The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

December 11, 2011

Sunday forum: Digital journalism

Digital pioneer looks at new way of reading newspapers

From staff reports

— Roger Fidler refuses to start the day without the feel of a real newspaper in his hands. In his case, it’s the Columbia Daily Tribune or the Missourian. After all, Columbia is where he lives.

Oh, and he also reads The New York Times in print.

But, later in the day, when the recliner beckons, Fidler may read a dozen or so other newspapers using a media tablet.

Fidler is an internationally recognized new media pioneer and visionary. In fact, he knew all the way back in 1981 that someday tablets would be in vogue.

As director of new media for Knight-Ridder Inc. in the 1990s, he pursued his vision at the company’s Information Design Laboratory in Boulder, Colo. In 1994, his team at the lab produced a video titled “The Tablet Newspaper: A Vision for the Future” that demonstrated how people might one day read newspapers and magazines on tablets. The video has gone viral on the Web since the announcement of the Apple iPad.

As program director for digital publishing at the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri, Fidler coordinates digital publishing research projects and is conducting continuous surveys on how tablet owners use the devices. He spoke last week at The Associated Press editor and publisher’s convention about the survey results, and how tablets are reshaping the way America writes and reads news.

Those participating in the latest survey with results available — one conducted in the spring of this year — said the most frequently used apps on their iPads were: Safari, mail, The New York Times, USA Today, AP News, Weather Central, Flipboard, The Wall Street Journal, the Kindle e-reader and Facebook.

Most tablet readers use their iPads in the evening between 8 and 11 p.m. The next most popular time was between 5 and 8 a.m.

Reading newspapers and catching up on the news from aggregated sources topped the list in the survey responses. Fidler was quick to point out, however, that many of those surveyed had backgrounds within the news industry. Some 60 newspapers across the country have designed a tablet version of their paper.

“The good thing we’re seeing is that online readers, who read the news on tablets, are downloading and reading the lengthy versions of stories. They want the in-depth coverage,” Fidler said. “They want investigative reports. In many ways, the use of tablets are returning us to quality journalism, rather than just scanning headlines.”

The good news, Fidler says, is that the price of media tablets is expected to go down in price, with the iPad II now costing about $499, expected to be sold for between $300 and $400 by the end of 2012.

But Fidler also pointed out that print newspapers continue to be the only reliable means of preserving documents for the ages.

“Guess what? All those floppy disks I save are irrelevant. There’s nothing anymore that will read them,” he said.

Questions and answers

In a question-and-answer column written by Brian Cubbison with The Syracuse Post-Standard online newspaper, Fidler talks about the digital age of newspaper.

Q: For practical purposes, what are the differences between an e-reader, a tablet and a tablet computer?

Fidler: E-readers are single-purpose mobile platforms designed mainly for downloading and reading digital books, periodicals and documents. They often are described as “green” alternatives to ink printed on paper.

Tablet PCs have been on the market since 2002. They are essentially laptop computers with touch screens. Most are convertible models with attached keyboards that let users rotate the display. Slate models have detachable keyboards.

The Apple iPad tablet is essentially a super-sized version of Apple’s popular iPod Touch and iPhone. It blends attributes of e-readers and tablet PCs. Like an e-reader, it is relatively simple, easy to use and comfortable for reading; like a tablet PC, it is a multipurpose mobile platform with a full-color touch screen.

Q: What kept the original newspaper tablet from taking off in popularity at that time?

Fidler: When I created my first mock-up of a touch-screen tablet displaying a digital newspaper edition in 1981, the IBM PC had not yet been introduced. That year, I predicted in an article I wrote for a special report on the future of newspapers that my vision of reading hypermedia newspapers on tablets (I called them flat screens) would be a reality by the year 2000. I believed then that it would take 10 to 15 years to develop the essential technologies required to produce thin, lightweight magazine-size mobile reading devices with high-resolution, full-color touch screens. Most of the technologies were developed in the 1990s, but it took until now to bring the manufacturing costs down to where the devices could be marketed at prices consumers would consider reasonable.

Q: How can newspapers or magazines compete on the same device that also has movies, live TV or the whole Internet?

Fidler: The iPad is just a microcosm of the real world. Every form of media is competing with every other form for consumer time and attention, and ultimately for revenues. The ever-growing array of new platforms and applications spawned by the Internet and broadband wireless communication has dramatically accelerated the fragmentation of audiences and media. Newspapers and magazines are no longer confined to a single platform (print); they must now compete as multiplatform content providers.

Q: What e-readers, tablets and computers do you use in daily life?

Fidler: I’m obviously not a typical consumer. My job requires that I evaluate every wireless e-reader and tablet that comes on the market. I also routinely use a MacBook Pro, iPhone and iPod in my daily life.

Q: Do you still read a newspaper in paper form and why?

Fidler: My wife and I still read the ink-on-paper editions of a local newspaper and The New York Times every morning with breakfast. The reason mostly has to do with our age and lifestyle. We don’t have children and we don’t have long commutes, so we have more time for reading in the morning. We enjoy the relaxed reading experience provided by printed newspapers.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to say about tablets?

Fidler: I believe there is a large market for mobile reading devices that adhere to the K.I.S.S. principle: Keep It Simple Stupid.