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

By Jodie Hopperton


Los Angeles, California, United States


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.   

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About Jodie Hopperton

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