The rise of the mobile Internet browser

The other day, I was using Google Analytics to paw through website stats for  Spokesmanreview.com. I love looking for usage trends such as: How many people have converted to Flash 9 player? (89%) How many use Macs to access our site? (7.98%)

There was one statistic that caught my eye. In the last month, over 2300 people have accessed the S-R site using an iPhone with the Safari web browser. Three months ago it was about 1000. Granted, this was only 0.20% of our overall visitors, but as other manufacturers, besides Apple, release wireless browsing devices, I believe these hits will really start to track up. For years, technology wonks having been telling us pocket-sized wireless devices will change the paradigm of how we receive and send information. With last year’s iPhone and iPod Touch releases, I think the hardware has finally caught up with the hype.

In the next few years, newspaper websites will have an opportunity to connect with mobile users in ways infinitely better than how they do now.

I have a Palm Treo mobile phone running Microsoft software. A day doesn’t go by that I’d rather throw the device under a moving bus than continue using it. Clunky, unintuitive, fussy and damn right annoying are words to describe my company issued cell phone. Connecting to the web is a joke. Because it uses a touch screen and a real web browser, the iPhone fixes most these usability issues. It also brings game to a constipated wireless phone industry (at least in the U.S. market) in need of real innovation.

Touch screens, are finally starting to trickle down to other cell phone consumers. These larger screen devices, meshed with wireless high-speed data networks, will only move us further away from our reliance on desktop and laptops computers.

This will be a huge opportunity for newspapers to connect their online products to a whole new generation of Internet savvy users. We can begin by creating content that takes advantage of the strength of these browser-enabled devices. Websites will need simplified designs. The 300-link homepage just won’t do anymore. Shorter stories and more multimedia like video will rule the day. The iPhone was just the opening bell in a long 15 round bout. Competition is going to drive innovation rapidly. One day soon, everyone with a cell phone will have full access to our newspapers and the web. When that happens, I wonder what effect it will have on the traditional print product?

Busting through the newsroom silos

 

One of the scary things I found about moving into management is that I have all these grandiose ideas banging around my head. I kind of feel like Obama did after winning Iowa–- actually believing, if elected, that he can change the world. We know the reality is most politicians fall into that cauldron of politics, quickly forgetting us little guys. My challenge here and the reason I accepted the promotion from videojournalist to multimedia editor at The Spokesman-Review, is that I truly believe I can help facilitate needed change. I know I’m naive, but I got to take a shot. I just hope the silos of the newsroom are not too thick for my soft head. Things were actually moving along pretty swiftly before I showed up on the scene. Upper management at the Spokesman is all about change. Fearless really. But that does not mean there is a total buy-in to this overall new web-centric vision with the rest of the newsroom clan.
 
Change in a newsroom, I believe, best happens slowly. It should be done in a way that most people have time to prepare themselves mentally for a new workflow, beat reassignment, or a change of job duties. Sadly, it rarely happens that way. Panic sets in. Old business models are blown up. Change is then inflicted on to people who are still reeling from all the previous changes. When this happens, fear and anger can take over and progress on changing newsroom culture slows to a crawl.
 
This past year felt like one big tremor of change to me. Forced (ok, pried with treats) from my comfy video-editing cave, to face a newsroom of skeptical co-workers who many see video as just one more layer of work being piled on them. My challenge is to find a way to integrate multimedia into our newsroom and do it in a way that doesn’t just add more work to their daily load. Instead, I want to give reporters and photographer’s new storytelling tools to help them reach the readers that have left the newspaper…forever. It’s all about creating a new workflow– for everyone. 
 
The web is transforming itself into a visual medium. Online viewers are increasingly embracing the net for its new visual offerings. High definition video is just around the corner. When this becomes the norm, we had better be ready. Our viewers will expect us to be. If we can’t offer them killer HD video news content, in the click of a mouse, they are going to go someplace that does.
 
There is an industry phrase batted around that says those that have drank the online Kool-Aid somehow “get it.” Unfortunately, too many of us think that “getting it” makes us part of the cool kids clique in the newsroom. The challenge for me is not worrying about the ones that have all ready crossed over to a web-centric workflow, but finding ways to help the majority of the newsroom who are still struggling to find there place in a rapidly transitioning industry.
 
So here is my super-secret newsroom silo bustin plan.
 
  1. Don’t be a jerk.
  2. Be open to helping anyone that wants to learn multimedia.
  3. Craft an in-house video training program that is ongoing and reaches not only the visual people in the newsroom, but non-visual folks as well. Just like I need to learn to write better, word people will have to tap their (mostly) dormant visual side of their brains. 
  4. Have lots of conversations with everyone about what multimedia is and is not. Good news judgment comes easy for word editors, but looking at a story idea and deciding if it has true visual multimedia potential, still needs some work.
  5. Fight the good fight when it comes to getting the right tools into the right hands of people that want go Mojo.
  6. As we start to redesign our website, make sure that multimedia functionality and presentation is addressed. We need to do it right the first time. 
  7. Innovate by doing things that no one has tried before. 
  8. Work harder at being a better video storyteller, so I can then share what I learn with others.
  9. Don’t be a jerk. 
 
Any other suggestions will be most welcome.