Watching a horizontal video on your smartphone often means taking that arduous extra step of turning your phone sideways or perhaps doing the heavy-lifting of enabling auto-rotation. OK, we’re kidding, but only sort of. Anything that forces users to exert themselves is a barrier to consumption and that’s especially true for younger audiences.
Spencer Elliott is the lead digital producer at The Tennessean and says that the majority of their users use mobile devices to access the paper’s digital content. Therefore, he tries to make sure that whatever they produce works well on mobile platforms. When creating interactive content, the rule of thumb is “if it doesn’t work on mobile, don’t do it,” he says.
He acknowledges all of this requires a focused effort. “It’s also key that we keep the mobile experience in mind because most of us work on desktop computers all day, so our workday often doesn’t reflect the way most of our audience consumes our content.”
The Tennessean is part of the USA Today network, so Elliott’s team gets the resources they need to develop an experience tailored to the audience’s preferences. He recognizes that other organizations may not be so lucky. “Smaller outlets are likely to be more reliant on third-party technology or platforms,” Elliott says.
But reaching younger audiences is considered key to the survival of local news by many, and the Reuters Digital News Report from 2019 finds that young people rely on their phones and social media platforms like Snapchat and Instagram to get much of their news and information. Elliott says that, at The Tennessean, they’re responding in key ways — for example, they put special focus on vertical videos for platforms like Instagram or TikTok.
Elliott says creating vertical stories begins with concentrated planning. Because vertical videos require special consideration of the placement of text and visuals, producing them cannot be merely an afterthought.
Elliott doesn’t think the future lies only in vertical videos, but he says, “I believe phones will continue to take over as the way most people consume information online, whether that’s directly from news sites or from search engines, aggregators and social platforms. And news outlets will continue to adjust accordingly.”
For now, Elliott only sees one big disadvantage of vertical storytelling for himself. “As someone who likes to make maps, I am often envious of my peers in Indiana and Alabama – their states are much more vertical-friendly than Tennessee, which is as horizontal is it gets.”
For a good primer on producing vertical videos, check out this post from Deborah Potter at AdvancingTheStory.com.