Creating a Center for Mobile Media

Vision and Goals

The MobileMe&You conference gathered 25 nationally recognized experts to share how their organizations are using phones, tablets, wearables, drones, 360-video and virtual reality viewers to reach people wherever they are on whatever device they are using. Speakers talked about new ways to tell stories on new platforms.

The inaugural conference, attended by 365 people and funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, was proof of the public’s interest in mobile media. MobileMe&You showed the need for academic leadership in mobile media research and experimentation. The success of the conference showed that the need is there and the time is right to launch a multidisciplinary research center to create and study new mobile media products and techniques, publicizing what works and what doesn’t.

Graphic by Cody Elmore

Graphic by Cody Elmore

Mobile devices are the most ubiquitous communication devices in the world – they outnumber televisions or radios. They bridge all the digital divides: economy, age, geography, education, race, religion and ethnicity. No matter which side of the divide you are on, you are more likely to have a mobile device than any other communication tool. Mobile media also are the best way to communicate internationally. They have the greatest opportunity to unite people in a worldwide conversation. However, their use is still relatively new and unexamined, particularly in the United States.

A Center for Mobile Media at the University of  would be the first multidisciplinary academic and industry effort to improve the way people use mobile media in their daily lives. Through research, field tests and partnerships between academia and industry, the center would study how to make mobile communication more effective and more profitable.

The center would combine the efforts of research professors and professors of practice. It would create academic-industry partnerships to solve real problems, evaluate the solutions and then further improve them. It would focus on the unique and defining characteristics of mobile media. It would study how best to reach the mobile audience. The goal is to create multidisciplinary academic-industry partnerships that foster a constant loop of products being created, tested, improved and disseminated.

The Center for Mobile Media would be the hub that unites the disparate efforts of academic and industry researchers, professionals and students. It would create a focused and disciplined way to pull together multidisciplinary research projects from across all of UNL’s campuses for greater impact in mobile media research and practice. It would be driven by professors, students and industry professionals all working together on common problems and concerns.

Successful mobile media projects require multidisciplinary efforts.  A mobile app or website, wearable technology or drone journalism require knowledge from journalism, advertising, public relations, marketing, computer science, graphics, human-centered design, audience analysis, psychology and sociology to be successful. They also require academics and professionals to work together to create projects, study them and spread their adoption.

The Center for Mobile Media is needed to organize cross-disciplinary research and fundraising efforts. Because mobile media opportunities are multidisciplinary, the study and advancement of mobile media must be multidisciplinary as well. Additionally, a center allows for public-private partnerships to be part of the research equation and the teaching method. A multidisciplinary center provides the vehicle to ask and study research questions that don’t fall exclusively within any particular area of study. The cross-fertilization of ideas and the variety of problems to be solved in a multidisciplinary center are better ways to understand and research the complex, cross-disciplinary and multicultural problems that naturally occur outside the walls of academia. The same holds true for fundraising. A multidisciplinary center significantly increases the number and types of foundations, businesses and governmental agencies that would have an interest in its outcomes.


Why UNL and why now?

How would a Center for Mobile Media work?

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Why UNL, and why now for a Center for Mobile Media?

Photo by University of Nebraska communications office

Photo by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln communications office

The MobileMe&You conference showed that interest in using mobile media is at a peak. Attendees divided nearly equally between the university community and industry professionals. Large and small businesses and nonprofit organizations were represented. People came from about 20 different states. Conference registration had to be cut off at 365, which is amazing for a first-time conference.

Ninety-five percent of respondents to a post-conference survey said they would attend another conference about mobile media next year. Five percent weren’t sure. No one said they would not attend another mobile media conference. The conference showed that UNL can use its reputation for journalism innovation and its convening power to bring together experts from around the world to discuss mobile media practices and problems.

UNL has experience creating scores of centers, with several receiving national attention for their unique and multidisciplinary focus, such as the Center for Brain, Biology and Behavior, the Water for Food Institute and the Nebraska Center on Research for Children, Youth, Families and Schools. The Center for Digital Research in the Humanities is the national leader in applying big-data techniques to many areas in the humanities. Professors on this campus are experienced working in multidisciplinary teams.

