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Columbia Missourian

DEAR READER: What would Vox look like on an iPad?

By Tom Warhover
June 18, 2010 | 1:40 p.m. CDT

Dear Reader,

For three weeks, I’ve sweated and struggled to test the iPad, that page-sized “tablet” device owned by a mere 2 million of us in the first two months of sales.

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Work is hard.

The first study: How to get your iPad away from your 17-year-old daughter.  Answer: Send her a thousand miles away to work at a camp for the summer.

Caveat: Check her bags before she leaves.

Other, sophisticated tests involved handing the iPad to former neighbors Warren and Dana as well as my sister Anna and her husband, David.

The results are in: The iPad is pretty nifty.

So is a newspaper, magazine or book on paper.

What that means for the Missourian: It needs to be able to offer everything: print, tablet, websites and smart and not-so-smart phones.

You can read ColumbiaMissourian.com on the iPad, but you can’t get an iPad “app” (application) for it yet.

Conversation has begun around building an app for Vox, the Missourian’s city magazine. If you have ideas for what should be done, I’d love to hear them.

Some thoughts from my exhaustive but preliminary “research” (aka playing around with the thing):

•    I didn’t like reading Winnie the Pooh on the iPad. I enjoyed a Stephen King book.

My sister says it’s because of the Pooh pictures, which seem to jump off the page in brilliant color. She liked the uncluttered words-only books.

•    Font size matters for the accordion-age crowd.

You know the group; at a restaurant, they’re the ones pumping an arm back and forth with the menu. My friend Warren is an avid print newspaper reader. He was convinced he wouldn’t like the iPad and didn’t – until I popped up the type size.

•    Apps designed with newspaper-like news columns, such as the New York Times “editors choice” app, at first look impressive but aren’t really necessary.

In fact, I like reading the regular Times website better on my iPad.

•    I really like the BBC News iPad design. It gives me the sense that there’s a whole bunch worth reading and a specific story at the same time. 

But I doubt it’s the answer for a magazine design.

In all of it, there are the hyperlinks and multimedia that have become standard fare of websites.

Print plus digital. The task is to figure out what “best of both worlds” actually means, then deliver it on Vox.

It will be interesting to see what Vox co-executive editor Kristin Kellogg and others come up with for the magazine.

"The big questions I'm tackling right now are what parts of magazine design add to the reader's experience and what are just remnants of print limitations," Kellogg said.

I’m sure she’ll draw upon conversations with other iPad aficionados. Kristin and I attended the first iPad users group meeting at the Reynolds Journalism Institute this week.

The gathering was attended by lots of people, not just news junkies. I learned a lot. If you’re interested in joining, the institute’s director for digital publishing, Roger Fidler, can provide details.

An unrelated postscript:

The “p” word popped up at the Missourian this week.

P, which rhymes with T, which stands for terrific.

General Manager Dan Potter says your newspaper brought in more than it paid out in May. The margin was $1,053, to be exact.

May’s result breaks a string of deficit months dating back years.

The Columbia Missourian is a 501c3 not-for-profit organization. It’s like the Boy Scouts or a church or the United Way. Turning a profit isn’t the goal.

The Missourian isn’t in danger of a break-even year. But Dan and his fine staff in advertising, circulation and the like should be congratulated for their remarkable fiscal efforts.