Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Whittier Daily News gets its first tablet edition as Digital First Media rushes out similar apps across its titles

There are many reasons, I suppose, why media observers like to compare the newspaper industry to the Titanic. The image of "rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titanic" is pretty apt when you see the moves many newspaper executives make.

For me, it's the image of the giant ship slowly but surely making its way towards that iceberg. You can see it, they can see it, but sounding the alarm can't seem to make the ship change course.

In the case of Digital First Media, what is added to the scene are the media consultants, a group of high profile media gurus who are so sure that building newsroom caf├ęs and reshuffling the reporting staffs (while eliminating many of the actual positions) is somehow a creative solution to declining revenues and reader migration to digital platforms. The irony has always been that Digital First is easily the most digitally backward of the newspaper media properties out there.

Recently the company decided to move all of their newspaper properties onto the same tablet publishing solution. The move is similar to what one hears about AOL's Patch: a top down approach that makes all the properties look and act in a similar fashion at a time when experimentation across the portfolio is most needed.

In this case, the Digital First properties are adopting the same iPad strategy: an outsourced app that has no revenue model and that is simply a reformatted version of the newspaper's outdated looking websites.
The apps, built by Spreed, mimic the Flipboard look, the very fashion forward way to arrange boxes on a tablet display.

The latest of these Spreed-built iPad apps was released late yesterday for the Whittier Daily News. As someone who used to live in Southern California, Whittier is famous for 1987 earthquake that was centered there.

This app won't shake up the publishing world. In fact, it is doubtful that many will even notice its release. But by releasing iPad apps for all of its newspaper properties quickly, and in such a casual and meaningless way, it may be that Digital First Media is attempting to positions their properties better for  sale. After all, it looks nice in a black book to be able to report that the properties being offered now all have recently released iPad editions, even if those iPad editions look like this (above-left).