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May 28 2010

13:24

iPad or why pad? Mixed messages for UK news publishers

For those of you that have been in hiding and didn’t know, Apple’s iPad launched in the UK today with granular reports from the media on who was the first to buy the device to who was the first to emerge from Apple’s London store holding one (hopefully we’ll soon have details of who’s been the first person to leave theirs on the London Underground or to ask for a refund).

Bit of a love-in for the Apple store in the Telegraph’s report:

While braving the cold, the trio were given food and drinks by sympathetic Apple staff with several other customers offering them hundreds of pounds to replace them in line.

As Jake ran into the store, after a countdown, he was greeted by screams and cheers from dozens of excited staff members who hugged and high-fived him before posing for the world’s media.

And plenty of coverage from the Guardian, which, despite having its website on much of Apple’s pre-launch marketing material, has decided not to launch a news app on the device in time for launch. The title did announce today, however, that its Eyewitness photography app has been downloaded more than 90,000 times since the US launch of the product in April.

The Financial Times, as expected, and the Times have jumped onto the new touchscreen bandwagon. The Times iPad edition comes hot on the heels of the launch of its new website earlier this week, though the app’s pricing structure adds another layer to News International’s paywall plans.

Accompanying the Times’ launch, an article on ‘How iPad may make the future of newspapers a different story’, which suggests that:

Many media organisations think that it will give them the opportunity to correct past mistakes with online journalism, allowing them to charge customers for content and in return provide an enriched experience more compelling and interactive than printed newspapers.

Let’s hope the latter does come hand-in-hand with the former to make these news apps something worth paying for. New research from analysts Ovum warns publishers about sticking all their eggs in one Apple-shaped basket and ignoring other devices and a digital strategy addressing all platforms: web, mobile, tablet and future. At least the Financial Times, which is operating a standard, tiered pricing structuring across its various digital outlets, seems to get this. Meanwhile, media journalist Patrick Smith wonders whether you need a news app at all, arguing that apps are a convenient, but limited way of publishing information.

As a Financial Times report earlier this week says:

[M]any of the most popular European publications on the web – including the Guardian, the Daily Mail and the Economist – will not be in the App Store when the iPad launches in nine countries this Friday.

Digital publishers, analysts and design experts say the first publishers’ apps are confusing to use or boringly faithful to the offline product, and are not being used as much as hoped.

Media organisations might get the charging for content right this time around (although the Times’ model leaves some questions), but will content and designing to make the most of the iPad’s features be overlooked by some news organisations in the rush?

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May 21 2010

10:17

Explained: iPad’s role in the media ecosystem

This is an edited version of a post that first appeared on Kristine Lowe’s blog, Notes on the Changing Media Landscape.

Since its launch earlier this year, the media industry has been abuzz with talk of how the iPad will change the industry. As a media journalist I’ve already attended quite a few talks and read an extraordinary number of articles on the subject, but INMAs Tablet summit in Oxford this week gave me new insights into what kind of role the iPad might come to play in the media ecosystem.

Convenience or uniqueness?

That is not to say that there is a consensus about this role. For instance the Guardian’s Jonathan Moore said his newspaper saw the iPad more as convenience device, it’s iPad app offering pretty much the same content as you find on the Guardian’s news site, while the majority of the presenters saw it as the perfect device for offering unique content people were willing to pay for.

“This has to be a premium content. If you approach it as something free: let’s just turn off the light and go home. It has to be premium, paid for, from day one,” said Juan Senõr, Innovation in Newspapers UK director. He asserted that we can’t talk about tablets without talking about the rest of our platforms, pointing out that you have to have different content for different platforms.

“Tablet and paper will be premium, provide background etc, while we have to see online and mobile as mass media. You will have to charge perhaps five times more for print paper and for tablets,” he said, citing some of the products Innovation in Newspapers has remade, especially the successful Portuguese daily news magazine I, as perfect journalism to be transformed to the iPad.

