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Wednesday, February 12, 2014
Digital Media Toolbox

With new tech, don’t let your content be left behind

By Gil Asakawa

Being a gadget freak isn’t a requirement for being a journalist, but these days it helps to have some familiarity with the plethora of new stuff constantly being pushed into the consumer pipeline.

While journalists learn to embrace new tech as part of their jobs, news audiences have also benefitted from the march of progress. Smartphones and tablets have changed the way many people get their news.

The iPad was launched when I worked for MediaNews Group, just a few years ago, but that’s a lifetime — hell, several lifetimes — in the consumer cycle of tech gadgetry. 2010 was the year the tablet was supposed to explode into our consciousness, led by the expectations for the iPad.

I was asked to write a white paper for MediaNews when the iPad launched, to help guide the company into the tablet age.

At the time, e-readers were still a novelty. Sony had sold an e-reader since 2005, but the e-book didn’t really catch on until 2007, when Amazon created its Kindle and made titles available for instant download. By 2010, several other e-readers were available, including Barnes & Noble’s Nook, but they all had black-and-white screens and did little more than let you read books and, in some cases, newspapers on their screens. Under my guidance, the Denver Post and San Jose Mercury News were available on the Kindle and Nook, but it was a laborious process of managing feeds and PDFs.

My white paper noted that along with the first iPad, 2010 would introduce almost a dozen other more advanced e-readers and tablets (which, unlike early e-readers, were little computers). The emerging hardware required media companies to think differently about their content and more important, their content delivery.

My recommendation for the company: Choose carefully the tablet formats that we thought would be market leaders and make sure MediaNews content is available on those devices. I urged the company to embrace the changing digital landscape and be pioneers in the tablet space, designing content specifically to look cool and to take advantage of the capabilities of the new formats.

Of that first class of consumer tablets, the iPad has been most successful and is now, with the iPad Air, on its fifth generation. The Kindle has evolved from a plain e-reader to a popular full-featured tablet with a crisp color screen. Google’s Android operating system has been utilized by a number of companies to great success with new products released in the past couple of years.

The main contenders today are the iPad, the Kindle and several Samsung models, along with a couple of other notable brands (including Microsoft’s Surface), available in several sizes and network connections (Wi-Fi only or cell provider access).

Diving into this new media world of tablets can be pricey. My fully loaded iPad Air cost several hundred dollars more than my HP laptop. Many journalists I know don’t have tablets yet, though many college students I know do own a tablet.

The Denver Post, MediaNews’ flagship newspaper, finally created an app specifically for tablets (using a thirdparty vendor) a couple of years ago. But more than individual apps for every news outlet you read regularly, I find one tool to be the go-to source for a wide variety of my news surfing: Flipbook.

Over the years, I’ve become hooked on Flipboard, and I think many consumers of news will find it’s the best way to keep up with the news of the day. You can customize it for your interests and include regular news sources. Users can also save stories to read later, or create their own “magazines” of content by topic.

In one destination app, Flipboard makes it easy and intuitive to peruse all the news by just “flipping” from page to page, and I can engage with my social networks while in Flipboard.

Mainstream media must realize the importance of Flipboard — and everything that is sure to come that will be better and cooler — and adapt our content to appeal to audiences through these new avenues. It’s the future of our industry.

And how did MediaNews react to my white paper and recommendations to embrace the coming era of tablets? Management decided to wait and see how other media companies do on iPads and other tablets, and then follow their lead.

MediaNews underwent bankruptcy a few months later and recently merged with the Journal Register Company under the management of Digital First Media. I hope Digital First has a clearer view of new technology and can keep up with the future as it arrives. Instead, the company and its journalists may be waiting for someone else to be the pioneer and following in their footsteps.

Gil Asakawa is the student media adviser at the University of Colorado and has worked in online media since 1996. He is the president of the Asian American Journalists Association Denver chapter and Diversity Chairman of SPJ Colorado Pro.

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