Five proposed areas of focus for mobile innovation in news

When Sasha and I joined the mobile innovation lab a few months ago, we were beyond excited to have the broadest possible creative mandate in which to explore mobile news innovation for the next two years. Then, within a few short weeks, the questions started coming: “What does innovation mean?” “What exactly will you be working on?” “What does the future really look like?!” To which we responded…

Just kidding, that would be impossible. But we are committed to finding the right areas to focus on that will drive measurable change and improvement in the news industry. To that end, we thought we’d ask for responses to our thinking about what those areas should be.

Below is a list of five areas of focus we’ve come up with for the lab. They reflect where we think there are the biggest challenges and opportunities for experimentation and innovation in mobile storytelling. Some of the challenges were identified during workshops at our hugely beneficial launch event at CUNY in November. Some were based on our joint awareness of the ever-growing landscape of apps, mobile technologies and usage patterns. Within each, we see broad possibilities for experiments that will then, with any luck, tell us where news organizations should devote precious resources in the near to medium term, and by the same token, where a return on investment may not be worthwhile.

As starting points, these categories are broad enough that we can experiment within them for a while. But we don’t see them as a comprehensive list of every arena in which innovation in news can happen — and is happening. Virtual reality is not on it, for example, and neither is community or comments. From time to time we’ll be re-evaluating our list against the landscape we see around us, and we may change course or take on new categories when we think it could be important terrain to explore for the benefit of the news industry and readers.

In the meantime we’d love you to tell us what you think of what we’ve come up with: where you think we’re on the mark or where you think we may have missed it.

Live coverage

Users are now accustomed to receiving instant, reliable information delivered to their phones as significant news develops, be it breaking news or a scheduled live event. How do we deliver reliable information in an informal and straightforward way, on as many mobile platforms as possible — including in chat apps, on live streaming services and on the web, mobile web and in apps? How can we deliver information, context and interactivity to a mobile-first or mobile-only audience?


It’s predicted that nearly three-fourths of the world’s mobile data traffic will be attributed to video by 2019. How do news organizations, particularly those with text at their core, adapt to telling stories in images and motion graphics? How do we craft stories to take into account various mobile characteristics, including attention span, screen size, visual impact and high-quality audio? Can news video be a pathway to deeper engagement?

Contextual delivery

News organizations are lagging behind services like Google Now and many commercial apps to deliver information that is relevant to users’ needs throughout the day and that adapts to location, activity and time. What are the most useful and interesting news-specific use cases for contextual delivery? What frameworks need to be built to seamlessly deliver them? How important is it to build feedback mechanisms into those frameworks, to gain ongoing insight into what is relevant to users?

Content interaction

Sharing and conversation are now a habitual means of engagement with journalism. How do we take advantage of that impulse and allow users to share and discuss news more frequently, and with more ease and with more personal context? How can we enable new types of interaction that social networking and chat apps have made popular?


The benefits of notifications to news organizations is clear: they drive traffic and give stories added visibility. As most organizations have mostly stuck with headline formats, we have ample room to experiment with variety, nuance, context and timing in notifications. How can news organizations take better advantage of notifications’ unique characteristics: immediacy, intimacy, and ability to interrupt with purpose? How can we best inform via notifications while not alienating users? How can we give them more control over what they receive from us?

We look forward to hearing your thoughts, and please email us anytime at

The Guardian Mobile Innovation Lab operates with the generous support of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.