Media companies should be mobile-first, not just talk mobile-first

By Jodie Hopperton


Los Angeles, California, United States


Hi there.

Hope your year is kicking off well. We’re straight into it, and this newsletter is about doing what we say and saying what we do. Because these are not always aligned. 

When I was at The New York Times, I had an executive coach. She sat in on one of my team meetings and afterwards, pulled me up on my body language. Whilst I said things like “I’m open to discussion,” my entire body language said otherwise. It was a fair point. I had fooled myself into thinking that just because the words came out of my mouth, it made them true.   

And I want to point out two examples of that today with suggestions of how we change. One is about being mobile-first when actually we create mobile mockups on a desktop and then retrofit them. And the second is the article page, which may not have an article. I hope this inspires some rethinking to really do what we say and not just give lip service.

Please feel free to argue with me — my body language is very open ;) — as I genuinely love hearing different slides of a story and having my viewpoint changed. I’m at

Thanks, Jodie

Saying vs doing: designing for small screens by using big screens 

As I have been researching to find best-in-class case studies and speakers for our upcoming master class on mobile Web sites, something major hit me. And it’s not good. 

I’m fascinated by design. It’s challenging to stay on brand and convey the same information using multiple formats on a device that’s one-eighth the size of the screen you are probably reading this on (or vice versa if you are currently on a mobile). 

How do people embrace that challenge?

A number of execs told me — when pushed — that their design process almost always started on desktop. And, in fact, the entire presentation and sign-off process is also done on desktop. 

But wait, doesn’t most traffic come from mobile? I asked Chartbeat for overall stats around visits by device type to check I wasn’t going mad. Not only is mobile Web by far the largest source of traffic, it’s more than the others combined.

Traffic to news Web sites by device type. Data courtesy of Chartbeat.
Traffic to news Web sites by device type. Data courtesy of Chartbeat.


Surely this demonstrates a need for true mobile-first thinking? What was I missing?  

And then I realised that I have been out of large organisations for a while. Users may primarily use mobile but stakeholders (hello newsroom and c-suite friends) — and the work we all do at news companies — are mainly using desktop. New designs and mock-ups are shared on a large screen, not small. Presentations in person may be on a really large screen in a conference room. Or on a laptop size screen over Zoom.    

Internally, we are often not truly thinking about mobile-first. We think we are. But not acting on it. We have processes that we have been using and until we are challenged, we see no reason to change. If that is you, consider this your friendly challenge. 

One organisation told me that until recently they looked at Web data and app data. They didn’t differentiate between desktop and mobile Web. Again, this surprised me. 

If we want to become truly mobile-first, there are some relatively simple changes we can make to our internal processes.

And if you’re interested in the specific challenge of mobile, we’ll delve into all these challenges at the upcoming Product Initiative master class focused on mobile Web. I hope you can join us.   

Dates for the diary: INMA Product and Tech Initiative Master Class, March 14-21 

We’ve just put the agenda online for the virtual Product and Tech master class, How to Create Engaging Mobile-First News Media Sites, where we will go deep into best practices for the product that drives the most traffic: mobile Web. 

Over three modules, we’ll look at what it means to be truly mobile-first, building a world class homepage and design/UX essentials for mobile.  

Sign up here or if you have a story to share, please contact me at

Rethinking the article page

Every day I hear the term “article page.” We’ve become so used to it because news organisations used to focus around the article; some still do. But if we truly want to be user centric, we need to change our mindset from journalism being about ‘“articles” to “content.”

We used to start a story with 600- to 800-word articles and build around that. But no more. Journalism is multimodal. It can, and is, presented in multiple formats.  

Now newsrooms often look at a story and decide which tools are best to present that story. The product people build the tools for them to do that. And this seems to becoming more and more important as we see product organisations with “storytelling product managers.”

Different users consume information in different ways. Many want the highlights, some want the videos, and sometimes a graphic or a chart is the best way to convey information.  

So please can we rename the “article” page to be more reflective of what it is and to get us all thinking differently about it?  

We can’t call it the “topic” page because many organisations have a higher level topic page with multiple pages underneath. And “subject” page is too narrow. So I propose “content” page. 

Are we agreed? Great ;)

We actually have multiple dilemmas here. Because if its not the article page then people may not be “reading” if there is an image or a video involved. So do we still have readers? Or are they users? Or consumers? Collectively, it’s an audience. Anyway, I digress. 

Related to this discussion is how we tell users about the content: what is on a page and whether they want to go further and truly engage with it. Internally at INMA, we’ve been talking about this tagging system by Netflix that seems to be highly effective.

This goes beyond basic meta tagging (e.g., election, USA, president) or even user need (e.g., entertain me, inform me) — which, to be fair, is important in itself. Nate Kelly from Oovvuu noted on INMA’s Slack that: “A strong taxonomy can boost engagement, discovery, and aid supportive AI systems in the proper indexing and distribution of a publishers content.”

What Netflix does is take that taxonomy, add emotion, and turn it over to the user. It’s a guide to what they get and how they may feel. Mediahuis has started going down this road for internal use in their article DNA. This gives them a view of how they should present the news in terms of formats, user news, and the mix of content. 

Perhaps this is an excellent trial for AI and the NLP-based tagging that is becoming available, at least within a standard taxonomy of sorts. 

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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