The College of Journalism and Mass Communications has started building the core of the Center for Mobile Media by:

  • Receiving $240,000 in grants from Knight Foundation and the Ford Foundation to create demonstration projects and a national conference to show the interest in the type of work a Center for Mobile Media would do


  • Working with the Nebraska Press Association to create a mobile website for NPA members,


  • Teaching mobile application design and creation, new product development, mobile multimedia journalism and mobile social media


  • Establishing the nation’s first Drone Journalism Lab, which is experimenting with new ways to gather information and video by using remotely controlled vehicles. The Lab is also examining the ethical and legal implications of these practices. This work will have significant impact on how major media outlets will gather information and report on events like natural disasters, riots, wars or protests.


  • Adding a social media researcher to the faculty whose research agenda includes mobile media


  • Creating a mobile photojournalism website  with students at the Raikes School of Computer Science and Management


  • Working with the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources in teaching a new product development class


  • Working with the colleges of law, business administration, fine and performing arts, and arts and sciences in the creation of a law class called “The Legal and Business Aspects of Creative Activity”


The Center for Mobile Media will prepare students for jobs that do not yet exist. It will put the University of Nebraska–Lincoln on the map as the place for innovative digital experimentation and innovation. Other universities have created systematic ways to study various aspects of media, but no one is doing it with the goal of helping students and industry professionals adapt together to disruptive change caused by mobile media.

MIT’s famed Media Lab creates new products, many of them mobile, and tests their viability for anywhere from the present to 10 years in the future. The products are demonstrations of graduate students’ skills at creating new technology or bringing current technologies together in new ways. But there often is no current audience for those products. They are proofs of concept.

The Pew Research Center studies attitudes and beliefs that shape the world. The center studies journalism, media and the Internet among many other topics like beliefs about global warming. It has studied attitudes about mobile media, but does not focus on how to improve it or speed the adoption of mobile media. Nor does it train students to be leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs.

The Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri “engages media professionals, scholars and other citizens in programs aimed at strengthening journalism in the service of democracy.”  Its Journalism Futures Lab and Technology Testing Center works to improve the quality and distribution of news and advertising. The study of mobile media is a part of this goal, but not a main focus. It also does not specifically train students.

Northwestern University’s Knight Lab facilitates the collaboration between journalists and technologists as it develops new technologies for the news industry. It does not focus on mobile media. It does work with industry partners.

Arizona State University’s Digital Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab works with professional clients who can’t do their own research and development and who don’t have the ability to create new products for which there is no business model. Sometimes these clients seek mobile media products. Currently, the lab is focusing on virtual reality projects.

University of North Carolina’s School of Media and Journalism will open a research center in 2016 “to explore new models for community news and support the testing and development of innovative digital media products for local news sites.” The center will work to “help reporters and editors be more effective and nimble in the newsroom.”

Each of these centers contains pieces of what the proposed Center for Mobile Media would do, but none of them focuses specifically on mobile media. Also, none of them is a broad, multidisciplinary center that seeks to bring together researchers and practitioners from many different academic and business interests. Cross-discipline partnerships in the current centers and labs have been mainly limited to journalism, computer science and engineering. Northwestern’s lab and North Carolina’s center work with news companies to help professionals use new technology better. ASU’s lab partners more systematically with those companies to solve a specific problem. A Center for Mobile Media would create a permanent loop of new products analyzed and improved by ongoing research that then suggests new products again. It would be a team of multidisciplinary academics and professionals solving problems of interest to both. It would create a nationally recognized niche in mobile media research. Partnering with businesses would increase the opportunities for outside funding.

No current center or lab is focusing on the most ubiquitous and life-changing communication tool we have: mobile media. No current media center or lab is designed to be a multidisciplinary academic-professional partnership.

Part 1: Creating a Center for Mobile Media

Part 2: Why UNL, and why now?

Part 3: How would a Center for Mobile Media work?

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How would a Center for Mobile Media work?

