Monday, April 11, 2011

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette launches paid iPad app; revamped web designed should have been first priority

I don't live in Pittsburgh, so reading the local paper, or visiting the website is not something I would normally do unless I was following a link. But the launch of the first tablet edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette caught my attention as it is one of the few newspapers or magazines that have launched a paid app with free content, usually the opposite of the approach of those publishers trying to monetize their app development.
PGSelect offers readers "breaking news and a selection of the day's top local stories in sports, news, business, lifestyle, arts and entertainment, plus featured editorials and columnists from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette," according to the app's description.

But since the website is free (except for a member's only website – more on that in a minute), one has to wonder about charging for an app. But the cost is only $1.99, while content inside, though somewhat limited, is still free to access.

As for the app itself, its biggest limitation is design, not programming. That is what brought me to the PG website, to see if it resembled the app. No, but clearly the paper is struggling its digital media design team.
And that brought me to the Newseum, to look at the front page of the print edition. I grabbed the screenshot from the Newseum's recently released universal iOS app which is proving incredibly useful.

I suppose you can decide for yourself whether you like the paper's front page design, but I put myself in the place of a Pittsburgh resident and felt that I would be more comfortable reading the print edition that the website – and because of this I could see the merit in the company's first iPad effort. But digital design is not something this paper seems comfortable with.
Comparing the iPad edition to the website, one can see that the content management system is allowing the editors to show a headline and a summary first paragraph. This was apparent in the typo found on the home page in a story about a police taser incident. The typo misspells "Saturday", but this typo is not in the actual story.

In the iPad app, it must be RSS driven as there are headlines, but no summary paragraphs. As a result you get leads like this on a story headlined "Cop shooting charge withdrawn for 1; new suspect charged". The text under the headline reads "Alleghany County police announced today they have charged a new" – yep that's it.

So would a reader be better off simply using their browser to read the paper's website rather than their new app? I wouldn't think so.

The PG website is a modern 980 pixels wide (the NYT website is 970, TNM is 980), but the news hole is 500 pixels in size -- that's all you get. Along the right side is a 300 pixel column for ads which for some reason contains both medium rectangles (which are 300 pixels wide) and a 160 pixel wide skyscraper which floats in the 300 pixel column. The NYT's main news hole at the top of the page is 530 pixels wide, but news can be found on both columns to the right.

My point, of course, is that the PG is in desperate need of rethinking its digital media design work.

So, does a paid app/free content strategy make sense? I think it could for certain publications that offer free content, and where the app adds value. Here, the app does provide a good alternative to the website. But a better designed website would trump an iPad app with limited content.

In the case of the PG, the paper offers free web access, but in 2009 launched PG+, a members-only website that offers interactive features and exclusive content such as blogs, videos, live chats. The cost is $36, and according to a post written last September by Bill Mitchell of Poynter, the experiment has proven modestly successful.

1 Comment:

brian p rossi said...

the post-gazette has a beta of the new site design up at (it will eventually move to