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Mobile news presentation should be different from web or print

Every print newspaper article goes through a process of reporting, editing and design to optimize how it appears in print. And most publishers have gotten comfortable with customization of online stories for things like SEO and adding additional content or updates.

But content customization for mobile is scant, the participants at our summit said–even at some of the most advanced publishing outlets.

Your highly motivated readers are bound to read content regardless of form. To reach new, larger audiences, you need to make the content an ideal mobile experience.

Rather than just letting content flow “downstream” unchanged from web to mobile, publishers to thrive in the new era have to begin delivering new forms of news tailored to the unique mobile reading experience.

There’s a different screen size (smaller), user interface (swiping and tapping), and surrounding environment (may be things going on around them). So stories for mobile could be different. More scannable. More summarized information. Paragraphs limited in length.

It probably seems a big task — yet another on a long list. And publishers who see a growing mobile audience for what they already have may think they’re doing just fine. But as the Boston Globe’s Damon Kiesow pointed out, your highly motivated readers are bound to read content regardless of form. To reach new, larger audiences, you need to make the content an ideal mobile experience. Thus customizing for mobile is essential for growth.

Many of the organizations represented at our summit, including For The Win, Circa and Breaking News, are reimagining the “atomic unit” of mobile news, or the smallest component that can stand alone.

Circa breaks news into digestible pieces, consumed one at a time.

Circa breaks news into digestible pieces, consumed one at a time.

Traditionally that unit has been an article. But new mobile publishers are imagining news chunks as simple as a paragraph, image, sentence or fact, which can be chained together with others or consumed by itself.

Circa, a mobile-first news publisher founded in late 2011, has its journalists build “atoms” of news that can be used in different ways or repurposed, Editor in Chief Anthony De Rosa explained. Pieces that first appeared in a live blog can then be used in a full article.

De Rosa thinks of the format as similar to Cliffs Notes or the president’s daily briefing. It’s a helpful way to break down hard news stories, though it’s not appropriate for every piece of content. Opinion and commentary, for instance, may benefit from preserving the narrative structure.

Regardless of whether one agrees with how Circa reformats its news, the most important idea is that this mobile first publisher sees the format of the news as an ongoing evolution that is largely still to be shaped. The staff there is composed of about half editorial and half technologists, two teams that work closely to iterate the product and the news format the same way an editor iteratively improves the words of a news story.

The Wall Street Journal also has tried a new mobile-friendly format with The Short Answer video series.

The series was conceived with both social and mobile audiences in mind, summit participant Liz Heron told us. Social because it aims to explain what everyone is talking about on a given day, and because it’s short, conversational and built to use the best of the rapid-fire Q&A style of YouTube’s most popular vlogs. And mobile because it’s designed to be consumed on a small screen — big graphics, up-close head shots and short running times.

In addition to rethinking the format of news content, publishers should consider user-experience factors like quick loading times and powerful visual elements as important aspects of the mobile products they create for users.

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