5 Reasons the Sentinel, CNN and Philly.com have added mobile jobs

The Orlando Sentinel, CNN and Philly.com have each created mobile-specific positions in their newsrooms throughout the past year — a move they say has resulted in more traffic to their mobile site, an increase in ad revenue and a deeper understanding of what their audience wants.

Arthur Howe, CEO of Verve, a wireless technology developer that works with media companies, said he’s noticed that more news organizations are creating such positions in an effort to make mobile news delivery a priority.

“You need somebody to be a central manager who has access to all the departments that are going to play a key role in your mobile strategy,” Howe said. “Increasingly, news organizations are understanding that this is going to be essential to their future.”

In talking with various journalists, I discovered five reasons newsrooms need at least one mobile go-to person on staff.

To look at metrics, determine what your mobile audience wants

Creating a mobile manager position doesn’t mean your newsroom has to hire someone new. Janel Jacobs, mobile manager at the Orlando Sentinel, was promoted from within the newsroom for this new position last February. She’s one of eight mobile managers the Tribune company has appointed to each of its daily newspapers in an effort to ramp up their mobile initiatives.

One of Jacobs’ responsibilities includes looking at the metrics of the Sentinel’s mobile site to determine what interests readers most and how to adapt the site accordingly.

“We need to tailor the mobile site to meet the needs of what people are looking for,” Jacobs told me earlier this month while attending Poynter’s “Going Mobile with Your News” seminar. “We’re trying to figure out what content works best for this platform. These are things we weren’t even thinking about a year ago.”

In looking at the metrics, Jacobs has found that the Sentinel’s mobile users tend to favor breaking news, sports and weather stories. When meeting with editors, she shares what she learns from the metrics to help inform their decisions about what content they should put on the mobile site. The site used to be solely RSS-fed but is now a mix of RSS feeds and content that editors hand-select.

“Having a mobile manager has helped everyone realize how we have to treat content differently on the platform,” said Roger Simmons, director of content/East Coast for Tribune Interactive. “I love the fact that at any given time the top stories on the newspaper front page, website and mobile site might all be different — all tailored to the needs and expectations of our readers.”

To drive traffic to your mobile site, shape the development of your mobile app

Tribune Interactive’s Mobile Product Manager Jeff Dalo, who works with Jacobs and the Tribune company’s other mobile managers, tracks the progress of these managers’ mobile sites. Since they were hired, Dalo said, traffic to all of the sites combined has increased by about 30 percent.

Dalo said he believes this is a direct result of having a person in the newsroom who is responsible for growing, and meeting the needs of, a news organization’s mobile news audience.

Analyzing mobile audiences’ needs is a key part of Sarah Schmalbach’s job as mobile product manager of Philly.com — a site that’s owned by the same parent company as The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Philadelphia Daily News. Since Schmalbach was hired internally for the position last August, traffic to Philly.com’s mobile site has grown from less than 1.5 million monthly page views to more than 5.5 million monthly page views.

The increase resulted in part from a feature that Schmalbach helped implement last year to make it easier for people to access’ Philly.com’s mobile content. Now, any time users click on a Philly.com link on Twitter or Facebook while on their mobile device, they’re automatically redirected to the story as it appears on Philly.com’s mobile site.

Philly.com President Ryan Davis recruited a team of University of Pennsylvania business students to help Schmalbach research the highest grossing mobile apps and analyze the subscription & revenue models for each. The students also collected data on the types of apps that have the highest retention rate and on the pricing and feature sets of other successful news apps. Schmalbach, who met with the students throughout the Fall and Spring semesters this past school year, used the data to help shape the development of Philly.com’s iPhone app, which launched in May.

To create a mobile-first mentality in your news organization

Tribune Interactive’s Dalo says one of the reasons Tribune created mobile manager positions in its newsrooms was to help journalists develop a mobile-first mentality. He argues that content should be pushed out first via mobile and then the Web.

“If there’s breaking news, you need to make sure it’s on mobile first and then online,” Dalo said. “By having a mobile manager, you have someone who’s responsible for making sure that happens.”

Increasingly, mobile is where users tend to get their news. A recent Morgan Stanley study found that mobile users will surpass desktop Internet users by 2014 and that the mobile Web is growing much faster than desktop Internet usage ever did.

Howe, of Verve Wireless, said given the acceleration of mobile news, it’s not enough to just have a mobile site or app. “Developing an iPhone app — that’s not having a mobile strategy,” he said. TBD’s Steve Buttry expressed similar thoughts in a recent ASNE presentation, saying that to develop a mobile-first strategy, you need a designated mobile leader in addition to top editors who are focused on mobile opportunities.

To brainstorm ideas and solicit feedback from others in newsroom

Debra Alban is a self-described “mobile evangelist” at CNN, which has an entire team dedicated to mobile. As CNN’s mobile producer, she helps inform others in the newsroom about the network’s mobile strategy and trains them to think about how they can contribute to, and help improve, it.

Alban and the mobile team work with other departments throughout CNN to initiate conversations about mobile. Recently, they led a “Free Thinking Friday” session in which they met with folks from throughout CNN to talk about the projects they’re working on and brainstorm ideas about how to make them better. Alban said these types of brainstorming sessions give people reason to care about mobile.

“We’ve been trying to go around the organization and get them as hyped up as we are,” said Alban, who also attended Poynter’s mobile seminar. “I think it’s been really useful, and people are definitely getting more excited.”

Similarly, Jacobs has tried to enlighten others in the newsroom about the Sentinel’s mobile initiatives. Some people, she said, didn’t know the Sentinel had a mobile site until she talked with them.

To promote your mobile products and help your news org make money from them

As mobile product manager, Schmalbach serves as the liaison between Philly.com’s editorial, marketing, sales and advertising departments. Her work with them has led to several print and online promotional ad campaigns for Philly.com’s mobile site and its iPhone app. It also led to securing TD Bank as the launch sponsor for the month-old app, which costs $1.99 and has gotten about 3,000 downloads.

“One of our long-term mobile goals,” Schmalbach said, “is to make sure that these new products are integrated into pitches so that we can start becoming a medium for advertisers by fully covering the print and digital worlds.”

Findings from a recent Borrell Associates study would suggest that this is a smart goal for newsrooms to have. The study found that local mobile advertising reached $285 million in 2009 and is expected to double this year to $586 million and jump to $11.3 billion by 2014.

Philly.com’s Davis said if you don’t have a mobile go-to person who can help you build this mobile ad revenue, you’re missing out.

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“If you don’t have someone responsible for your mobile content and parts of the revenue side of it, then who’s going to take responsibility for that?” he said by phone. “We hear so much about mobile and it’s because it’s so useful and because it enables us to reach people and places that we never could before. It has tremendous potential.”

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