Mobile v. desktop: which are newsrooms prioritizing?

By Sara Weber

Pew Research Center and Reuters both conducted and released studies this year detailing the media’s continuing shift from print and broadcast to digital. Both reflect major strides being made in digital readership for most news outlets as they work to expand coverage, but they also reveal some contradictory ideas regarding mobile and desktop page views.

In 2015, mobile traffic surpassed desktop traffic for 39 of 50 examined sites, according to Pew. However, Pew also discovered that out of those 50 sites, most showed longer read times on desktops than on mobile devices.

Click here to see enlarged infographic.

So, if more people are looking at news on their cell phones but spending more time actually reading the news on desktops, how does the media prioritize their coverage? Is it better to focus on mobile development or improving desktop appearances?

Most seem to be focusing on the former.

The New York Times took a strong step to demonstrate to staff how important it is to be aware of mobile story production by blocking them from accessing the homepage on their desktops for a week. In a memo about the move, editors explained that more than half of the Times’ traffic comes from mobile devices and tablets, and that the staff must work to “make mobile an even more central part of everything that we do.”

Buzzfeed is also prioritizing mobile appearance by installing a mobile preview button for all writers, encouraging them to check before they post. Buzzfeed’s vice president of product Chris Johanesen told Poynter he and staff were noticing large images and embed codes were not translating well to mobile screens. Known for graphic-heavy posts and social media shares, Buzzfeed’s decision to allow all writers to preview their posts allowed contributors to see just how important it is that their work is accessible from all platforms.

Similarly, the Knight Foundation is supporting a new innovation lab at The Guardian based on fostering new ways for the organization to attract and keep mobile readers on its site. After recognizing that more than half of The Guardian’s page views come from mobile devices, and that a good portion of those come from social media sites, The Guardian decided to use the new lab to work with Facebook’s Instant Articles and Apple News, ultimately prioritizing “newsgathering, reporting, publishing and citizen engagement.”

Few organizations are taking steps specifically prioritizing desktop innovation or development over mobile platforms. Research for Pew’s State of the Media shows that readers who access their news on a computer actually spend more time reading the article than those who skim on their phones, but it remains to be seen whether this boost in attention and development for mobile platforms will prompt mobile readers to spend more time engaged with each article.

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