Culture Change Blog

Culture Change

10 steps toward a mobile-focused culture in your media organisation

24 June 2014 · By Steve Buttry

Is your news brand still trying to catch up to Google and Facebook in the mobile space? A new report from the American Press Institute offers concrete suggestions for transforming a company’s culture to one that embraces mobile.

Your news organisation probably needs to move further and faster to compete in the mobile market.

I was simultaneously encouraged and frustrated by the American Press Institute’s report, “Unlocking mobile revenue and audience.” 

I was encouraged because the report provides thoughtful analysis and advice for news organisations interested in pursuing mobile success. I was frustrated because news organisations are even further behind in the mobile market than we were nearly five years ago when I first called for news organisations to adopt a mobile-first strategy

Most of the news industry’s failure to pursue mobile opportunities aggressively has given Google and Facebook a huge lead. But we’re still early in mobile history. Just as Google and Facebook have soared past early online giants such as AOL and Yahoo!, news organisations still have plenty of opportunity to gain mobile revenue and audience.

But you need a dramatic change in your organisation’s culture to grow in the attention and resources you devote to mobile opportunities and in your mobile skills and understanding. Here are 10 steps you can take to build a mobile-focused culture in your organisation, a combination of recommendations from the API report and my own suggestions:

  1. Plan your next major project first for mobile platforms — “chunkifying” the content as Circa does and editing videos for the smaller screen (larger type, faces bigger to fill more of the screen), as described in the API report’s section on news presentation, or perhaps developing an app, as Paiching Wei of the San Jose Mercury News did for the Cost of Dying project.

    You can plan different presentations for the Web and print secondarily or just use the mobile version on those platforms with minor adaptation (as you’ve been doing on mobile with Web content).

  2. Change your daily news meeting and the publisher’s weekly department-head meeting to focus on mobile issues. Just as the daily news meeting in many newsrooms used to start with a critique of the morning newspaper, start by critiquing how your products look and work that day on apps, your m-dot site, on tablet and smartphone, iOS, Android, and Windows.

    At the publisher’s meeting, discuss mobile technology, revenue, and promotion issues first.

  3. Designate a mobile leader in each department and provide the time, money, and training (which may need to be external, so you may need to spend a little) for him or her to gain expertise.

    Make sure each of them understands they are to be mobile leaders and not mobile specialists, meaning they will share their expertise with colleagues and lead the full staff in focusing on mobile, not specialise so no one else has to worry about mobile.

    The API report discusses hiring and promoting for mobile jobs, and you might have to do both.

  4. Bring these mobile leaders together in a group to develop mobile goals for the organisation and to choose metrics for meeting those goals. Make sure the group meets regularly and uses collaborative tools to share information, so the mobile leaders can monitor and report on progress. The API report discusses the importance of collaboration across department lines

  5. Tie all of your management incentives for bonuses, or at least the biggest ones, to mobile success. Rewards can have a profound effect on an organisation’s culture. If you have some rank-and-file awards, add some awards for excellence in mobile areas. Or give unexpected bonuses to staff members who lead successful mobile projects, such as development of a niche app.

  6. Add a mobile preview to your content management system, similar to BuzzFeed’s preview, so journalists or designers working on content can see instantly how the content will display on a smartphone.

    Maybe in the process, you will improve or scrap a lousy CMS that might be a huge cultural impediment as well as a technology obstacle. (A bad CMS can lead to an excuse-making culture; you need a solution-focused culture.) The API report discusses the BuzzFeed mobile preview in its section on social media.

  7. Develop a mobile app for a special event, project, or niche product. Samantha Dellinger and Brad Jennings of the York Daily Record developed an iPad app for the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. Paul Penzella of the Los Angeles News Group developed apps for the Dodgers baseball team and other local sports teams.

    Developing an app builds mobile skills in your staff and will lead to better mobile performance in other ways.  

  8. For a big community event (sports event, festival, first snowfall of the winter, etc.), engage your mobile community by providing incentives for contributing photos or videos. Make it easy to contribute by using a hashtag (#Yourtownsnow) on social media, rather than making people e-mail to you or upload to your site. Curate the contributions using a tool such as Storify or RebelMouse.

    Offer a prize (contributed by a sponsoring advertiser) for the best contribution. Or offer several prizes (best snowman, best photo of children, prettiest snow scene, etc.). Afterward, analyse what worked well and what didn’t, and make mobile engagement a regular part of your event or holiday coverage.

  9. Encourage, reward, and demand mobile experimentation by your staff. The API report tells about the Breaking News expectation that requires employees on the editorial team to conduct three experiments per quarter. A culture of experimentation must embrace failure as the path to success.

  10. Enough of the ideas from the API report and me. What are you doing to build a mobile-focused culture in your news organisation?


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The urgent need to change the corporate culture at media companies to attract and retain platform-agile employees has spawned new initiatives and new methods to promote innovation and transformation. INMA's Culture Change blog captures best practices of media companies aiming to change their corporate culture – and the stories and lessons behind them.


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