How the Smartphone Ushered In a Golden Age of Journalism

by Rachel Baker on August 4, 2014

If you’ve ever wondered about the impact of smartphones on journalism and how people view their news, this is a fantastic article to read. Maybe the newspaper is dying, but journalism certainly isn’t.

When I first arrived in New York, some time back in the last century, I gazed in awe and fascination at subway riders reading The New York Times. Thanks to a precise and universally adopted method of folding the paper (had it been taught in schools?), they could read it and even turn its pages without thrusting them in anyone else’s face. The trick? Folding those big, inky broadsheets into neat little rectangles—roughly the same size, in fact, as an iPad. It’s as if they were trying to turn the newspaper into a mobile device. And that, we can now see, is precisely what news is meant for. Today, New York newspaper origami is an all-but-lost art; straphangers have their eyes glued to their smartphones.

Journalism, however, is holding its own. Statistics from the Times say roughly half of the people who read it now do so with their mobile devices, and that jibes with figures from the latest Pew report on the news media broadly. But if you were to assume that means people have given up reading actual articles and are just snacking instead, you’d be wrong. The Atlantic recently reported that a gorgeously illustrated 6,200-word story on BuzzFeed—which likewise gets about half its readers through mobile devices—not only received more than a million views, it held the attention of smartphone users for an average of more than 25 minutes. (WIRED’s in-depth web offerings have also attracted audiences. A profile of a brilliant Mexican schoolgirl garnered 1.2 million views, 25 percent of them from phones, and readers spent an average of 18 minutes on it.) Little wonder that for every fledgling enterprise like Circa, which generates slick digests of other people’s journalism on the theory that that’s what mobile readers want, you have formerly short-attention-span sites like BuzzFeed and Politico retooling themselves to offer serious, in-depth reporting. “Maybe we’re entering into a new golden age of journalism,” venture capitalist Marc Andreessen mused in a recent blog post, “and we just haven’t recognized it yet.”

How the Smartphone Ushered In a Golden Age of Journalism

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