Guardian US innovation lab to explore new ideas in mobile, reader engagement

journalism / Article

Rachel White is director of philanthropic and strategic projects for Guardian News & Media. Knight Foundation is supporting a new innovation lab at the Guardian as part of its efforts to help news organizations establish long-term sustainability in the digital age and to advance journalism excellence.

The last 10 years have seen seismic changes in the way people consume news—from print, to digital, to mobile, all in the course of a decade. And at the Guardian, we’ve long been regarded as a pioneer, embracing such changes before others, and innovating to find new ways to engage with our readers as their habits have shifted and evolved.

We launched our first Web presence way back in 1995. We were one of the first news organizations to go digital-first in 2011. Our groundbreaking open approach takes advantage of the social nature of the Web, sharing news, debates and ideas with readers across the globe. And now we’re at the forefront of thinking about how to take advantage of the new opportunities presented by the growth of mobile.

Mobile penetration is rising. And rising. Just five years ago owning a smartphone was the preserve of the few, not the many; now forecasts suggest that by 2020 70 percent of the world’s population will own one. 

We’re already taking advantage of this: Today over half our traffic comes from people using a mobile device. And the shift to mobile has had huge implications for the way we think about our journalism, because it signals not simply a change in platform but a fundamental shift in reader behavior.

We know that conversations no longer happen exclusively on publishers’ own platforms; they happen on the social Web. We understand this and want to be where our readers are, engaging them in our journalism, and further innovation on mobile is crucial to achieving this.

That’s why we’re so excited to be launching a new mobile innovation lab, thanks to the support of Knight Foundation. Based in the heart of our U.S. newsroom, the lab will build on our existing thinking about mobile journalism, and on partnerships such as our work with Facebook to test their Instant Articles tool and with Apple on the launch of “News.”

The lab will be at the leading edge of how we are experimenting with how journalism can evolve on mobile. It will see a team of free-thinking, multi-skilled reporters, developers and engineers working side by side with our main U.S. news desk to find new and engaging ways to bring the Guardian to life on mobile, for audiences in America, and around the world.

Our U.S. newsroom has a strong heritage of doing things differently, of pioneering new ways of using digital journalism to tell stories and to engage with audiences, and rethinking what the Guardian can be in a digital-only form. This makes it the perfect setting in which to create our new mobile innovation lab and take our experimentation to another level.

The lab will explore how mobile requires restructuring the newsroom at all levels, including the processes of newsgathering, reporting, publishing and citizen engagement. They will test assumptions by asking questions such as whether “atomization” of the news actually helps readers; can mobile lessen the gap between reporter and citizen; how do the needs of smartphone and tablet readers differ; how can we better bring multimedia stories to life on mobile; and how can mobile workflows be integrated into current newsroom practices?

In keeping with our open strategy, our lab will work entirely in the open and will share its data and research to benefit the wider news industry. Our team will talk openly about the tools, formats and trends they create and discover; and will develop collaborative models of evaluation and measurement.

It’s an amazing privilege for us to have the support from Knight Foundation to help us push accepted thinking on the opportunities that mobile presents for journalism. It gives us the time and the resources to experiment to figure out the models we need to adopt, the tools we need to create and the thinking we need to employ to ensure Guardian journalism is sustainable for many years to come.

We’re very excited to see what the team will find out, what they will create, and how they will share their thoughts with the wider industry so that, together with Knight Foundation, we can ensure quality journalism flourishes in the mobile world.

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