Newsroom goal? Any screen, any time

Bill Tallent’s company has an impressive client list.  From USA Today to Fox News to Showtime, Mercury has an app for that.

Yet, his view is that news organizations need to have more than a three-screen strategy, they have to have an all-screen strategy.

“We have a handheld and a lap-sized screen now, but we’re going to a tabletop and living room wall screen in the future,” says Tallent.

According to Tallent, the media used to be divided into four silos — radio, TV, newspapers and the Internet — and we needed four different devices to access the content.  Now, says Tallent, all of the silos are collapsing into a single medium.

“The Fox News iPad app has a radio tuner, the CNN app has live TV,” Tallent says.

And Tallent points to statistics that say native apps are in the process of replacing websites.  For the first time, Flurry, which tracks mobile use, reported this year that minutes per day spent on apps surpassed time spent on websites.  In another survey from the University of Missouri, researchers found that 93% of people say they prefer the app experience to their experiences on websites.

“The iPhone and iPad are not mobile devices; they are the fourth major development in computing,” says Tallent.

So, how can journalists prepare themselves for the mobile world?

Mike Ligon, VP of operations for Mecury, says that for journalists, understanding the technology that underpins digital distribution is more important than learning how to build the technical infrastructure.

“I would learn about social media engagement,” says Ligon.  “And writing for mobile? No one has yet figured out how to segment content specifically for mobile users.”

Ligon says USAToday may have come the closest to creating content that’s mobile-friendly, perhaps because the paper was already designed to disseminate information in easily digestible chunks.  But, Ligon says, most news organizations continue to simply repurpose content across platforms.

“Students need to study the presentation of content,” says Tallent.  “When clients tell me they want an app that will ‘wow” the user, I just want to walk away.  What people are looking for in an app is something that makes them feel comfortable.”

Beyond usability, Mecury’s creative director, Rusty Mitchell, says that journalists need to be thinking more about the news consumer.

“You need to be thinking about what the user wants to do after reading your story,” Mitchell says. “If it’s an international story they may want a map; if it’s a story about new music, they may want an iTunes link.  Even websites don’t do a good enough job of anticipating user needs and desires.”