The mobile editor is becoming an essential position in a 21st century newsroom. (Flickr Photo by Michael Coghlan)
The mobile editor is becoming an essential position in a 21st century newsroom. (Flickr Photo by Michael Coghlan)
As the number of mobile readers climbs over 50 percent for many newspapers, it is logical that we would infuse mobile thinking throughout the newsroom. Yet, in a majority of newsrooms, the focus is not on mobile. Newsrooms need to start changing this by hiring a mobile editor.

The mobile editor should be sheriff to the news disseminating community.  Better yet, the mobile editor should be a sort of traffic cop, directing cars when the traffic lights are malfunctioning. The position should not be a transitional job that may eventually disappear. Quite the contrary, we are witnessing the infancy of that new position in the newsroom. Growth that involves authority and rank is how I see this position developing.  It's already happening at such newsrooms as The New York Times, The Guardian, The Telegraf, Financial Times and Norway's Aftenposten, among many others globally. The mobile editor is that person we look at for direction.

It is all about direction for the good mobile editors in this multi-platform, media quintet world.  As I conduct seminars and workshops worldwide, I cite the presence of the mobile editor as key in those newsrooms where I see progress in approaching stories in a way that accommodates the individual peculiarities of a specific platform.

The mobile editor is the one person in the newsroom who can guide a story from a Tweet to its potential multimedia possibilities.

We don't consume information the same way on our watch and our tablet, so why should it be presented similarly?  The mobile editor is the person who understands the story and the platforms, and makes sure the delivery takes advantage of what each platform can do to present it more functionally.

Two years ago I predicted in my blog that the next five years are going to be transitional years in most newsrooms globally, a time in which traditional editors either embrace digital, or else. I urged newsroom managers to begin by changing job descriptions, updating the profiles for storytellers and realizing that digital begins long before a story is even conceived.

So, where are we in this area two years later?

To find out, I set out to talk to people in the business who understand the concept and embrace it.

"All newsrooms need catalysts and it is vital that a lot more attention is paid to where audiences are increasingly living. So it is natural, with 30-60% of audiences now consuming journalism on mobile, that there is a push to create mobile editor roles and dedicated mobile swat teams," says Raju Narisetti, senior vice president, strategy for News Corp.

As for qualifications, Narisetti sees the mobile editor as someone who understands the evolving mobile landscape in terms of both technology and user-behavior trends and understands the limitations, challenges and opportunities of a format that typically hovers between 3-7 inches (phones, phablets, tablets.)

"It should be someone who is obsessed about the user experience and how to get more people to consume more of the news-brand's journalism on devices that have become a living extension of how most people live their daily lives," says Narisetti. "The mobile editor, even if confined to a mobile silo, needs to have enough gravitas and authority to be able to convince the newsroom that mobile is our recent present, our current, and our future, and that a majority of humanity will increasingly live more of their lives on mobile."

Narisetti makes a good point when he says that the biggest danger for newsrooms appointing mobile editors is that "they are unintentionally or intentionally creating a silo for what is actually now nearly (or already) the majority of our digital audiences' preferred way to engage with our journalism."

Mobile editing at the Washington Post

The Washington Post has had mobile editors since 2009 when it created an integrated, single print/digital newsroom. Today, many in the industry observe what happens at the Post with interest. I reached out to Cory Haik, executive producer and senior editor, digital.

"At the Post we've been watching the meteoric rise of mobile and knew it was time to position our resourcing in that direction. We started with the tablet, and built out a specific mobile team in the newsroom that was partnered with tech and product for the same purpose," Cory told me.

Cory says she and her colleague Julia Beizer, director of mobile product at the Post, developed an editorial philosophy and design sensibility that took advantage of the small screen to do mobile-first storytelling.

"We also feel very strongly that the future of excellent digital news experiences is the connection of strong news design and strong UX [user experience]. A mobile editor should be able to understand both of those things and consider the user when directing mobile-first content," Cory said.

Qualifications for a mobile editor

  • Understands storytelling well, from the traditional to multimedia.
  • Realizes that a mobile strategy is different from a tablet strategy or from a mobile chat strategy.
  • Knows that mobile success is about a collaborative effort involving storytelling, design, technology, user-experience and advertising.
  • Is keenly aware of the importance of being part of a mobile strategy.  Without that, it is impossible for a mobile editor to perform his job successfully.
  • Serves as an example and mentors members of the newsroom, especially those seeking to transition from traditional to digital storytelling.

Related stories from my blog:

The profile of digitally minded editors in the golden age of journalism

Jobs and the newsroom of the future (actually, of today)

The importance of creating a storytelling palette for mobile

Also of interest:

The Washington Post’s new Web experiment hopes to offer up some serendipity

Meet the Post’s mobile leadership, A Q&A with Cory Haik and Julia Beizer

Dr. Mario Garcia is CEO/Founder, Garcia Media. He is Senior Adviser on News Design at Columbia University's School of Journalism and a member of the Poynter Foundation Board.