s ability to control its media choices.

?Traditional newspaper publishers are finally figuring out that they have to adapt their content delivery to accommodate the way mobile consumers consume information,? said Chuck Martin, CEO of the Mobile Future Institute. ?Publishers have been created from the get-go in a broadcast fashion, as in they gather all the news and information, package it and then broadcast it, via print, to consumers. 

?The problem with that model is that mobile is inherently a pull mode, where the consumer looks for and pulls information themselves at a time and location they individually control,? he said. ?There were a few publishers that got this early on and now it appears there are some major entities who are also figuring this out, finally.?

Diffusing innovation
Mobile?s acceptance in news follows similar patterns of innovation-adoption in other fields. 

?It?s only natural that when a new and disruptive technological capability comes along, that we move what we were doing in the old method to the new,? Mr. Martin said. ?An example is how advertising moved from print to the Web in its early iterations, hence those early static online ads. 

?Mobile is the same, as publishers viewed mobile as an extension of what they already were doing online,? he said. ?The reality is that mobile is its own thing.?

Tailoring the outreach to the small-screen world.

Publishers have learned that the smaller smartphone screen has to be treated much differently than the screen of a personal computer. They also are grasping that allowing the consumer to select his or her news preferences has to be a priority.

?Mobile traffic is growing exponentially, and publishers can ignore this fact at their own peril,? said Dan Mall, founder of SuperFriendly, a Philadelphia-based design studio.

?The big lesson here is that people try to access content where they want to, not where publishers want them to. Utilizing approaches like responsive design?sites that flex to the form factor of the device accessing it?allows organizations to create content once and distribute in as many places as possible,? he said.

The Chicago Tribune recently launched a mobile application that lets users cherry-pick news from specific communities and specific sports teams.

The Tribune was the first of eight Tribune Publishing brands expected to introduce apps by year?s end that let users prioritize and follow topics of most interest to them, while providing a consistent platform for marketers to launch premium ads. 

Tribune sports coverage on app.

?I?ve been asked: If you have one of the most sophisticated responsive sites ever built, why do you need a mobile app?? said Bill Adee, executive vice president for digital at Tribune Publishing.

?What we found is that a certain segment of users want and expect an app from us. That?s why we are launching a new news app this year, just months after launching a brand-new responsive site,? he said. 

?We also believe it will boost our paid subscriptions. People are trained to buy content ? music, etcetera ? from Apple.?

The app?s user focus helped solve the problem of optimizing news delivery in mobile?s small-screen world.

?The screen size requires us to make the most of the space that we use to capture our users? attention,? Mr. Adee said. ?It?s easier to do this if the user is making the decisions on what news should be there.?

The Montreal Gazette recently launched a redesign that featured fully differentiated products across print, Web, tablet and smartphone. The redesign, which came on the heels of parent Postmedia?s redesign of the Ottawa Citizen, aimed to let each product attract its own distinct audience while allowing advertisers to engage with specific customers. 

?Our strategy is rooted in the understanding that our audiences vary by platform and that people consume news differently depending on the time of day and the devices they are using,? said Rob McLaughlin, Postmedia?s regional vice president for editorial for Western Canada.

A unique tool to engage and inform audiences.

?How you consume news while you wait for your bus in the morning on your smartphone is different than how you consume news on your tablet sitting on your couch in the evening. So we?ve tailored and customized our mobile products to fit with that reality,? he said.
 
Postmedia has invested in producing content designed specifically for mobile audiences.

?It?s not just about cutting and pasting or providing automatic feeds of content into those devices from our Web sites,? Mr. McLaughlin said. ?We are tailoring both the experience, through interface design and functionality, and the content, through the news selection, writing and use of multimedia, specifically for targeted audiences on mobile devices.
 
?One of the lessons we?ve learned is to understand that the mobile market is not just an extension of the newspaper,? he said. ?It?s a powerful medium that gives us the ability to create compelling and engaging content targeted at a specific audience segment at a specific time of day.?

Research shows that U.S. adults will spend nearly 44 percent of their overall media time with digital this year, including nearly 20 percent on mobile?compared to 19.2 percent on laptops and PCs.

Content aggregators
Mr. Mall?s favorite examples of effective news design for the mobile consumer are from independent companies that aggregate content. He likes Flipboard, a mobile application that takes the consumer?s interest and collates relevant stories into a way to browse.

Acknowledging consumer's power to control media choices.

He also gives a thumbs-up to Blendle, a Dutch app that lets consumers browse newspapers from the Netherlands, focusing specifically on making each experience feel native to its source.

One of the most under-appreciated priorities for every mobile and responsive project are site speed and performance.

?Design and development teams frequently focus on the interactive and visual bells and whistles,? said Patty Toland, partner with? Filament Group.

?But they don?t take the time to carefully think through how to make their sites as lightweight as possible, structure their code to avoid single points of failure that can slow their site load speed or make it fail entirely in some contexts.? 

Final Take
Michael Barris is staff reporter on Mobile Marketer, New York.