Does your daily newspaper offer romance novels on the side? How about an interactive evening edition for the iPad?
As media innovation increasingly targets an on-demand culture, these were among the projects that attracted interest at the 13th International Symposium on Online Journalism (ISOJ), where hundreds of journalists, media executives, and academics gathered in April to exchange research and ideas about disruptions in journalism and global reactions to them.
The conference, hosted by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas at the University of Texas at Austin, reliably draws a mix of professional news producers and high-level researchers. In addition to the continuing need for innovation and entrepreneurialism, many of this year’s speakers emphasized the importance of addressing the challenges presented by the rise of mobile devices.
When it comes to finding opportunities for revenue, the attitude increasingly is "why not?" That’s the case at the Inquirer Group, one of the largest media companies in the Philippines, where JV Rufino heads the mobile and books group.
His group has tried a number of approaches in its foray into e-books, including publishing collections of what had already appeared in the print newspaper—like a three-part investigative series that examined the failed promises of a fund established to help coconut farmers.
But some of the other genres that the newspaper company went with for its e-books may surprise you. At Easter, it released a collection of prayers that had been published over time on the front page of the community newspaper Inquirer Libre. It also offered a Tagalog romance novel that had been serialized in another Inquirer newspaper.
The Inquirer Group also published books—this time in physical as well as electronic formats—about the Supreme Court’s decision-making process.
Pedro Doria, digital platforms editor of O Globo, a national newspaper based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, wowed ISOJ with a demonstration of his newspaper’s evening-edition iPad app. One feature layered 300-year-old paintings of Brazil on top of contemporary photographs of the same settings. With the swipe of a finger, users could reveal the modern photo that corresponded to an old painting.
Doria said the paper saw engagement with its tablet app skyrocket after it introduced the edition earlier this year. O Globo found that the amount of time people spent using the app jumped from an average of 26 minutes a day to 77 minutes a day.
One key factor, Doria said, is that the company assembled a team dedicated to building something "not for the Web, not for the newspaper—for the tablet." The mentality at O Globo, he said, is that great journalism should be distributed wherever it fits best, and that no single channel—print, television, tablets, smartphones—should inherently trump another.
In some cases, people connecting to the Internet for the first time are doing so through mobile devices. That’s true in parts of Africa where those who missed the shift to desktop Internet access are now getting connected via phones. This development holds great promise for expanding access to news, but it also carries a risk.
Harry Dugmore, a mobile communication expert who teaches at Rhodes University’s School of Journalism and Media Studies in South Africa, is behind a project called Iindaba Ziyafika, which promotes the use of mobile phones for "interactive journalism." It encourages citizens to send information to media outlets via text message and is working to develop methods of distributing news directly to cell phones.
At ISOJ, Dugmore talked about the enormous importance of mobile networks in delivering news to consumers in Africa. Yet these networks have a down side. They tend to be centralized and they’re often under government control.
In nations that lack press protections, the architecture of mobile networks raises security risks for those who rely on them. As the global population shifts toward phones and tablets, innovation in the arena of mobile security will be critical to promoting freedom of speech and of the press.
Adrienne LaFrance is a staff writer for the Nieman Journalism Lab.