The topic of mobile journalism is set to be discussed in-depth at Digital Media Strategies next March. For more information follow this link or stay glued to in the run-up to the event.

Mobile phones are a journalists’ dream. They allow stories to be filed from damn near anywhere with decent network coverage, but more crucially they also allow audiences to consume your content wherever they are. Since people increasingly feel ill without access to mobile internet, and that one fifth of Americans are “almost constantly” online as a result of their mobiles, it means publications have the potential to reach their audience nearly round the clock.

So how has the publishing game reacted to that opportunity? Now that publishers have to push their content to users rather than have audiences come to them, it’s arguably the first time that publishers are truly ‘audience first’ in their strategy.

Speaking at news:rewired in London Marta Cooper, deputy growth editor for Quartz, opened a panel discussion on what audiences now expect from mobile news publishers by citing some quotes from Emily Bell’s keynote at the previous conference, specifically “if you’re not in the top 4 or 5 apps on someone’s phone, you’re not going to be used heavily” and, scarily, “if you don’t have mobile alerts, you’re basically not in the mobile news game.”

And the Guardian’s mobile editor Subhajit Banerjee cited Facebook Notify, the new app with which Facebook is staking a claim on the medium of the notification, as an example of clever thinking with regards to how audiences consume news on mobile:

“It’s quite a different thing. They’ve taken notifications way beyond breaking news. Their argument is that ‘if this is becoming the inbox you are increasingly making sense of the world through that screen’. They want to take control of that screen.”

Brienne O’Brien, mobile editor for BuzzFeed News, also believes that examining how audiences consume news content on mobile devices can provide a roadmap for how publishers then display that content on mobile devices, saying:

“More than 70% of BuzzFeed’s audience is actually mobile. What we’re trying to deliver is context and that feeling of being informed. We want you to stumble on something that you wouldn’t have come across before.

“It’s not possible for us to mimic our breaking news posts that exist on the web. We keep in mind that our users might only have 30 seconds to look at the app so our goal is to provide a [news service] that’s digestible on the go.”

One publisher who are arguably way ahead of the pack when it comes to publishing to mobile is Al Jazeera. Their range of apps and focus on primarily mobile mediums like messaging apps were designed with the Millennial consumer – primarily mobile by their nature – in mind.

Its news app, AJ+, was launched just over a year ago. At the time, its strategy and development director Yaser Bishr said the content pushed to AJ+ was designed to be extremely shareable in nature, a smart strategy when so much of the app’s potential audience’s time is spent on social apps on mobile.

And even more traditional publishers like the BBC are leaping on board mobile storytelling. In this video, Spencer Kelly explains how it transformed how it aided in content creation, and this article demonstrates how seriously the corporation is taking mobile as a distribution device.

Clouds on the horizon

There are a couple of clouds on the horizon though. For one, nobody has quite figured out how to make significant amounts of revenue from primarily mobile audiences (IDG CEO Mike Friedenberg even highlighted it as the number one problem the publishing industry needs to solve).

Secondly, there is still debate about whether or not publishers should invest in apps or concentrate on delivering a great mobile web experience. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, and unfortunately the deciding factor might ultimately be how large a given publishers’ audience is.

As director of the TOW Centre Emily Bell pointed out – and as has become received wisdom since – the real estate on a smartphone’s homepage is limited. Unless your app is among the four or five most opened per user, you’ll not see any significant benefit for your investment, at least in terms of revenue.

And the little revenue that publishers can make currently is dwarfed compared to the mobile ad giants of Facebook and Google, who hoover up all the ad spend.

Thirdly – horror of horrors – a recent study found that smartphones are to “disappear” within five years. That (in the extremely unlikely event it turns out to be true) would mean that publishers would have to grapple with yet another shake-up to the publishing game.

But mobile is undoubtedly a huge opportunity for news publishers. As Twitter’s head of sales for the UK Dara Nasr said:

“Online content is not a new thing, but I don’t think people understand how much there is or how impactful it can be.

“It’s not just something that lives and breathes on the internet. It’s taking it truly live, powered by the mobile.” 

So provided that publishers can adapt to the challenges of mobile storytelling and distribution, it’s possible we will look back on the early-mid 2010s as the first time journalism become truly relevant to each audience member in real time.