Condé Nast, Hearst Magazines, Meredith Corporation, Time Inc. and Wenner Media may be teaming up for a print ad campaign called "The Power of Print," but much of print journalism's future success may hinge on the use of mobile journalism.
Mobile journalism’s rapid climb in popularity has been front and center over the past month, with an unrelenting stream of iPad apps, iPhone apps and other new digital endeavors being sent out into the world by traditionally print news outlets. From Marie Claire to Rupert Murdoch, everyone and their brother seems to be getting on the mobile bandwagon.
The former combined the print and mobile experience in its latest issue by offering readers the chance to take a picture of something in the magazine and share the image or ask questions about it without downloading an app; on the other end of the spectrum, spurning print for mobile only, the latter has big plans to create a magazine exclusively for mobile devices (a magazine which is making moves in terms of hiring and might be News Corp.'s path into the Chinese market). And these are just a few of the approaches on the mobile frontier (see Wine Spectator’s VintageCharts+ iPhone/iPod Touch app, NYT's app platform, Time Inc. iPad apps, Nomad Editions magazine for mobile devices, and even Hearst Magazines’ think tank for apps).
Futurist Ross Dawson says that newspapers will be dead in Australia by 2022, overtaken by mobile news devices. This idea has spreading around the blogosphere from The Australian to Time NewsFeed over the past few days, as Dawson was preparing to expand on this pronouncement at the Australian Newspaper Publishers’ Association’s Future Forum ’10 Thursday afternoon.
Proclamations about the demise of print (in both journalism and publishing in general) have not been in short supply this summer. Earlier this month, on the heels of Amazon’s announcement that Kindle content is outselling physical books, Nicholas Negroponte declared that physical books will be dead in 5 years.
Of course, it isn’t hard to see the advantages of the interactive nature of mobile devices—making use of technology to reach more people, and convey information in a way that it truly engages the reader. It is no wonder that headlines such as "The Web is Dead. Long Live the Internet" in Wired and The Guardian’s "Can apps save news journalism?" have proliferated of late.
The key, however, is how news outlets make use of this technology—whether it is used to aid rather than add to the already chaotic world of the 24-7 news cycle.
Entertainment Weekly, for one, has been on a roll when it comes to digital innovation—in addition to a just-announced YouTube TV Preview Channel, the magazine has implemented digital reforms such as a “Must List” app for iPad and iPhone, two-dimensional barcodes on the print pages to support advertising products and building buzz for movies, and video-in-print ads—efforts that mirror the adventurous personalities of the average EW reader.
In Sarah Perez’s insightful piece on Entertainment Weekly’s digital efforts, the author notes that EW’s willingness to experiment so much with the use of mobile devices indicates a spirit of innovation that may yet increase the magazine’s reach. This approach singles out the magazine as “an example of a print company that’s successfully navigating the waters of the digital age.”
One reader commented, “creating unique content and allowing for free public consumption of it without many limitations or complications actually makes me MORE inclined to buy their magazines.”
The logical next step of this trend is to take mobile journalism to hyperlocal outlets, where the ability to host interactive content about local issues for readers on the go can be extremely helpful. Hyperlocal DC website TBD.com, for example, gives readers the option of getting their news from iPhone and Android apps. For some other basic examples, see the WOWK Mobile Local News App in West Virginia, central Arkansas’s Fox16 News Appand WTTG Fox 5 DC’s apps for Android, BlackBerry and iPhone and the free mobile news app just launched in July by the Brownsville Herald in Texas.
In the context of the local case studies being conducted here at MPI, we have been looking for this kind of technology use, yet it is a rare hyperlocal outlet that takes its mobile journalism efforts to the creativity level of these national and international brands like Entertainment Weekly and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. Perhaps these large-scale operations are leading the way in digital innovation, and hyperlocal outlets will soon follow.
However, all of these recent efforts—large or small—illustrate the need for news outlets to think about how they are using these devices, tailoring the technology to the needs of their own audiences and not just making an app because everyone else is doing it.
The rise of mobile devices also brings up the question of what the endgame is for journalism as a whole: Just what effect are these devices actually have on the journalistic content produced and the demographics of the audience consuming this content, especially considering the research such as this Pew study on minorities primarily using mobile tech for information and communication? For example, MPI’s Washington, D.C. case study mentions the Mobile Black History Project, which is creating a smartphone app that shares historical information about sites significant in black history using augmented reality.
And if mobile devices will overtake print, as Dawson argues, what does that mean for the future of journalism? Will there be no opportunity for the two platforms to work together? These are the questions that will probably take longer than five years, or even 12, to answer.