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Vin Crosbie Vin Crosbie
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Dorian Benkoil Dorian Benkoil
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Bob Cauthorn Bob Cauthorn
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Ben Compaine Ben Compaine
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Dorian Benkoil senior consultant at Teeming Media. An award-winning journalist and editor, he was a foreign correspondent for AP and Newsweek, and international and managing editor for ABCNews.com. At ABC News he moved to the business side, handling sales integration and business development, before joining Fairchild Publications as General Manager for their Internet division, becoming editorial director for mediabistro.com, then a consultant for Teeming Media in New York. He graduates this year with an MBA from Baruch's Zicklin school of business. Learn more about him at Benkoil.com or his blog - MediaFlect.com.

Robert Cauthorn is a journalist, former vice president of digital media at the San Francisco Chronicle, and was the third recipient of the Newspaper Association of America's prestigious Digital Pioneer Award. He launched one of the first five newspapers web sites in the world and is generally considered to have delivered the first profitable newspaper web site in 1995. Cauthorn has been in the middle of the transition from old media to new and is recognized as frank-talking critic when he believes newspapers stray for their mission. In mid-2004 he became the president of CityTools, LLC a new media startup based in San Francisco.

Ben Compaine has divided his career between the academic world and private business. He was a journalist when manual typewriters were considered state of the art, but also led the conversion of his college newspaper to cold type. He has started and managed weekly newspapers. His dissertation at Temple University in 1977 was about the changing technologies that were going to unsettle the landscape of the staid and low profit newspaper industry. Since then he has focused his research and consulting on examining the forces and trends at work in the information industries. Among his most well-known works (and the name of his blog) is "Who Owns the Media?".

Vin Crosbie has been called "the Practical Futurist" by Folio, the trade journal of the American magazine industry. Editor & Publisher magazine, the trade journal of the American newspaper industry, devoted the Overview chapter of executive research report Digital Delivery of News: A How-to Guide for Publishers to his work. His speech to the National Association of Broadcasters annual conference was one of 24 orations selected by a team of speech professors for publication in the reference book Representative American Speeches 2004-2005. He has keynoted the Seybold Publishing Strategies conference in 2000; co-chaired and co-moderated last year's annual Beyond the Printed Word the digital publishing conference in Vienna; and regularly speaks at most major online news media conferences. He is currently in residence as adjunct professor of visual and interactive communications and senior consultant on executive education in new media at Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, and meanwhile is managing partner of the media consulting firm of Digital Deliverance LLC in Greenwich, Connecticut.
About this blog
Two forces have shattered the news media. Technology is the first. Although media technology is undergoing its greatest change since the day in 1440 when Johannes Gutenberg first inked type, for more than ten years now the news industry has mistaken new technologies merely as electronic ways to distribute otherwise printed or analog products. Estrangement is the second. The news media has lost touch with people's needs and interests during the past 30 years, as demonstrated by rapidly declining readerships of newspapers and audiences of broadcast news. How we rebuild news media appropriate to the 21st Century from the growing rubble of this industry is the subject of this group weblog.
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Rebuilding Media

« Detroit newspapers on verge of being first going less than daily (sort of) | Main | No Need to Make Newspapers Not-for-Profits »

December 16, 2008

Detroit Free Press to offer a robust digital version. But is it enough?

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Posted by Ben Compaine

When I wrote about the expected cut back on home delivery for the Detroit newspapers, the assumption would be that many of the affected customers could access the online sites of the newspapers. I have learned, however, that the alternative to the “paper” paper is a bit more involved. Beyond the traditional Web site, the newspapers will be introducing rather impressive digital editions.

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The digital version is more than a Web site. When initially accessed, the user sees a low resolution rendition of the front page on the left of the screen. Clicking on any article brings up the text of the article on the right. In a touch that tries to preserve the traditional flavor of the print paper, the etxt of articles with a jump actually stop where they would on the front page, followed by a link to the jumped page, but then continues with the rest of the article following. It’s an anachronism—but I can see the rationale for this formatting.

Users also have the option to display two pages across in the layout of the actual newspaper. In this format, the cursor changes to a magnifier, so a click on the low rez image enlarges it to a readable size. Yet another option allows downloading individual sections or even the entire newspaper as a pdf file. (Today’s newspaper was a 46 mb ZIP file). As best as I can tell this still needs some work, as each page is a separate pdf file.

The technology is far more amenable to user preferences than the more static approach taken by YuDu or The Sporting News or other previous digital publications’ digital editions.

The notion behind the digital edition is that it is fixed, being a representation of the print version. It is not updated 24/7. It IS the printed paper, digitally rendered. There is no ink to rub off or newsprint to toss out, but otherwise it has the benefits—pages randomly accessible – and drawbacks—fixed in time—as the print edition. Users are advised to go to the paper’s Web site for updates and breaking news.

I also tried it on my iPhone and it worked well, with the usual caveat of the iPhone’s small screen. But I could use all of the digital version’s functionality. Apparently the digital edition does not use Flash or any other non-browser standard technology.

The digital Free Press (and any other newspaper that adopts a similar technology) won’t appeal to everyone. Nothing does. SmartPhone access can provide some flexibility for mobile use, but is not a satisfying substitute. Reading a digital version, even on a nice widescreen monitor, is confining to a fixed place. But it is not hard to see the possibilities. If compatible with e-readers, such as Amazon’s Kindle or the newly introduced iRex with a 10” “paper” screen, the portability issue and the form factor hurdle recede.

Of course, the technologies only address the economics of the newspaper. They do not solve the enduring bigger question: Who will be paying to buy a newspaper, digital or otherwise?

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Newspapers | Online | Technology


COMMENTS

1. Brian Critchfield on December 19, 2008 2:24 PM writes...

Ben,

Great review of the Detroit Free Press's conversion to digital. Also, to clarify, I work for YUDU Media.

I think opening the article in the side pane when it is clicked is very interesting functionality. I think you bring up some interesting points about the dynamic nature of content on the web today and that most digital editions are exactly that, a digital version of the printed edition.

However, my belief is that there is room for both. As you know from academia, there is a shelf life to printed media that you don't have as much with blogs. You can cite a printed edition more readily in research. Reprinted articles are commonplace. The possibilities are endless.

My personal opinion is that if I am simply browsing the news, a reader or media outlet's website is good enough. If I am looking for good content, I would prefer the digital version of the printed paper. However, with the capabilities of digital publishing today, there are better revenue models with advertising and more compelling forms of content that can be used in the digital edition you can with the printed, such as video, audio, Flash, etc.

Those are a couple of my thoughts anyway. Great post!

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2. news2pdf on December 29, 2008 11:36 AM writes...

If you have an interest in this story about the Detroit newspaper's reduced home delivery, then you might also have an interest in is a free program that compiles full text articles to PDF files that you can read on your computer, smart-phone, PDA, Sony Reader or Kindle.

You can read more about it here:

Http://www.news2pdf.com

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