Times New Roaming: is there a mobile future for serious journalism? Just maybe, the answer is “Yes”.

Popular and historic British daily The Times has maintained a “hard paywall” since 2010, yet according to reportage on WARC the flagship national newspaper has seen a surge in usage of its paid-for mobile app since an extensive re-design last year was coupled with a focus on an editions-based schedule.

The Times say there has been a 30% jump in the numbers accessing its mobile app since its move in March 2016 to end ‘instant breaking news’ and instead concentrate on three updates a day – at 9am, 12pm and 5pm.This is a deliberate diversion from current trends, which argue that the future of online news is it’s immediacy. The actual experience of The Times suggests that’s not necessarily the case.In addition, the average number of page views on its mobile app is up 300% since last March, yet tablet traffic hasn’t been cannibalised in the process.

“At the time, some people thought we were crazy. But it’s working,” said Alan Hunter, Head of Digital at The Times, in an interview with Digiday UK.

Reader First, and Mobile First

“Our guiding principles when we started were to be reader-first and mobile-first. I had those things written on a massive whiteboard in the boardroom. We wanted to do what was good for them, not what media commentators thought we should. And it’s working.”

Demonstrating a link between mobile online and the main Times website, Hunter explained that the new publishing schedule has helped to increase engagement on both the mobile app as well as the Times’s main website, which has also seen a healthy 20% rise in its audience over the last year.

In analysis which will fascinate desperate Editors and Management Boards in Australia and around the world, he reported:

“We have a big jump on the evening papers, who go to press at midday. We go at 4.59pm. And it is the following day after news has broken, when the real peak happens, because people come back to us for our authority,” he said.

For example, The Times saw record smartphone traffic, as well as strong numbers on tablet, on the day of the terrorist attack in Westminster last month – and Hunter believes that was because the newspaper resisted pushing out immediate breaking news updates in favour of deeper analysis.

“It’s often the day after [major breaking news] that sets new records for us. It was the same for Brexit and Trump.

It’s the comment and analysts that gets the traffic,” he said.

The Times also attributes the rapid growth it is seeing in its mobile audience to good design and simplicity. As Hunter explained, everything was designed to look good on mobile and give a simplified user experience.

At MOP, we feel this experience should be a “red flag” warning to the “get it out first” rush of most online media outlets today, as well as a “green flag” opportunity for newspapers and news organisations who would like to save and even revive their role in delivering serious, in-depth content. It reveals a hunger for background detail that the behaviour of many newspapers online have eschewed by preferring instant “click bait” to analysis.

Reports of the “death of the newspaper” may have been exaggerated. It’s just possible that, done right, and especially on mobile, it can be reborn.

For more insights into current media trends, call us on 03 9426 5400, or please email us at contact@mo.partners.