Is the tide turning for UX in media?

Here is a word that does not come up often enough in journalism-tech conferences:

Empathy.

Empathy for readers, for advertisers and for colleagues in other departments. (That last one is a big deal if you want to get innovative things done at work.)

Empathy is simply the ability to understand the feelings and perceptions of another person. And it is a key ingredient to making products a person (who is not you) might hope to use and enjoy.

Yesterday at Poynter’s Mobile News Summit (#mobilenews15) in NYC the concept came up quite a bit. Not everyone used the exact word, but their meaning was quite clear. The day was putatively about mobile, but it focused extensively on putting readers and their needs first.

One of my favorite quotes of the day was directly on that topic.

Question: Is there a business case for investing in user experience? Answer from Jim Brady of Billy Penn: Yes. Frustrating users is not a strategy.

Job opening: Senior Manager Mobile Initiatives

We are hiring a number of web and mobile positions right now – but a key to our success is this role. You can find the official listing here:  http://j.mp/1ijxAPg

Contact me directly if you have questions.

Day to Day:

  • Assist in defining and driving the vision and strategy for Android and iOS native apps and responsive websites
  • Take a leadership role in guiding the development roadmap for native apps and web, balancing user needs, business requirements and internal resources
  • Work with the Head of Mobile and the Product Owner to turn business strategies into detailed requirements for the development team
  • Work with the Creative Director and User Experience Manager to guide development of visual and interactive designs that support business requirements and delight users.
  • Work with Digital ad team to integrate revenue requirements into all phases of strategy and development
  • Support all mobile projects via direct collaboration with a wide variety of stakeholders, including corporate executives, publishers, editors, and product, revenue, design and development teams
  • Develop and track KPI for new features and products.
  • Build and maintain strong relationships with digital and mobile leads in our local markets.
  • Be a voice for the mobile consumer in all internal discussions
  • Organize and lead the monthly Mobile Editors Call

Must Haves:

  • 5+ years of product management experience
  • Experience leading an Android or iOS development project
  • Knowledge of mobile trends and technologies
  • Familiarity with human centered design principles
  • Experience with responsive web design projects
  • Success in formally or informally leading a team
  • Comfortable managing large projects amidst ambiguity
  • Skill with standard web analytics tools such as Omniture and Google Analytics
  • Skill analyzing large and diverse data sets to develop business models, track digital performance, and support strategy discussions

Nice-to-haves:

  • Experience with editorial products and newsroom operations
  • Familiarity with online advertising technology and business models
  • Passion for using data to drive decision making.
  • Experience with enterprise content management systems
  • Experience with A/B testing methodologies

The readers we ignore and the news they want

Millennials like news. They just don’t like you – the legacy newsroom.

Don’t take it personally. By all accounts the under-40 crowd and many over forty (API millennial study here) read and value news. But they are not paying for it in larger numbers, and they are certainly not nearly as loyal to a small handful of digital news sources as their parents were to print.

We can argue that the Internet, and even more specifically mobile phones are the leading cause of this disruption. But that takes agency away from journalists and places it squarely on “technology.” And framing it as a tech problem drives us to try and solve it with technology.

“Throw another Snapchat on that mobile template. The young people will love it. Did you check how it looks on the Apple Watch and Google Glass?”

Which is odd, because we know why people read the news, or seek out other types of information: relevancy. Technology is just a convenience that lets us access that information 24/7 in almost any location or context.

Gary Kebbel at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is organizing a conference this Fall: Mobile Me & You and I have been thinking about news, smartphones and relevancy in preparation for a talk there.

So let’s propose a maybe not too controversial theory: While much of the journalism being produced by legacy news organizations is of value to younger readers, it does not entirely speak their language nor fully reflect their lives.

Here’s a tongue-in-cheek test: open up your local printed newspaper – how many comics on the page were launched prior to 1960? FYI – that list includes B.C., Dennis the Menace, Beetle Bailey, Blondie and Prince Valiant.

Comics aside, our failings are sins of omission as much as commission.