Long form journalism and the ‘lean-back device’

Media consultant and commentator Frédéric Filloux said the iPad offers long-form journalism a new chance. In his view, it provides three major rehabilitations: 1) Re-bundling the news. Tablets and mobile can re-bundle content, 2) Visual 3) Length.

He also sees the device as being primarily about media consumption rather than production: “The iPad is the lean-back device: it’s a consumption device rather than a production device – it has nothing in common with a lean-forward device such as the PC.” Read more of his thoughts on this here.

Jon Einar Sandvand, digital strategist at Aftenposten, Norway’s newspaper of record, said iPad readership figures suggested it was most used in the evening, between six and eight.

Juan Antonio Giner, president and founder of Innovation in Newspapers, reiterates similar ideas to Filloux on media consumption: “Research suggests iPad will become the leading platform in terms of how much people spend consuming media on it. It is a media consumption device. If you are a mono-media operation producing second-hand stories you won’t win from iPad: garbage in, garbage out.”

Now, let me confess, I often find that big media conferences tend to focus too much on ideology and too little on how people are actually approaching a certain issue or innovation, but the Tablet Summit offered some excellent insight into how different news organisations are approaching the iPad.

Among those, the most useful was the very hands-on presentation by Saulo Ribas, creative director at Brazilian Editora Globo’s Epoca Magazine.

Useful iPad tips for publishers

His newspaper wanted to be first in the country with an iPad app, so they built a light version first, and will launch the full version in July. He offered five useful tips for newspapers wanting to develop iPad apps:

    1. It’s an app, not a magazine or newspaper. We have to make the best use of the interface Apple has provided.
    – Good apps are non-linear. You can access content from everywhere in the app.
    – Good apps don’t require users to learn how to use it, or at least not so much. If you need instructions on how to use the app it usually means it’s poorly designed.
    – Good apps have very simple information architecture. Simplify and eliminate the unnecessary
    – Good apps allow the users to leave and then come back to where he left. Try to produce the best reading experience possible
    2. Think about templates not pages. What is the role reserved for the editorial designer in the age of the tablets? If it looks awesome on the iPad it will look awesome on any other tablet.
    3. Personalise: the reader is really in control. Allow the reader to define the settings of the app, the more the better. It’s a big change for us because we’re very attached to our typography in our mags and papers. We have a search view. Can’t be static, people are used to search. We’ve tried to put the basic controls at the bottom of the page.
    4. Technology is content. Have programmers part of the newsroom
    5. Choose the right flow of information inside the iPad app

Who controls the data?

“I do believe Apple wants to become the world’s kiosk. We could end up like the music industry; we do need to be aware of what’s happening. They control pricing and they control customer data – and if you loose those, you loose out,” said Senõr. That Apple also controls the customer data was new to me, but it was also mentioned by one of the other presenters. If that is the case, it sounds very worrying indeed.

Repurposing vs. reinvention

Many industry experts have looked to the iPad as a potential saviour for the media industry. In essence, the sound bite I took away from the Tablet Summit which best answers this proposition was that yes, there is a future life for the news industry if we reinvent, not if we just repurpose.

While I made extensive notes during the summit, Marek Miller was doing such an excellent job of live blogging it that I thought I’d afford myself the luxury of taking some time to reflect a bit on the event before I started writing about it. I will return to a few other thoughts I took away from the event a bit later, but, if you want to read more about the individual presentations, do check Mareks excellent live blog from the event here.

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February 22 2010

08:14

Photojournalism in the age of the Internet


I’ve been working on a presentation I will give next month called “Photojournalism in the age of the Internet.” In the process, I’ve been thinking a lot about how much photojournalism has changed for newspaper photojournalists.

With the rise of the  Internet, traditional photojournalists have been faced with a dilemma. Stay a purist to the craft by clinging to their still cameras or embrace the change by venturing out into the online world by adding video and audio to their storytelling toolboxes.