Graphic by Cody Elmore

Graphic by Cody Elmore

In addition to conducting its own research, the Center for Mobile Media will acquire grants and then re-grant to multidisciplinary academic-industry projects. The first goal is to fund a research chair specifically dedicated to mobile media research. This professor’s work would be supplemented by grants to project teams across the University of Nebraska system. The Center would issue requests for proposals that help innovate or scale the use and understanding of mobile media for news, information, advertising, games or transactions. The Center has minimal overhead costs because it doesn’t need a building or a large staff. Initial staff would be the director and an executive assistant. The director’s first task is to raise the funds for ongoing operations and a research chair.

Because mobile media are our daily companion and our tool for doing an increasing number of daily tasks, the potential partnerships are limitless. Health care, banking, entertainment, journalism, advertising and public relations are fields where an early research focus and early fundraising focus would be most beneficial for the center.

Bankers and financial institutions want to know how to combat the obvious threat of peer-to-peer mobile payments to the banking business model. Health care professionals want to know how wearable media could monitor rural patients and transmit data to off-site doctors. News organizations want to know how to use mobile and social media to reach Gen X and Gen Y youth. Advertising and public relations professionals want to know how to use the tools youth use, their phones, to promote brand development and engage their audience.

Mobile media are changing what the public expects from each of these fields, and there are no established best practices to meet those expectations. That gap is the gap a Center for Mobile Media would fill.

Part 1: Creating a Center for Mobile Media

Part 2: Why UNL, and why now?

Part 3: How would a Center for Mobile Media work?

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Hundreds attend first MobileMe&You conference at UNL

(The following post is reprinted from my article, “From ‘information nuggets to ‘glance journalism,’ MobileMe&You explored how to think differently to reach the audience of today and tomorrow.”)

Speakers at the MobileMe&You Conference at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in October 2015 agreed that mobile media are the way to reach the audience of the future. They also showed there’s no right way to do that. The conference explored how mobile media, wearable media, virtual reality, news applications and drone journalism are revolutionizing communication today, just as the Gutenberg press did in the mid-1400s.

Jim Brady at MobileMe&You

Jim Brady, founder and CEO of the mobile site BillyPenn, tells the MobileMe&You conference that a good mobile site makes it easy for the audience to get the information it wants quickly. (Photo by Vincent Péna)

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation awarded me a grant to create MobileMe&You to bring together leading experts and researchers to talk with professors, students and workers about how to inform and engage new audiences in the mobile era.

Mobile and social media are changing our lives by creating a new lifeline of constant information that reaches us wherever we are, whenever we want and on whatever device we’re using, said Aaron Smith, associate director of research at the PEW Research Center’s Internet Project. He said we’re becoming a world feasting on constant information snacks, not meals.

“We’re becoming a world feasting on constant information snacks, not meals.”

—   Aaron Smith, Pew Research Center

Our phones are becoming our information-seeking tool of choice, he said, with 62 percent of people using their smartphones to research health conditions, 57 percent doing their online banking, 43 percent looking up information about jobs and 18 percent using their smartphones to submit job applications.

The story is no different around the world. Joseph Adah, information resource specialist at the U.S. Mission in Nigeria, told the conference that although the use of mobile phone in Africa is nowhere near critical mass, there still are more mobile phone users in Africa than in the United States and Europe combined. Mobile media in Africa are the new lifelines for health information and education.

Clint! Runge, managing creative director of youth marketing agency Archrival, said that although the platform on which to reach youth is mobile media, the message has to be tailored to the independence that digital media have given Gen Y and Gen Z.

“There are more mobile phone users in Africa than in the United States and Europe combined.”

—   Joseph Adah, U.S. Mission in Nigeria


José Zamora, vice president of strategic communications for Univision's news division, says the way to reach the Hispanic audience is with mobile media.

José Zamora from Univision says an important way to reach the Hispanic audience is with mobile media.

José Zamora, vice president of news strategic communications at Univision, said the way to reach the Hispanic audience is through mobile media. He said Hispanics use mobile media at an even higher rate than the black or white populations do.

From wearables to drones to virtual reality today and who knows what tomorrow, mobile media are expanding what we think of as media and what we think of as information.

