The road to 2013: A timeline for newspapers

By Clyde Bentley on February 5, 2010 4 Comments

Clyde Bentley, 2009-2010 Fellow

When I first saw Gartner Research's list of predictions for IT organizations and the people they serve, I was amused.  Guessing games are always fun. As I read on, I became concerned.  Then a bit afraid.

But now I'm just fired up for a challenge.

Gartner is no slouch at forecasting trends in technology and business using sophisticated research tools to make more-than-educated guesses.  This year's predictions ranged from India taking the lead in cloud aggregation to Internet marketing coming under government regulation.

I started to pay closer attention when Gartner predicted that by 2014 more than 3 billion people will b er able to transact via mobile or the Web and that by 2015 context will  have the same influence on mobile services that search has on Web services.  And then they hit me:

By 2013, mobile phones will overtake PCs as the most common Web access device worldwide.

This was no off-the-cuff forecast.  Gartner extrapolated it from statistics showing that the installed base of PCs will reach 1.78 billion by 2013 but the number of smartphones and other browser-equipped phones will hit 1.82 billion and continue to grow faster than PCs into the future.

As a journalist, I respond best to deadlines.  But three years? This is a killer deadline -- within 35 months the whole newspaper industry needs to move its emphasis from the static Web to the mobile Web.  From 17-inch displays to 3-inch displays.  From full keyboard and mouse to one-handed navigation.  And you can't really wait until the deal is done if you want to be a major player in technology.  If Gartner's prediction is accurate, newspapers really have just 18-24 months to position themselves as the leading news content provider for mobile platforms.

To cope with the specter of this rapid change, I used the trick that helped me pull budgets together for years in the business and to actually get a dissertation written when I moved to academia.  I created a timeline, writing bottom to top.  I started with that January 2013 deadline and worked up to the present, inserting the critical tasks newspapers will face.

It's a hellish but doable schedule.  I rather hope you look at it and find a shortcut, but anyway you cut it we must put our mobile strategy efforts in high gear.  The alternative is to let the independent entrepreneurs, the GoogleZon mega companies and the folks with more interest in quick cash than service to society take away our business.  Again.

Bentley's Timeline for Mobile Newspaper Success

February 2010 Gartner predicts mobile will replace PC in Web access by 2013
March 2010 Research  the cell provider/handset type in newspaper's market area
April 2010 Key editors have smartphones
May 2010 Designate mobile editors
June 2010 Mobile edition (MWeb) online content
July 2010 Text-message alert systems activated; reader mobile phone numbers collected
August-September 2010 Train news and ad staff on mobile potential
October 2010 Have apps for iPhone, Android, Blackberry and Symbian
November-December 2010 Offer mobile coupons via text and mobile Web
January 2011 Ready to receive mobile voice, text and image submissions from the public
February 2011 Reporters have phones that can capture image, video and sound and deliver it to the home office
March-April 2011 Integrate mobile content and commerce: Bar code advertising, ticket sales
May-June 2011 Optimize MWeb/app editions that take advantage of GMS, return text, text-to-voice delivery 
July-August 2011 Provide niche M-news: Smoke-break wraps, during-game scores, pre-commute weather
September-October 2011 Offer location-based feature stories/videos/ads
November 2011 Link readers into mobile social networks with "find friends nearby" ability
December 2011 Offer location-based feature stories/videos/ads
January 2012 Newspapers take the lead as top mobile news provider
February-March 2012 Provide just-in-time comics, mobile games
April-May 2012 Provide mobile guide/help/find services
June-July 2012 Offer full-length books and longform features for mobile reading
August-September 2012 Provide augmented reality stories and ads
October -November 2012 Offer Web-enabled handsets as subscription premiums
December 2012 Integrate mobile and online newsroom operations
January 2013  More people access the Web by mobile than by PC

The Reynolds Journalism Institute will host a strategy conference April 19-20 to help newspapers move into the mobile era.  If you are interested in attending or presenting, contact me at

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Topics Innovation


Can you define mobile? I saw

Can you define mobile? I saw research recently (forget where, sorry) that shows stripped down mobile websites are used less, and preferred less, by users of phone web browsers than the full normal website page. Indeed, on my iPhone I browse the NY Times and other news sites easily with the Safari browser, pinching the screen to zoom into a story headline then click.

If this preference for non-mobile stripped down sites is true, then the problem really about relevant content, reaching readers in meaningful ways, and finding a revenue model that works.

In addition, the other aspect of mobile telephone computing, of course, are iPhone apps and Android apps. It is a mostly non-trivial task for a news outlet to build or buy a reader app for either platform that pulls news feeds and displays them on the readers phone without need of a web browser. Hence my question about how you define mobile.

"Mobile" is a term about as

"Mobile" is a term about as broad as "online," but at its core refers to computer-like or voice communication you can do completely unattached from a physical facility.

But in this case, they were talking about the mobile-accessed Web, not pages formatted for one device or another. Even most apps access the Web via a built-in browser. Note that Gartner talked about browser-equipped non-smartphones. Those may not use the same apps.

The revenue issue is a big challenge in any format. We don't have much time to come up with answers, however.

Join mobile editors' discussion list at MOBILENEWS@PO.MISSOURI.EDU

While I think mobile is part

While I think mobile is part of the web's future, I think the more pressing reality is that people expect information to be delivered to them, whether mobile or on a PC, rather than having to browse around a web site to find it. For online newspapers that makes the whole advertising revenue stream even more suspect than it is now.

For print newspapers, its about time they acknowledged they are in the print advertising business. They ought to be trying to figure out how the internet can enhance that business and improve the return for their advertisers. How do you create a valuable audience for your print advertisers in the age of the internet? It doesn't appear the answer is going to be by providing day-old "news" when people can get the fresh-baked stuff online.

As a J-School grad and member

As a J-School grad and member of the telecommunications industry I assure you Clyde Bentley is absolutely on target. When 4G unveils in 2011 it will offer rich content as well as speed. I read a number of newspapers on my Droid, as well as broadcast news. The best things newspapers can do to reaffirm themselves as leaders in the mobile news industry will be to equip reporters with proper mobile devices and offer both Search and Alert functions for users who want specific niche news. General readers like me will read the whole paper or at least whole sections.

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