Key takeaways from INMA’s deep dive into mobile-first news sites

By Jodie Hopperton


Los Angeles, California, United States


Hi there.

We recently wrapped up our master class on mobile-first news Web sites, and I want to take you through some of the learnings. With over 7.5 hours of programming and 12 speakers, it’s impossible to do justice to the full deep dive, but there were certainly learnings across the presentations, which I will summarise in two parts over the next few weeks. 

If you want to watch the full thing, you can register to do so here

Are you seeing the same things? Or do you have different frameworks and methods that work? Please send comments, thoughts, and feedback my way:

Thanks, Jodie

For mobile products, think about conditions first

In the opening keynote, I found out that I had the title of the “mobile-first news sites” all wrong. 

Karen McGrane of Autogram told us that rather than device name, which can carry all kinds of biases, we should think about the conditions first: screen size, whether it’s touch screen or mouse. Louise Robertson of the FT further enforced this thinking by thinking about the wider context of the user when they use small screens. Often people are filing time or multitasking, and they expect up-to-date information.

Thinking about conditions instead of devices may be a smarter way to look at mobile.
Thinking about conditions instead of devices may be a smarter way to look at mobile.

Karen also reminded us that user experience comes first. Specifically she told us: “You can’t annoy your way to success” when talking about pop-ups. As a consumer, I couldn’t agree more. Asking me for something when I haven’t even had 10 seconds to review what I came for is not going to get a welcome response. 

Improving experience over prioritising ad visibility is better for users, advertisers and, as Sasha Heroy of The New York Times pointed out, overall revenue. 

Taking into account the conditions of a visit, we also realise the article page may actually be your homepage. Think about the context, or lack of, that users are coming with to your brand. Consideration of user journeys is essential, as Christopher Chester of The Atlantic so eloquently showed us in the slide below.

The homepage offered up by The Atlantic depends on the reader looking at it.
The homepage offered up by The Atlantic depends on the reader looking at it.

Consumer expectations also feed into the conditions surrounding our products. 

Speed came up as one of the biggest things that needed fixing amongst our attendees. It has a huge impact on consumer experience and on SEO.

Balancing the need for speed with ensuring your site is up to date can be a challenge. During the “core Web vitals checkup,” Noah Robischon of Condé Nast shared that longer cache times of four hours made a real difference to site speed, but only if editors can break through this for news stories with an optional purge. 

He also shared that there is a cap on speed. Once it’s good, the incremental improvements don’t have a lot of impact. And I was surprised that an audit of third-party scripts found tidying them up doesn’t always make a significant difference. 

Thinking about all of these conditions and how our users actually use mobiles, I have seen no better example of putting all this into practice than Relevo by Vocento. Granted, they have the luxury of being a new brand so have started mobile rather than iterating a long existing brand, which is a totally different beast. 

But look at the screenshots below. Consider how they think about headlines for fast swiping to see what’s of interest, then leading to slow reading when there is a spark of interest. And perhaps even more: They recognise the majority of their readers come via mobile so their desktop version is an enhanced version of mobile. They have used the extra screen size to incorporate additional features for the desktop version of their product.

Relevo moves a reader toward the stories they show an interest in, also factoring in a mobile or desktop experience.
Relevo moves a reader toward the stories they show an interest in, also factoring in a mobile or desktop experience.


Date for the dairy: April 10 is a free to member Webinar on multimodal storytelling 

Amalie Nash, INMA’s Newsroom Transformation Initiative lead, and I will be bringing you a packed session on multimodal storytelling. We are far beyond a world of text-based content that is augmented with other forms. Consumers expect stories to be told in different formats: text, images, audio, graphics, videos, and even chat.

So how do we handle this from a product, technical, story gathering, and distribution point of view? Come with your questions and examples. We’ll be bringing (willing) people onto camera to take us through their examples. Sign up here and hit me up at if you want to come on camera to show us your work.  

A few tips if you actually want to work mobile first

Use your mobile. And get everyone else to. Design on it, try it, use it, show people on it. If you are talking about mobile products in a meeting, every laptop in the room should be closed. Only mobiles out. 

That’s it: Use your mobile. That’s the thing you should do.

OK, OK, there is a little bit more. And these things we talk about when creating great products. 

Make sure everyone is working to the same goals. Agree on metrics and single source of truth before you start, and keep checking in on these. Make them visual for people. The team at Relevo came up with a whole new metric to measure swipes and clicks: the slick. You don’t have to go this far, but everyone needs to know what you are measuring, how you are measuring it, and why you are measuring it.

Relevo uses "slicks" to measure swipes and clicks.
Relevo uses "slicks" to measure swipes and clicks.

Show don’t tell: whether it’s making screens verticals, building a mobile view into our workflows, or using mobile devices to demonstrate. GerBen van ’t Hek of Mediahuis told us that their CMS system now shows journalists what their content looks like on mobile as they are writing it. 

Collaboration is key. Get the right people in the room — but not so many that no decisions are made. Jens Pettersson of NTM told us that their motto is “Fight and unite!” Fight about the product up front and then unite once you have reached agreement. Differing points of views in the discovery and design process make for a better overall product. 

Last but not least, do a few things well, not a lot badly. This was crystalised in Rodney Gibbs’ presentation about the Texas Tribune decision to kill the app to focus on creating an excellent mobile Web site.

About this newsletter 

Today’s newsletter is written by Jodie Hopperton, based in Los Angeles and lead for the INMA Product and Tech Initiative. Jodie will share research, case studies, and thought leadership on the topic of global news media product.

This newsletter is a public face of the Product and Tech Initiative by INMA, outlined here. E-mail Jodie at with thoughts, suggestions, and questions. Sign up to our Slack channel.

About Jodie Hopperton

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