By Ronn Levine
How many of us compose, plan, design, write, edit, think and output on a laptop or desktop and then watch as others consume what we do on their phones—especially now when most of us sit or stand at our home offices or converted fill-in-the-blanks room?
That's the question that was front, center, behind and below in a riveting talk I heard at the end of 2019 by Mario Garcia, a Columbia professor, founder of global consulting firm Garcia Media and author of the new book, The Story, designed to be read on—you guessed it—your phone.
"We are going through a transformation," Garcia said. "Six in 10 people now get news from their mobile device and it's going up every month. And 89% of people on mobile access news and information. We go to our phones an average of 114 times a day. [He tested himself one day and tallied 78.] And yet 75% of outfits plan, write, edit and design on a platform much larger than on what people will read it on."
At 9:15 am Thursday, Oct. 22—Day 3 of AM&P 2020, a Virtual Conference—Garcia will appear on the platform of your choice in what should be quite the morning, eye-opening keynote address.
"If I had to decide today on one platform to design for, with all the disruptions, it would be the phone," he said. Garcia's words particularly resonate when looking at Litmus's State of Email report. In December 2018, 43% of all emails were opened on mobile devices. That compares to 39% opened in webmail and 18% in desktop applications.
In these oh-so-busy times, people are quickly going through emails on their mobile device to determine what to keep and what to delete. The initial impression has to be strong and that's where design and content enter in.
So when Garcia penned The Story, he wrote and designed it for the phone—1800 screens worth. When reading, people much prefer scrolling to swiping, he said, so type should flow down. He added that our writing needs to change. Paragraphs should be shorter because we get interrupted so much more. "We are in the journalism of everywhere and interruptions. This is a phone; it rings, it messages, it Instagrams. We need more subheads to help navigate the story [through those interruptions]."
Garcia has always been a bit ahead of the times. When I heard him, he praised a publisher who provides information for emergency room doctors—who have been so vital these last few months. He's proud of the work he's done for the United Nations, and for Jet Blue—figuring out the best way to get important information to pilots. "There's a global need to present information in the best way it will be consumed," he said.
He called the changes we have undergone in technology "a revolution that hits at the center of storytelling. When we put color in newspapers it was a big change, but it did not change the story."
With that revolution comes responsibility, Garcia said. "Whatever you do, you have to update your stories. Also change the headline, change the photo. It's the kiss of death to write the old way.
"Photographs of the writer are important on the phone. In mobile, first person accounts do very well. Linear stories tend to be shared 40% more than those that are displayed in traditional style. Don't do photo galleries. Headlines are most important now. They have to tell you a lot."
His three rules:
Make it easy to find
Make it easy to read
Make it attractive
"You have to start the creative process with the small screen," Garcia said. "Scandinavians have actually done it the best. Every reporter is required to write for multi-sensory experiences.
"The takeaway is if you have a good story, people will stay with you. [He also pined against telling readers how long a "read" an article is, but we'll leave that for another day.] I don't sit here and lament what was. I celebrate what is. These are the best times to be a storyteller, but you have to explore all that is there."
For Garcia, "mobile-first means that every reporter conceptualizes and writes stories to be consumed on the smallest of devices. It also means that we go from small to large, not the other way around. Everything is created for mobile consumption, then adapted to other, larger platforms. When mobile-first becomes essential, the way a story moves adapts to the requirement for constant updates as well as for the inclusion of audio and video. Premium content that readers will pay for can be generated more readily across platforms, but with an emphasis on linear mobile storytelling."
Ronn Levine is editorial director of SIIA. He can be reached at email@example.com.