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A mobile-first organization has editorial, technology and business teams working together in new ways

This wasn’t the case in older days, when the newsroom, sales and IT departments were kept apart to avoid conflicts and rarely spoke. That’s now changing, and mobile technology is a big reason why.

Mobile, like online technology in general, ties revenue more directly to content, and content more directly to technology. The people responsible for all three parts of an organization have to work together.

Various participants said newsrooms would benefit from a combination of a nucleus team of mobile experts or leads (who create best practices and guide newsroom strategy) and counterparts in each desk or section vertical who spread that throughout the newsroom.

Mobile ties revenue more directly to content, and content more directly to technology. The people responsible for all three parts of an organization have to work together.

The Washington Post has mobile ambassadors spread throughout its newsroom. This creates tight communication between those doing general news-gathering and those guiding newsroom-wide mobile strategy.

The Post’s mobile product manager Emily Ingram also says she emphasizes specific habits reporters and editors need to develop to make better decisions for mobile presentation. Planning meetings should start with discussion of mobile to avoid repeating the old pattern of just taking “downstream” content from print. Think about the habits and roles of each person in the organization and how to make them more mobile-oriented.

In time, Ingram says, the goal is that resources and training will develop the staff to the point where every editor and reporter is mobile literate.

For instance, persistent surfacing of mobile article previews is important, as is sharing mobile metrics with all editors. BuzzFeed has seen great impact by adding a mobile preview in its CMS, which ensures stories look right for mobile users and just generally presses mobile-first thinking. It also added mobile stats to the analytics dashboard its writers use.

In technology, placing an emphasis on editorial-driven product strategy is important, summit participants said. Speed and fluid interaction between developers and editors is a good recipe for innovation, on mobile and elsewhere. The product side should also clue in the business side on potential opportunities for monetization.

The business side of the organization needs mobile specialists as well — people who understand mobile consumers and behavior and can help advertisers reach them, while resisting flashy ad deals that come at the expense of the user experience.

Common pitfalls

One of the working groups at our summit identified several missteps and common mistakes that prevent the necessary collaboration between newsroom, technology and business staff. The key ones:

  • Isolation of mobile-minded editors into a sort of artisanal, lab-like environment is dangerous because it removes the broader newsroom from mobile priorities and can centralize technology to an unproductive extent.
  • On a technology front, outsourcing everything to vendors is a potential trap, as priorities can quickly diverge. In-house development is preferable if resources are available, but vendors can be consulted. (Conversely, over-confidence about in-house resources can slow innovation.)
  • Pledging to “focus on mobile” without identifying benchmarks is useless.
  • Starting with the similarities between desktop and mobile, as opposed to the differences, is a potential trap.
  • The priorities of technology, editorial and business must be executed in concert, so that the accomplishment of one group’s goals doesn’t undercut those of the other two.

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