Victor Hernandez, a fellow at the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute, sees a future in which wearable mobile media create “glance journalism,” with short information nuggets. Those nuggets could be life-saving health data transmitted to a doctor across the country.

Those doctors could be training in virtual worlds created by 360-degree video shot with mobile gear and studied on portable viewers. Virtual reality is the new reality for Dan Pacheco, Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications innovation chair.  He teaches how virtual reality watched with a headset or cell-phone viewer give such new perspectives that they can put the audience inside a cell to see how medicine works or in a valley to see how it was formed during the Ice Age.

Matt Waite, founder of UNL’s Drone Journalism Lab, told the audience at MobileMe&You how drones can be used to shoot video and photos in places too dangerous for a videographer, like the edge of a waterfall or the middle of a pride of lions.

Teaching with mobile media was the focus of other speakers. They want to help universities partner with industries to teach students to become the new leaders integrating emerging technology into newsrooms, ad agencies and businesses around the world.

Nicole Kraft, assistant professor of journalism at The Ohio State University School of Communication, described her experiment teaching a reporting class in which students’ only tool was what they could do with their iPads. She said the iPad is the journalist’s one-stop tool.


Retha Hill at MobileMe&You

Retha Hill, executive director of the Digital Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab at Arizona State University, says educators have to do a better job experimenting with and teaching new story-telling technologies. (Photo by Alyssa Ranard)

Retha Hill, director of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, said she is teaching students to take risks as they experiment with adapting new technologies for the changing news ecosystem.

“There has to be a symbiotic relationship between journalism schools and industry. They need us, we need them,” she said.

Other speakers and their topics at MobileMe&You were:

  • Andy Boyle, web developer for NBC News Digital Group’s Breaking News, discussed how to plan and design new mobile products. Boyle is an alumnus of the UNL College of Journalism and Mass Communications.


  • Jim Brady, CEO & founder of, talked about using a mobile-first news site to reach the youth audience.


  • David Cohn, senior director, Alpha Unit, Advance Digital and former executive producer, Al Jazeera+, discussed how to improve the mobile product experience and attract a new audience.


  • Sally Ann Cruikshank, assistant professor of journalism in the School of Communication and Journalism at Auburn University, reported the results of her paper, “Mobile Learning: Rethinking the Future of Journalism Practice and Pedagogy.”


  • Andrew Haeg, founder of the mobile engagement platform, GroundSource, and teacher of human-centered design, talked about how GroundSource can be used to increase mobile engagement in communities.


  • Brant Houston, Knight Chair in investigative reporting at the University of Illinois, discussed how to use mobile devices when gathering news.


  • Emily Ingram, mobile product manager at The Washington Post, discussed how to plan and design new mobile products. Ingram is an alumna of the UNL College of Journalism and Mass Communications.


  • Julie Jones, associate professor at the Gaylord College at the University of Oklahoma, reported on her research, “Covering #SAE: A Mobile Reporting Class’s Changing Patterns of Interaction
on Twitter Over Time.”


  • Yusuf Kalyango Jr., associate professor and director of the Institute for International Journalism in the E. W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, reported the results of his paper, “Mobile Learning: Rethinking the Future of Journalism Practice and Pedagogy.”


  • Damon Kiesow, head of mobile initiatives for McClatchy Co., discussed how newspapers’ culture and content management systems work to make it difficult to produce “mobile-first” content.


  • Alan Knitowski, CEO of Phunware, Inc.; USA Today Money’s 2014 Entrepreneur of the Year finalist, talked about all the data mobile devices gather about their users and how companies use that data.


  • Susan Poulton thinks mobile apps will enhance the museum-goer's experience. (Photo by Alyssa Ranard)

    Susan Poulton thinks mobile apps will enhance the museum-goer’s experience. (Photo by Alyssa Ranard)

    Susan Poulton, the first chief digital officer at The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, said she disagrees with many museum administrators who think mobile media distract from the museum experience. She wants to create a museum app that is used as an education app outside the museum, too.


