Thursday, March 4, 2010

Newspapers continue to live in a print bubble; mobile media apps offer an opportunity to break loose

Yesterday I looked at some of the new apps out for the iPhone including the Washington Post's first iPhone attempt. Overall, one can see which newspaper companies are taking the medium seriously and which simply are letting vendors supply them with a quick solution so they can claim "we're on the iPhone, too!"

The Post app has some nice features and will probably grow into a very good app based on the commitment shown by Goli Sheikholeslami, the Post's head of digital.

Over the past year and a half of using news apps I have been struck with one fact, though: newspapers are as unimaginative on mobile media as they are online. Rather than looking at the platform and adjusting their content, newspapers continue to look at their content and then simply port over what they think will work. Building an app for the iPhone or Android presents new opportunities to consider content and revenue options that are not possible in print.

Political GPS, one of many specialty apps to be found on the iPhone.  ☞

Here is a simple example: aggregation. No, not aggregation of content such as local news, but aggregation of mobile capabilities. Take political news, for instance. The Times and Post do a fantastic job of presenting the activities of Congress in print and online. But print limitations generally prevent the newspapers from running long columns of roll call votes. Sometimes these roll call votes can be found online -- but only occasionally. But will this content appear on the paper's mobile app?

Enter the entrepreneurial app developer. Thomas Huntington is one such developer. His Political GPS app allows the user to see information on their Congressmen, get voting records, contact their representative via phone or e-mail, get texts of current legislation as well as past legislation back to the 106th Congress (today's Congress is the 110th, by the way), and share results found via Facebook, Twitter or e-mail.

Wouldn't this kind of information be great to incorporate into the app of the newspaper of record for the nation's capitol? Maybe, maybe not -- but I can tell you that a small developer of iPhone apps would not require millions of dollars to be persuaded to cash out to (or team up with) a big city newspaper.

Back in January I interviewed Richard Farley, publisher of RF Football, a soccer blog. (The interview ran on our sister site, The thought struck me that aggregating sports content through working with bloggers and microsites would an attractive feature for many papers online. Including Farley's content, or that of Brian Quarstad (a Minnesota soccer blogger) makes the newspaper's content online that much richer. More importantly, it makes the newspaper's a portal instead of just a destination site.

Firms such as Outside.In aggregate local news content for newspaper publishers, allowing them to create local news pages online. (I interviewed Camilla Cho, v.p. of business development, and will have the interview on the site next week.) But this content, as deep as it is, only involves local, not national sports, entertainment, and the like.  But go onto iTunes; what new features could a news organization incorporate into their own mobile product?
Image and video hosting by TinyPic

☜  Emergency Room Locator, another useful iPhone app.

Going back to that political app . . . there are over 150 apps that can be found if you search for "Congress" in iTunes. Not one comes from a newspaper. And those that come from online entities like Politico are simply news readers just like most newspaper apps.

Newspapers, you've let the competition steal your classifieds, aggregators are taking your content, its time to tables and consider mobile as a great opportunity to rethink what a newspaper can deliver.