- Gavan Reilly - http://gavreilly.com -

Journalism’s not dead – just newspapers

I’ve got some time off this week while UCD’s on a mid-term break so in my lazy bedridden mornings, I’ve been catching up on reading, watching, and generally consuming things that I’ve had on the long finger for a bit.

One of the big things on the list – well, not that I considered it a major point, but ‘big’ in the sense that it was 90 minutes long and substantially larger than I’d anticipated – was Steve Jobs’ iPad keynote address.

This brought me nicely to a post [1] on MediaGuardian’s PDA blog [2] featuring five videos on how different magazine or newspaper publishers might use the touch-screen platform that the iPad will offer.

There’s a few varying approaches but these two are my favourites, showing exactly how phenomenal the power of a versatile large, touch-screen interface when combined with the fluidity of omnipresent online connectivity.

The second of these videos – from Sports Illustrated – is a particularly brilliant example of the multimedia experience. The stream of tweets as we watch events like [3] the Six Nations [4] is proof of how we watch TV with our laptops on full pelt. The first one – from Wired – is exactly how media-rich the magazine experience can be made and augmented in a Minority Report-style world of rich data.

Notably, however, there’s no such innovative approach being exhibited by any newspaper – the closest there is is the New York Times playing with tweaked website designs so that its cluttery webpage columns fit slightly neater on a netbook-sized screen.

There’s two reasons for this – one, because no newspaper can afford to devote the requisite resources to probing the practicalities of adapting their content to the platform, and two, because there’s very little with the medium that you can really do.

News is news – by its very nature it’s factual and definitive; there’s only so many ways of stating a certain fact, especially in the current world where a single two-sentence press release with only one nugget of information serves as the substantive for a news story. Spending huge money developing a touchscreen platform doesn’t make sense when, if you put your content behind a paywall [5] (and we’ve all seen how brilliantly that’s worked before! [6]…), users will simply wander along to another free alternative – in particular the BBC, which is never ever going to go behind a paywall – to get the same nugget of information.

News is information and information is free. People will pay for magazine content because with magazines you buy an experience: as the Wired rep in the first video says, you pick up a magazine because you believe in the quality of the edit.

When the iPad hits the streets and matures – probably in about a year’s time when the second-generation model comes along or where mainstream magazines have adopted a wholescale dual-platform model – we’ll see just how sustainable the newspaper business might possibly be. Personally I wouldn’t be wild about holding my breath.