Them’s The Breaks: Details Suffer In Era Of Mobile-First Publishing

Times like these, the old-school print copy editor in me gets testy.

In an age where major media outlets preach the gospel of mobile first and responsive design, orphans and bad breaks in headlines abound. I’ve heard production editors reason that because there are just so many sizes of screens to account for — desktop and laptop monitors, iPhones, iPads, iPad minis, the Android contingent, etc. — it’s not worth sweating the presentation.

Here are some examples of this problem in the wild:

Examples of bad headline breaks on a homepage

Bad headline breaks with responsive design

Orphans in headlines

Mobile first does not mean mobile only. Mobile traffic may be outpacing desktop traffic, but a substantial percentage of readers still get their news on a larger-display screen. What are they, chopped liver? Don’t bite the fusty hand that feeds you. Don’t abandon the principles you learned in J school.

Desktop User

“She’s using a DESKTOP COMPUTER? How quaint.” (Photo by Caroline Howard)

Second, many content management systems now include the ability to preview across devices. All it takes is a competent developer to set up such CMS tools properly and a competent editor to use them. Don’t have the resources for such tools? Then count your characters manually and create (and enforce) rules for producers.

[callout template=”Aside”]

Samantha’s Incomplete List Of Production No-Nos

The Worst Offenses

Breaking a proper noun at the line:
Ex: The weather outside is frightful, but Dolly
Parton’s entertainment style is delightful

Ex: It’s lovely weather for
a sleigh ride together with

Vast swaths of white space created by badly managed copy (see image above)

Less Egregious But Still Irritating

Breaking a prepositional phrase or verb phrase at the line:
Ex: Police: It’s beginning to
look a lot like Christmas

UPDATE: A talented and thoughtful former colleague from The Dallas Morning News, John Hancock, added some excellent insight into the considerations designers grapple with regarding responsive design. When I can figure out why embeds aren’t working in this post, I’ll add the tweet here. In the meantime, here you go.