  • Allissa Richardson, mobile media professor at Bowie State University, demonstrated products that enhance the photo and video capabilities of mobile media.


  • Natalee Seely, doctoral student in the School of Media and Journalism at UNC-Chapel Hills, worked with Nicole Kraft, who reported on their research, “Making Mojos: How iPads Are Enhancing Mobile Journalism Education.”


  • Judd Slivka, assistant professor of convergence journalism at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, demonstrated products that enhance the photo and video capabilities of mobile media.Damon Kiesow, head of mobile initiatives for McClatchy Co., discussed how newspapers’ culture and content management systems work to make it difficult to produce “mobile-first” content.


  • Ben Vankat, online editor at the Omaha World Herald,  discussed how newspapers’ culture and content management systems work to make it difficult to produce “mobile-first” content.


  • Pamela Walck, assistant professor in the Journalism & Multimedia Arts Department in the McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts at Duquesne University, reported the results of her paper, “Mobile Learning: Rethinking the Future of Journalism Practice and Pedagogy.”
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Diversity project creates easy partnerships

The Ford Foundation grant for diversity reporting in Nebraska that I brought to our college with the Asian American Journalism Association and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association is having the additional benefit of helping us form important partnerships

HeartlandRGB_VertThe Nebraska Press Association supports the project, has discussed it in its newsletter and the executive director has introduced our reporter, Bobby Caina Calvan, to newspaper editors. Calvan will speak about diversity reporting at the NPA’s annual convention. Nebraska Educational Telecommunications (Nebraska’s NPR and PBS stations) has invited Calvan to talk to NET’s reporting staff about adding diverse sources and story ideas to their daily reporting.

Calvan has spoken to reporting and multimedia classes and is working with about six volunteer students on a project that an area newspaper plans to publish. He has discussed student projects with a class that is reporting on Lincoln’s refugee community. He’ll work in the summer with a multimedia professor, and in the fall with a multimedia class.

The topic of diversity has done a great job of creating willing partners to give our students more outlets for their work. It’s also given news organizations a mutually beneficial way of working with our college. Diversity reporting has enabled several of our professors to work on a common project.

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College works with minority journalism associations to cover diversity in Nebraska

With $200,00 from the Ford Foundation, a unique partnership in diversity reporting and training is occurring at the College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The Asian American Journalists Association, the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and the College of Journalism and Mass Communications have embedded a reporter at the college to focus on reporting diversity stories unique to Nebraska.


Bobby Caina Calvan

Called the Heartland Project, the plan is “to increase media coverage of minorities and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities in Nebraska.”

Bobby Caina Calvan, who most recently was a national political writer in the Boston Globe’s Washington, D.C., bureau, is working with news organizations throughout Nebraska, with the help of the Nebraska Press Association, to write stories and produce multimedia pieces about minority issues that the news organizations are willing to publish, but don’t have the staff to produce.

Calvan will work with journalism faculty and students to produce stories and multimedia projects that involve LGBT communities and communities of color, focusing on four topic areas: access to health care, economic recovery, immigration and domestic violence.

Calvan also was a reporter at the Sacramento Bee, and he covered the war in Iraq for McClatchy newspapers. He was a foreign reporting fellow for the International Center for Journalists in Laos.

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Washington Post, a digital adaptor, looks to digital native for help

Below I’ve republished the press release the University of Nebraska-Lincoln issued with my comments about the sale of The Washington Post to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

UNL expert alert: Washington Post sale and journalism’s digital future

Officials with the Washington Post Co. announced Monday that its flagship paper would be sold for $250 million to founder and CEO Jeffrey P. Bezos.

The Washington Post logoThe news spells the end of the Graham family’s four generations of stewardship over one of the nation’s leading newspapers. Bezos, to become the newspaper’s sole owner, plans to take it private to avoid shareholder pressure while he experiments with news operations.

The company’s newspaper division, of which the Post was the most prominent part, suffered a 44 percent decline in operating revenue over the past six years. Although the Post established itself as a popular online news source, its print circulation dwindled, falling 7 percent during the first half of 2013 alone.

