A new roadmap for mobile

The Billy Penn team does coverage of the Philly mayoral primary from a local watering hole. Courtesy of the Billy Penn.

I am among a relatively small group of people who can claim more than 20 years working in digital journalism. And one of the hallmarks of that time has always been the openness of the digital journalism community. As the media landscape continues its stubborn and constant shifting, one of our best weapons remains our willingness to share information and ideas with each other. I call the phenomenon “huddling for warmth.”

This open mindset was the impetus behind Billy Penn’s decision, supported by $106,000 from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, to create a living, breathing guide to mobile journalism. The guide will be created and maintained by Billy Penn – a mobile-first news site covering Philadelphia – but will also feature contributions from the broader digital community that has always been willing to share but hasn’t always had the tools to make it simple.

According to a study by Pew Research Center, 39 of the top 50 news sites now get more traffic from mobile than desktop, creating a need for new ways to present stories across platforms. Because these tools emerge so quickly, it can be tough for already-busy newsrooms to keep up.

For this project, Billy Penn – which I founded in 2014 as a local news platform for Philadelphia – will chronicle best practices in creating mobile journalism, designing mobile websites and addressing the needs of the mobile reader. The guide will share lessons learned from Billy Penn’s own work as a mobile-first site, and feature mobile lessons from others as well. The guide will feature descriptions and reviews of tools used to gather, publish and monetize on mobile. While many digital journalism guides lose their value quickly because of the rapidly changing state of distribution and tools, Billy Penn will update this guide on a rolling basis and open the platform so that any newsroom can contribute new information.

Billy Penn has been focused on mobile since our launch in October 2014. Each development and design decision was made based on the needs of mobile consumers. Our site delivers news in an easy-to-scan stream so that on-the-go consumers can easily and quickly get caught up on what’s happening in Philly. Knowing that every extra click on a mobile phone is a chance to lose a reader, we chose not to paginate articles or incorporate slideshows that create extra work for users. We frequently integrate Twitter, Instagram and YouTube embeds into the site, and often use data visualization and other storytelling forms to summarize complex stories.

But one thing we know for sure: The rise of mobile, while indisputable, will have many phases. As the number of devices, screen size options and capabilities explode, how can journalists stay up to date? Keeping up with new technologies and tools is one of the hardest things about working in journalism in the 21st century. We need to start taking the information we share so freely amongst ourselves at conferences and via social media and put it into something accessible to all. And to those who still find sharing information with other media entities to be distasteful, I’d suggest it’s the larger community of journalists who we need to be supporting in this transitional time. If we are not going to huddle for warmth now, what exactly are we waiting for?

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