Many newspapers are still built to cover “community” as defined seemingly generations ago as rigid beat structures constrained by geography and by local government services. Advocating a change to that system is nothing new; numerous blog posts have covered the ground. Unfortunately, experimentation has come largely but not exclusively from digital news start-ups.

These days, digital-savvy readers live seamlessly between online and offline. Amazon.com is their local market and Netflix their local theater. The problem is neither Amazon or Netflix are “local” in a sense that is recognizable by local media. But, chances are about 30% of your hometown have shopped at Amazon in the past year. And Netflix has 40 million U.S. customers. There is a reason suburban malls are in trouble and Blockbuster went out of business.

Any local media out there covering new Netflix releases that aren’t House of Cards? HuffPo does.

Speaking of video: Good Mythical Morning. Never heard of them? The North Carolina pair appeared recently in an advertising campaign for Wendy’s and have 7.3 million subscribers on YouTube. They have received a smattering of local media coverage. A smattering. Keep in mind the top rated cable TV show last week received 4.9 million viewers.

Any local media out there covering YouTube shows? Tubefilter does.

One last category: games. Mobile games are estimated to be a $25 billion industry this year. Globally the movie industry is a $100 billion business, about $10 billion domestically.

Any local media out there covering mobile games? Vox does – Polygon.

The list goes on: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter are all communities of interest comprised at least in part by your neighbors. Why do we spend so little time highlighting the conversations and content our local readers create on those platforms?

Uber, Yelp, and Pandora all have to some extent supplanted services that were previously hyper-local. But local people still continue to use them. So why don’t we cover them like we cover local taxis, business listings or radio stations?

By ceding “things that happen online” to Internet blogs and digital news start-ups we have washed our hands of a huge swath of human existence. And, we have done so for reasons that are as much due to structure and vision as resources.

This is not a “millennial” problem. It is a gap we face with any digital-friendly audience. It is not a “mobile” problem – though many of these users are mobile-first. It is not a “UX” problem as your user experience doesn’t much matter if readers find nothing of interest to read. The problem is the news industry has gone for years without needing to examine who its audience is or what they want. And our organizations have calcified to the point that it is difficult for us to even ask, much less answer the question.

Without a change in our approach and more attention paid to local lives lived online we will remain in a downward attention spiral. As readers migrate more and more to a hybrid digital/physical existence they will continue to leave us behind. Not because they don’t care about us, but because we don’t seem to care about them.

That’s not how innovation works

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In the New York Times today by Joe Nocera – worth a read:

This Apple, the post-Jobs Apple, has become risk-averse, its innovative capacity reduced to making small tweaks on products it has already brought to market. Though its leadership still talks a good game, it has so far been unable to deliver on the kind of knock-your-socks-off products for which Apple was once famous.

Just to review the timing here:

  • iPod – 2001
  • iPhone – 2007
  • iPad – 2010

So it has been four whole years since they released a product that revolutionized an entire industry. That is less than the span between the iPad and the iPhone (6 years), but more than the iPhone and the iPad (3 years.)

Fair enough then, we should be expecting something more soon. Unless the magic was lost with Steve Jobs as Nocera insists.

But expecting the next big thing to be a mobile device misses the point. Sure, Apple could and probably is moving into wearables. Maybe their next big announcement changes everything about t-shirts or sneakers or whatever.

Or, maybe they continue to build their iTunes ecosystem by disrupting the TV industry as they did with music. (Would that even count as ‘disruptive?’ It is really an evolutionary innovation that is more about lawyers than tech.)

Or, maybe with iBeacons and 600 million iTunes credit cards on file they are about to blow up the world of retail transactions and tie together digital and physical commerce.

They certainly hope to, and that certainly would be disruptive. And the key to disruption is that it reframes the debate in ways people don’t see coming. Like people who thought the iPhone was a fancy iPod that could make phone calls and would be a dud:

An iPod is a divergence device; an iPhone is a convergence device. There’s a big difference between the two. In the high-tech world, divergence devices have been spectacular successes. But convergence devices, for the most part, have been spectacular failures.