Gary Kebbel, professor of journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, has spent much of his career in online media, including serving as front page editor of during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. He was founding editor of and USA and directed the growth of AOL News from 1999-2005.

Here are some of his thoughts on the Post’s sale:

“I find it fascinating that America’s journalism giants, The New York Times Company and the Washington Post Company, through their respective fire sales of The Boston Globe and The Washington Post, are saying that traditional newspaper companies with more than a hundred years of experience each can only successfully run a newspaper in the analog age.”

“The Washington Post believes in the value of journalism so much that it is willing to say, ‘we can’t be successful in the digital age, so perhaps a digital native can. We hope a digital native can.’”

Kebbel sees the same changes occurring in advertising.

Publicis logoOmnicom logo“Last week, Publicis and Omnicom combined and the respective CEOs said in the Financial Times: ‘The pace of change which is occurring today is going to get faster, not slower.’ (John Wren, Omnicom) ‘What is true today is really not true tomorrow and we have to be prepared for that.’ (Maurice Levy, Publicis)”

“This comes after The (Chicago) Sun-Times company laid off all its photographers, and told the reporters to use their iPhones.”

“All of this taken together implies that with the professions changing as fast as they are, educating for those professions is an arduously unique challenge.”

Kebbel, who departs Lincoln on Wednesday for the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications annual meeting, can be reached via email at or by cell at (703) 582-6758.

– Leslie Reed, University Communications

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Creating mobile media demonstration projects

This semester I’ve been working on a demonstration project to show people what a Center for Mobile Media might do. Students with different interests and skills have worked in a team on a mobile media project. I sought journalism, advertising and public relations students to work with computer science and design students. I wanted them to learn teamwork, entrepreneurial skills and presentation skills.

An added incentive was that their work would be presented to editors and publishers at the annual meeting of the Nebraska Press Association.

Because the Ford Foundation funded this semester’s work, the students and I decided to focus on creating a mobile project that we all hoped could be used by Ford Foundation’s “Social Justice” grantees anywhere in the world.

The students worked on a mobile app that could be used particularly during elections in developing countries or in countries with authoritarian regimes. They wanted to create a way for the people to express their opinions and for others to see the true expression of public opinion unmediated by government control of the media. Here’s the team’s presentation to the Nebraska editors.

Their solution was a mobile app that could be used by feature or non-feature phones to create and tag comments that would be aggregated geographically or topically. Users would easily see what people in a given area or country say are the top three issues in their country. They also could read a scroll of all the comments, respond to comments and upload photos and videos. Additional features include background information about the country, its people and government, as well as information about upcoming events like elections.

I started too late to make this project a class or an independent study, so everything had to be extracurricular work. The good thing about extracurricular projects is the students who participate are truly dedicated. The bad thing is that it takes a while for the dedicated students to self-select, and it’s really difficult to schedule meetings outside of classes with 8-10 incredibly busy students.

The project presented to Nebraska’s editors, called Human Hustle, started out as a mobile media “hackathon” in the fall semester. But it didn’t attract the number of students we needed. So we rethought the whole process. Throughout the spring semester, we didn’t use the word “hackathon” to advertise our project because we didn’t want to make students think the project only was for computer science students. We told students they would be learning new skills employers want. And we worked with another campus group, The Hive, to break the new-product development process into separate Saturday meetings about entrepreneurial thinking, creative thinking and project development.

The editors liked the project and realized how it could be used in rural Nebraska communities as easily as in developing countries. Additionally, the editors loved seeing students working on projects like this and were thrilled to realize that they could take their own new-product development projects to the students and could work jointly with them. That was perhaps the conference’s biggest success: editors realized we were setting up a way for them to work with students.




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Mobile journalism: It’s not the web only smaller

When more than a billion people in the world are using the same communication tool, it makes sense for journalists to be especially good at using that tool. Those tools are mobile media – phones, tablets and whatever comes next – and they have the greatest chance of connecting and engaging all of us.

Mobile media bridge all the digital divides: young-old, educated-uneducated, poor-rich, rural-urban, national-international. The audience of the future is the audience reached on a mobile device, whether that’s a young, poor, woman in Bolivia or an older, wealthy businessman in Chicago. Youth who have never held a newspaper in their hands still can, and often do, read news every day on their phone.

