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Teaching Online Journalism

Boring old news media: Still boring, still old

I was just rereading a post by Steve Yelvington — whom I used to call the smartest man in online journalism (and he may still be — it’s just that there are so many more people in it now, it’s hard to name just one).

Steve’s post (A tablet revolution: It’s like it’s the ’70s all over again) has several excellent points that made me remember not the 1970s but the mid- and late 1990s, when news media companies could have invented Craigslist — but of course, they didn’t. When they could have invented YouTube — and didn’t. When they could have made websites that were irresistibly fun and interesting so that people would come to depend on them — oh, yeah, somehow they didn’t do that.

Why didn’t companies with loads of talent and profit margins in excess of 20 percent seize the reins and gallop confidently into the new territories of the Web?

Steve notes that Apple’s iPad “is just an opening round” in the latest chapter of a story that began with a big, wide selection of tacky little plastic “home computers” in the 1970s. Tablet computers have been coming out (from various manufacturers) for several years already; it’s just that Apple’s phenomenal marketing budget and sexy operating system have made the iPad a household word (at least in North America).

So Steve points out that this is no time to sit on the sidelines and watch the revolution pass you by — it’s time to experiment, test, and try new things. And don’t think the iPad is the only platform — there’s lots more on the way! As sexy as the iPad is, it’s not a sure win (Steve asks us to remember the failure of Betamax video and the Amiga computer).

While reading Steve’s post, I was thinking about news organizations and the question I asked in paragraph 3 here. Some news organizations are experimenting with iPad apps — and mobile apps for several non-Apple platforms such as the Android. Bully for them.

What about trying new things? I have yet to see an app from any news organization — for a phone or the iPad — that spells innovation. Steve refers to “completely new information experiences that don’t even vaguely resemble old products,” but whatever these are, I have not seen them. A new way to read a magazine? It looks cool, but it’s still a magazine.

After a few minutes with the eye candy, you’re back to reading text. Plus a little “Like” and “Retweet” action, which is hardly new or innovative.

As a phenomenal platform for viewing great still photography, the iPad blows my mind. But sliding photos back and forth and dragging little thumbnails around to make my own “playlist”? Okay, thanks, but that’s a far cry from a “completely new information experience.”

Taking risks and being smart about it — that’s what’s missing in news organizations.


Categories: design, ideas, multimedia


6 Comments

  1. Elaine says:

    Take yourself back just two short years to the Newspaper Next project (full disclosure: I was part of it). Clayton Christensen’s research shows overwhelmingly that it’s exactly BECAUSE boring old media was still profitable that they saw no incentive to innovate. Traditional-media executives were hired to protect and grow those profits, and innovation would have been far too risky. The scenario plays out exactly that way not just in media but in every legacy industry threatened by disruptive innovation. And, sadly, we have yet to see a legacy industry that can disrupt itself effectively, media included.

  2. Scott says:

    I agree with a lot of this, especially with regards to the ‘apps’ news organisations are putting out. For me, these should provide me with an incentive not to simply use their website in Safari.

    The Guardian’s does a good job of this by providing a better experience than the mobile site with images and the like. However we’re still just getting text; no links or images in the text. Ultimately this just detracts from the experience, however it’s a lot better than the BBC’s app in my experience. This is a prime example of what news organisations are doing: rehashing content without doing anything special to warrant not using the site. Joystiq’s app is quite good, mainly because it eliminates navigating through the mess of a site to find something relevant!

    However while all the talk of innovation is admirable, what innovations could they use? Due to ever decreasing funds newspapers are less and less likely to take a potentially catastrophic plunge and do something outside of the norm. The paywall isn’t catching on outside of NewsCorp (with the exception of ITV, which obviously isn’t a paper), and everyone’s jumping on the bandwagon of the iPad – as you said.

    But what can newspapers do? Sadly I can’t think of anything, and I’d be interested to know if you can. I’m sure the newspapers would too!

  3. Bill Garber says:

    Mindy … you are one clear thinking journalist … I hope Steve comes up with samples of ‘completely new information experiences’ too!

    For sure, it is the experience, not the mere information that is going to drive future media business success.

    And despite what Wired thinkers are thinking, streaming pages with your finger on an iPad is no more going to sell subscriptions than FX sells movies any more. We are all way past being impressed with technological wow.

    We are all looking for substance.

  4. Mike Lyons says:

    Great post Mindy. It’s not in the best interest of large media companies to innovate int he way your are talking about. See Videotex (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Videotex). Large newspaper companies determined that it would be no threat so they abandoned it. They had it in their grasp – all of these things that seem so logical now – and they didn’t see it. For me, this is where the antagonistic relationship with disruptive technology really gets traction. They were not interested in innovating. I don’t think much has changed.

  5. Chris says:

    Great Post …I commented on it here:

    http://www.kobranzone.com/2010/10/lindsay-lohan-doesnt-live-in-vacuum.html

    I wish more publishers were playing with the RTW and innovating around deep dives on topics…

  6. [...] thought about this divergent discussion while reading Mindy McAdams’ recent lament about lack of innovation in mobile/iPad news apps (emphases hers): I have yet to see an app from any news organization — for a phone or the iPad [...]

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