Thursday, September 6, 2012

MediaNews Group launches a free iPad app for the Contra Costa Times that reformat the paper's website

First let's get the important disclosures out of the way: I used to work for the Contra Costa Times (CCT), though indirectly, through the newspaper chain that once was Lesher Communications. That chain was founded by Dean Lesher, a newspaper man who believed that the East Bay suburban county had great potential and so he launched a chain of papers including The Valley Times, a paper where I served as classified advertising manager, circulation director and finally advertising director.

Lesher was sold to Knight-Ridder. I was long gone when the sale was to McClatchy and onto MediaNews Group. Now MediaNews Group is part of Digital First Media. I am absolutely no fan of either MediaNews Group or Digital First.

OK. now that we are done with that, let's look at this new iPad app edition for the Contra Costa Times.
The new app, Contra Costa Times for iPad, does not start out well – at least from a reader and former employee's perspective. The splash page opens to the CCT's flag which now sports the slogun "An edition of the San Jose Mercury News."

I can't imagine that East Bay residents appreciate that their local newspaper, founded shortly after WWII, is now reduced to being an edition of a paper in another county. Contra Costa county has a population of more than a million people, after all.

But then the app opens up to the front page you see at top-right. Attractive, isn't it?

The new CCT app is another of those news app for the iPad that takes the RSS feeds from the paper's website and re-lays it out for the iPad. The idea is that the paper's website is insufficient for reading in the iPad's browser.

Are they right? Well, I am no fan of any of the newspaper websites produced by Digital First newspapers. The CCT's website is no worse than any of the others and it actually contains ads. So since the newspaper chain is now in the habit of declaring bankruptcy repeatedly I have to assume that the ads were considered something undesirable. You need not worry about ads in the new CCT iPad edition, there aren't any. And the content is free to access, as well.

As I mentioned above, the new app is being supplied by Spreed – don't ask the question why a company that says it is 'digital first' needs to use outside vendors to app development, that would not be polite - and many of the newer apps inside the App Store, including that for the San Jose Mercury News, are coming from the same developer. But there are also apps for California MediaNews Group papers by Technavia, DoApp and other developers, as well. In fact, one of those Technavia apps is an "e-edition" for the CCT.

It's anarchy in the App Store.

Left and Right: well, there is not much to see, is there?

Digital First Media, and by extension MediaNews Group, has been touting its newsroom reorganizations (that generally mean layoffs). The big name media gurus are behind this stuff 100 percent. So much so that another bankruptcy announcement does not seem to faze them in the least. The message is clear, they are not going to let a little thing like financial failure stand in the way of new caf├ęs inside the newsroom (how else will any of the few remaining reporters tied to their desks ever see a reader?). For the supporters of Digital First it is all about debt reduction and streamlining the newsroom.

But I'm a publisher, someone who is always judged by the bottom line. And I, frankly don't see it. How does eliminating ads, giving away content for free, improve the bottom line? How does creating tablet editions through which ever third party vendor walks in the door lead to a unified vision of digital publishing?

As you can see, this stuff gets me mad.