This week what my local (Eugene, Oregon) newspaper is doing with an iPad app makes me feel better about the future of journalism in the new online age.
I’ve got a newspaper habit. I begin my day with the local paper. While I make my coffee and gather a breakfast, a browse the headlines, and read the stories that appeal to me.
So what’s changed? This morning instead of going downstairs and grabbing the paper outside of my front door, I turned to my iPad beside my bed and had the paper in front of me five minutes earlier, and in a much more convenient format.
The app itself isn’t the news. It does about the same thing the majors (New York Times, Huffington Post, USA Today, etc.) do: it puts the paper in its real layout onto my iPad. I can scroll around the page with my finger, pinch it to enlarge portions, tap an arrow to go to the next section.
What is a big deal, to me, is that this is a local paper. My local newspaper, the Register Guard. In a town of about 150,000, in a metropolitan area of about 250,000 maximum. And its iPad app. And it is covering local news, as you can see in the illustration: That day’s front page included a governor’s visit to local schools. I would not have gotten that news from any of the majors.
Why do I care? Precisely because it’s not one of the majors. It’s a local newspaper. Its very existence solves some of my long-term concerns:
- I’ve worried that people think social media somehow replaces journalism. Bad idea. Useful for breaking news, of course (there are lots of examples). But investigative journalism? No. Local news? No.
- I’ve worried that major nationwide media (New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, Huffington Post) unintentionally overwhelm the economics local coverage.
- I’ve worried that the advertising model, particularly the classifieds, is threatened by the efficiency and functionality of online ads. And Craig’s List and friends.
- And I’ve worried that investigative journalism, valuable as it is, is hard to do, takes training and experience, and doesn’t happen with the economics of social media. Huffington and NYTimes and friends will hold that up for major issues, but not for local.
They — the owners of the local paper — do charge money for it. The iPad edition is $1.99 per week as an introductory price, and free to subscribers of the physical paper, who pay $16.50 per month. That seems perfectly fair to me. In fact, I approve, because I want them to make enough money to stay in business. And if I subscribe to just the iPad version, it’s cheaper than the physical newspaper. If it were just me, I’d be iPad-only, but I’m not the only newspaper reader in my household.
So this is good news. And with this development, it looks like maybe local coverage in our area will continue even as newsprint becomes scarce and expensive and the physical paper dies out. For more on that local stuff, the illustration below shows the front page of the regional/local section, which is all local news. So there is hope.