Responsive Design – Publicists and Editors Be Warned

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As publicists we work tirelessly to get our clients the best possible coverage. We strategize, develop messaging, media train, customize pitches, nurture relationships, and capitalize on trends, but at a certain point it is out of our control. We have to trust the writers we work with, and they in turn have to trust their editors. At the end of the day, you’ve done your best, you hold your breath and wait – maybe an hour, a day, or six months for the coverage to publish. Many times, the final article doesn’t make your client happy: why did I only get one quote? Why wasn’t our company named first in the list of market players? Why wasn’t the picture of our product used? Where is my site link?, etc. And then it’s our job to explain, reason, and justify why certain editorial decisions were made. Sometimes, we are lucky enough to gain insight from the writer we worked with, but often the editor or photo editor doing the final layout took liberties with which content was included and how it was displayed (just doing their job), leaving us without an explanation. I’m here to warn everyone – publicists and journalists – that this could get worse for all of us moving forward simply because of two little words: Responsive design.

The Future of Online Publishing: Responsive Design

Normally, I only care about website design on a surface level – my agency, 451 Marketing, has an entire creative team that specializes in that. However, in the February 17th Wooden Horse Magazine media News  e-newsletter, Meg Weaver suggested that publicists should be worried about the editorial implications of responsive design. This technology optimizes website layout and content for the reader based on how it is being consumed (tablet, PC, mobile, laptop) and is quickly being adopted by publishers. Weaver reports, “Over the next few months, all of Hearst Digital Media‘s titles are getting a new look, starting with and” Similarly, released its responsive design site in December 2011, and in October 2012, became the first global news site to roll out a fully responsive redesign optimized for mobile and tablet browsing. Responsive design: It’s the future of site design and the future of publishing.

Why worry? Editorial Implications of Responsive Design

Weaver suggests that what has started as something helpful for the reader could lead to the following, “Later, a magazine could create several different versions of an article with different headlines and images to appeal to different site visitors.” Not so bad, right? Think again. Weaver predicts that if the content is “learning” readers’ interests and providing them with what they like, eventually readers will cease to be challenged, enlightened or inspired. “And soon, the current problems magazine publishers face with dwindling print circulations, may soon seem quaint in view of plummeting website visitors.”  This is concerning, but worse is that publishers without a smart editorial plan in place will effectively make designers and developers into editors.

What happens when you take content written for a website and “shift” it to display on smaller screens? Content gets moved, hidden, or chopped altogether.  This Content Strategy and Responsive Design post from Brain Traffic’s Sean Tubridy goes into further detail. How does a designer know which few keywords to keep in the headline across layouts? How does a developer know which image is the most compelling? Side bars – forget about it – those will likely be dropped altogether.  Jared M. Spool, founder of User Interface Engineering, outlines in this article the key stages to, “Devising a Strategy for Responsive Design.” If the editorial process ends with the final layout of a single article across each device being determined by someone without editorial experience, ultimately the content, the reader, the writer, and even the publicist will suffer. The scenario I described at the start of this post will become more frequent and likely be more egregious for the brands we represent.  One last caveat, there’s the fact that advertisers (who keep publishers in business) aren’t up to speed yet with technological requirements of responsive design. Now, I think we can all see the implications of this hiccup.

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