If you’re serious about news, you need to be serious about mobile

Here’s a set of equations I’ve made up:

Let EQ = audience perception of editorial quality = (design + advertising experience + performance) * confirmation bias

Let UX = user experience = (design + advertising experience + performance).

Therefore EQ = UX * confirmation bias.

And here are some numbers I have not made up, via an interview with the Washington Post’s chief technology officer, Shailesh Prakash, in the Wall Street Journal:

70% of the Post’s traffic now comes from mobile devices. The mobile website is used far more frequently than the Post’s app, with 63% of overall traffic using its mobile website specifically and 7% on the app.

Now, consider the experience of going to an average, non-optimized article page over at the Post — as a logged-in subscriber on mobile:

On the left: the first thing you get when the page loads more ads than editorial. In the middle: This same ad appeared three different times in the story as you scrolled (and I don’t own a car…) On the right: dubious “stories” provided by Outbrain at the end of the article (assuming anyone got there).

The Post would rightly reject any suggestion that it is of low editorial quality. It could credibly point to its many, many Pulitzer Prizes, or to the work of reporters like David Fahrenthold as examples of its excellence and trustworthiness.

And yet the screenshots of the Post’s article pages on mobile hew much closer to what you would expect of a “tabloid”, in the pejorative sense. The visual cues give no reason to believe that somewhere behind those ads you might find a reputable news organization that regularly breaks huge news stories.

This is a moment in which it’s more important than ever to signal credibility and reliability to those audiences who still come directly to our owned and operated sites, and to make sure those folks stick around.

At a time when publishers are losing both audience and advertising revenue to platforms like Facebook and Google, why do we as an industry continue to deliver these kinds of experiences to our mobile audiences?

More interestingly, what could we be doing instead? And what would happen if we did?

These are the kinds of questions I’m tackling this year as a 2016–17 JSK Fellow at Stanford University. And if you’re someone with ~opinions~ and perspectives on these issues, please do get in touch.