One of the key lessons we learned from our MobileMe&You conference last year was that we need more people taking risks and experimenting with how to inform mobile audiences. Speakers urged journalists to think about how mobile media demand new ways of gathering and presenting stories. We think the lessons apply perfectly to educators trying to figure out how mobile and social media change what we teach.
Just as journalists are trying to learn new ways to tell stories and reach new audiences, educators are trying to prepare students for jobs that don’t exist yet. Journalists and educators are trying to keep their current audiences while learning to gain new ones. It’s often too much to ask.
MobileMe&You originated at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications facilities in Chicago and San Francisco hosted the 2016 conference.
As Sarah Schmalbach of the Guardian’s U.S. Mobile Innovation Lab put it, “I don’t think there are enough of us talking about what that future looks like, and most newsrooms are trying to keep up with the present, and that’s already difficult.”
This means there are new opportunities for the academy to work with the industry as research and development partners. The future of the industry can be advanced in the classroom. Success in helping our industries adapt to mobile media means teaching with a mobile mindset. Educators can help industries emerge as leaders in the mobile ecosystem if they focus on the areas editors say are vital to their business:
- Audience: reaching the audience of the future that doesn’t use traditional media
- Storytelling: understanding that we can’t tell stories with mobile media using the same techniques we did online or in print
- Personalization: using techniques that make mobile media unique
- Content: recognizing that a new tool creates new advantages beyond stuffing traditional content into a new tool
Several speakers focused on ways to think differently about the audience, which is now active and networked. The audience is our partner; we can’t just talk at them. Speakers urged thinking about ways to engage with and include the audience in the storytelling and newsgathering process. Many stressed the importance of thinking about the audience first when designing apps or deciding how to tell a story.
CNN Digital’s vice president of programming, Mitra Kalita, and senior mobile producer Zach Wade talked about programming for an audience of one person even though you serve millions of people. In other words, a message designed to engage millions of individuals is better than a message that reaches an audience of aggregated millions.
Jeremy Gilbert, director of strategic initiatives at The Washington Post and Brian Boyer, former visuals editor at NPR, said editors should be aware of their audience’s consumption habits and should actively seek the audience’s input and suggestions when designing products or reporting the news.
Drones, sensors, 360 video and virtual reality present new ways to tell a story that go beyond the multimedia capabilities of mobile phones. New platforms like Snapchat also extend and upend our storytelling techniques. All these new devices and platforms provide ample opportunities to tell stories in new ways. Speakers cautioned against using these new tools just because you can. The storytelling method needs to be appropriate for the type of story you are trying to tell.
Journalism technologist Ben Kreimer explained why these new tools are so powerful for storytelling. For instance, with 360 video: “The whole idea is you inhabit someone’s body, someone’s head space. It’s not just like a GoPro on your forehead…360 video is an honest, transparent medium, because you can see what’s going on.”
Personalization or Individualization
It’s important for journalists to cater to the individual in a world that seems increasingly impersonal. Many companies are already personalizing news and information through the use of chat bots, notifications, algorithms and geo-targeting. Though not a new platform, Snapcat is becoming a reporting tool, not just a selfie platform. Yusuf Omar, mobile editor at India’s Hindustan Times, argued that Snapchat allows personalization on a level available on no other platform or tool as it enables conversations among users.
Personalization of content can also mean turning mobile notifications into an experience of their own. The Guardian’s U.S. Mobile Innovation team is experimenting with ways to make notifications interactive and keep people engaged in the notification while still providing reliable traffic into the apps themselves. Newsrooms can use myriad different types of notifications, ranging from live data to polls to fact checking to interactive, choose-your-own adventure experiences.
Content on Mobile
David Wright, formerly of Twitter, said news companies should focus on elements of design and should look outside the newsroom for inspiration. Additionally, Gilbert said content is often shaped by when and how people share it. He emphasized the need for different approaches to storytelling and said the industry still needs best practices to personalize content specifically for mobile media.
Even in an ever-changing landscape, one thing that remains vitally important to any news organization is quality content. Using drones or Snapchat to tell stories doesn’t lower the standards for content on mobile. But it does create new ones.
MobileMe&You speakers told us what their concerns are, and what problems they are trying to solve. Journalism and communication professors can use this to help our industry colleagues solve their problems for the future, rather than re-solving the problems of the past.
Gary Kebbel is a journalism professor working on mobile media projects at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. With funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, he produces national conferences to teach mobile media best practices and emerging trends. He is a founding editor of USATODAY.com and Newsweek.com and was news director at AOL.
Vincent Peña is a master’s student and graduate teaching assistant in the College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
MobileMe&You 2017 will be held at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Registration will open soon. Sign up for our newsletter to keep up with speakers, schedules, registration and lodging details. Pitch a session idea.