Mobile devices

Photo credits: Flickr Photos (clockwise from top left) by: Yutaka Tsutano, Tony Buser, johnmuk, eBook Reader, tasharyland41 and compujeramey

News organizations need to go wherever their audience is, using the tool the audience uses. For youth, the audience of the future, that means mobile devices.

The challenge for journalists and news organizations extends beyond realizing that they need to present their work on mobile media. The challenge is learning how to present it natively and effectively on mobile media. Mobile media are not Internet pages, only smaller. You don’t create a mobile site by building a website and accessing it from your phone. You lose audience if your story, photo or video is written and produced for the web, and viewed on a phone.

It’s natural to try to understand a new medium in terms of the old medium, but our understanding has to grow beyond that. Take television news as an example. Originally, it was televised radio news. A giant television camera was wheeled into a radio news booth to televise the radio newscaster reading the news. A more current example is Internet news. In 1995 USA TODAY and The New York Times originally called their websites USA TODAY Online and The New York Times Online. Because that’s literally what they were.

Quickly, however, we learn to use the new medium with its natural capabilities. With television, we learned to use multiple cameras, to cut from camera to camera, to take cameras into the field and to add graphics. With online news, we learned to use the native capabilities of the online medium by adding audio, video, interactive graphics, polls, chats, discussions and games. With mobile news, we’re learning to use apps, and particularly the geo-location abilities of smart devices. We’re learning to find things “near me.” We’re learning how to use that to find sources. We’re also learning about the need for responsive design that recognizes what device – laptop or phone – we’re using at the time.

Mobile media are an increasingly important tool for journalists. They can deliver a new audience if you learn to adapt your content for that audience. If you’re not sold, yet, on why journalists need unique mobile skills consider a few tidbits:

  • 62% of U.S. respondents get news from their phone weekly (Pew Research Center’s, State of the Media 2013)
  • 36% get news from their phone daily (Pew Research Center, State of the Media 2013)
  • 88% of U.S. adults owned a cell phone of some kind as of April 2012, and 55% of these used their phone to go online (Pew Internet and American Life Survey, “Cell Internet Use 2012”)
  • People with less education and income (some college or less and household incomes less than $30,000) use their cell phones as their primary means of accessing the Internet (Pew Internet and American Life Survey, “Cell Internet Use 2012”)
  • 17% of cell phone owners do most of their online browsing on their phone, rather than a computer or other device. For some, their phone is their only option for online access. (Pew Internet and American Life Survey, “Cell Internet Use 2012”)
  • U.S. tablet adoption: 12% in 2011 (28 million); 31% in 2012 (74 million users); 47% (117 million) expected in 2013 (Online Publishers Association, Census Bureau, eMarketer June 2012; download report)
  • Top tablet activities: 64% get news weekly; 37% get news daily (Pew Research Center, State of the Media 2013)
  • “The improved availability of high-speed Internet access has significantly enhanced the average user’s media consumption experience, contributing to a rapid uptick in mobile media consumption.” (comScore Mobile Future in Focus 2013)
  • Tablets have emerged as one of the fastest-selling devices in history. (comScore Mobile Future in Focus 2013)
  • “Tablet owners show a higher propensity to browse and engage in more involved media behaviors. (comScore Mobile Future in Focus 2013)

(This has been cross-posted to Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas blog)

- Gary Kebbel

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Syllabus for Mobile Media News and Conversation

The class I’m teaching this semester is known to my students as Journalism 902, but I’m calling it Analyzing Mobile Media News and Conversation. Although the syllabus is published on the university’s Blackboard class management system, my students don’t have to log in to Blackboard if they save this quick blog post.

Below is the 1) full syllabus, and shorter sections about 2) assignments, 3) grading rubrics and 4) class policies.

Mobile Media News and Conversation Syllabus

Mobile Media News and Conversation Schedule

Mobile Media News and Conversation Rubrics

Mobile Media News and Conversation Policies

– Gary Kebbel








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