We’re entering one of those fertile, exciting periods when the fundamentals of publishing are, yet again, undergoing massive revisions thanks to new technology.
This time the trigger takes the form of the growing understanding that our consumption of news and information — still in mid-transition from print and broadcast to digital platforms — is migrating yet again, from our desktops to mobile devices.
Yet publishers and newsrooms still haven’t fully digested or adapted to all the changes stemming from the first wave of change. In the realm I’ve been working on lately, the error-correction process, news organizations are still only beginning to figure out that the practices that worked well for them for decades need to be rethought today. All our major news providers, from cable networks to newspapers to magazines, now function as web publishers; yet few of them have adapted their process of fixing errors to a 24/7 medium in which updates and revisions are always a click away.
Now we’re trying to wrap our heads around the opportunities offered by the iPad and other tablet-style devices. Rupert Murdoch is spending a reported $30 million and hiring a hundred people to produce the Daily, which will provide a package of original journalism for iPad users who pay for it.
I’ve been vocal in my skepticism about the Daily’s model. This graphic accompanying a MediaWeek column about Murdoch’s history of Internet blunders offers a reminder of how poorly News Corporation has fared over the past 15 years as it keeps trying to wrestle the digital whirlwind to the ground.
While we wait to see whether this high-profile gamble will pay off as a business, it will also be fascinating to see what innovations the Daily’s editors introduce as they adapt the traditions of print, broadcast and web to the tablet.
If you’re publishing a single “daily” edition, but delivering it via a two-way digital network, what do you do when news breaks? How do you serve your readers in the 23 hours in between “dailies”? When your production cycle’s demands and your users’ needs conflict, which wins out?
How do you let the public talk back to you and tell you when you’ve made a mistake? How do you show them when you’ve decided to fix something? Do you wait for your next “daily” update or do you revise on the fly?
It’s taken web publishers ages to come up with workable answers to these questions, and some are still fumbling with them. My experience over 15 years of product launches is that you don’t come up with the best answers on the drawing board — you have to be out there testing stuff with real users. But thinking about these issues in advance beats ignoring them.
One of the first things I’ll be looking at when the Daily opens for business next month is how its editors are managing these nuts-and-bolts newsroom processes. They have an opportunity to get this new publishing environment off to a fast start toward trust and reliability, and to shave years of development time off the evolution of a new news medium. I hope they use it.