'We Are Going Through a Transformation' - Garcia and the FT's Fottrell Talk Success in a Mobile World

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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?
That's the question that was front, center, behind and below in the BIMS Day 2 talk by Mario Garcia, a Columbia professor 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 recently 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."

(The Pew Research Center found that 57% of U.S. adults get news from a smartphone or tablet compared with 30% from a PC. For those 18-29, it's 72%.) 

So when Garcia wrote his latest book, 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]." 
Following Garcia on Tuesday, Matt Fottrell, VP, Financial Times U.S. and managing director, FT Specialist, spoke about equally big changes—they've shuttered 10 print titles in the last 5 years and started (and accomplished) a big march to 1 million paid digital subscribers—as the FT grows its U.S. footprint and builds up its specialist news division.
"It required a shift in how we were working," Fottrell said. "We had to re-engineer much of what we do." The first thing was to establish a "mindset of confidence to charge for quality journalism online... Reader engagement was then the best measure for us. The more our audience used our sites, the more cancellations decreased and conversions increased."
To measure that engagement, they created an algorithm called RFV—recency, frequency and volume. How recently have they visited? How frequently? And how much do they consume? They used gamification to engage; one example was the financial experience of an Uber driver. "That drove incredible engagement," Fottrell said. "It was a tangible way to tell a story."
The FT mixed that kind of feature with valuable charts—one of those tracked every M&A deal in 2017. "That built a real competency around data visualization," Fottrell said. Another initiative that drew "fantastic engagement" gathered 100,000 pieces of data back to 1979 and tracked that in a 3-minute video story. 
The "FT on Stage" brought Financial Times reporters to a live audience telling stories. "It went to the oldest forms of entertainment and would draw 400 or more people," Fottrell said.
At the end, Fottrell spoke passionately about companies not only being successful but also doing work to strengthen the community. He pointed to The Washington Post's new front-page slogan, Democracy Dies in Darkness and the Guardian with their mantra of hope. "It's time for a reset," Fottrell said. "Business must make a profit but should serve a purpose as well."
Doing good was on Garcia's mind as well. He praised one of the publishers he met here who provides information for emergency room doctors. 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 going on now "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." 

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…