Back in 2006, I was invited to speak about newspaper multimedia at The Southern Short Course in News Photography conference. During some free time, I dropped in on a panel discussion about the future of photojournalism. The panel was made up of a stellar group of veteran, but mostly old-school photojournalists.  The room was packed, so I stood in the side-shadows taking in the conversation.

An audience member asked whether video was something she needed to learn. After a pause, one panel member said, “I don’t know, why don’t you ask Colin? He’s standing over there.”  All 200 heads turned and looked at me.

My answer made many people squirm in their seats. “Yes,” I said. “You need to learn video. You need to add audio to your pictures and yes you’ll need to embrace change.”

I felt a little uneasy as the questions kept coming at me and not the panel. I could sense that many people thought I was crazy. I started to see the panic in some people’s eyes. One woman volunteered that her editor at a small newspaper was requiring her on a single story to write it, take the photographs and produce a video. An uneasy murmur rose in the room. I could tell, my belief that video was important to the future of online journalism, was  a tough sell in this room of die-hard  photojournalists.

Flash-forward some four years. Whereas, in 2006 I was an anomaly, now most newspaper photojournalists produce some sort of multimedia, be it an audio slideshows or video. J-school programs have finally stopped wallowing in the past and are junking old curriculums for new ones that are multimedia focused.

Looking at the troubling position newspapers are in, one must wonder if all this talk of multimedia storytelling really matters. After all the rounds of layoffs, who has time to shoot video?

There are some days I wonder myself, but I quickly shake off the feeling. I have to remind myself that newspapers are awash in transition. As we near rock bottom, the economy is starting to show some life. I can only hope for some stability to return to the newspaper industry.

Today, if I faced a similar crowd like the one in 2006, I would say the same thing. Learn video storytelling, master audio gathering and editing. Embrace change. The future, I would tell them, is not in the printed-paper, but in the digital delivery that will eventually replace it.

Photojournalists are a curious lot. They are independent, visual thinkers. Most take photographs because they love to shoot and share their work. They know they’ll never get rich on this career choice, but instead find happiness in the people they meet and photograph along the way.

The disruption that online journalism has placed on the photojournalist, whose career choice was based solely on taking still photos for newspapers, has been gut wrenching. “That’s not what I signed up for,” is what I often see posted in forums dealing with the changes facing photojournalists today.

The technology being deployed is slowly changing the definition of what photojournalism is. Newspaper photojournalists are becoming multifaceted visual journalists who can now use a variety of formats to tell a story.

As lean as newspapers are running these days, I think we’re about to get a dose of “oh shit” real soon. Circulation is not coming back. Just look at the downward trend of the last forty years as proof of that. Our readership is dying off and screenagers are just not interested in buying the dead trees we’re selling. I think the last transition will be the messiest. More talented journalists will leave the profession. More photojournalists will become freelance wedding photographers.

What awaits those few who make it across the proverbial burning bridge is anyone’s guess. If I could flash forward four years, I can visualize in my crystal ball a world where newspapers have transitioned most of their subscriber base to the touch screen tablet platform that has suddenly gone white-hot with advertisers.  I predict these multimedia centric devices will need a steady stream of visual content.  And guess what?  Visual journalists, who honed their multimedia skills during newspapers darkest hours, will be there to gladly step up and help feed the daily digital beast.

December 16 2009

09:38

NYTimes.com: Are magazines ready for tablet computers?

Magazine publishers are developing more mature products for iPhones now than when the industry first started making applications for smartphones, argues this article.

The apps were free, the features were a little weak compared to what independent developers could do, and the rich design of print didn’t translate to a touch screen.

But the iPhone edition that Esquire expects to release alongside its January issue will offer robust interactive features, and it won’t be free. The price, $2.99 a month, is small, but it is a big statement.

But can they use this experience to create better products for new tablet computers from the outset?

Full story at this link…

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