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Columbia Missourian

DEAR READER: The Missourian launches a digital suite of apps

By Tom Warhover
August 26, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

Dear Reader,

Monday will mark a significant step for the Columbia Missourian as it launches new products for tablet and smart phone reading, and a new way of supporting the production of the news on all platforms.

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With the Missourian digital suite, you will be able to download apps for the iPhone and iPad and for all Android-based phones, like the Samsung Galaxy S III, and tablets, like the Kindle Fire. The apps (computer speak for applications) are designed to be easier on the eye and easier to navigate than reading the website version.

Research has shown that we use the devices in different ways, after all. The Missourian apps allow me to swipe from article to article and from section to section, while the website continues to be a mouse click operation. Tablets are known to be more of a “lean-back” experience vs. the “lean forward” of PCs, which suggests a more leisurely pace of reading on my iPad than on my laptop.

Photo galleries are just plain better on the apps than on the website. On my iPad I can see each photo full frame with the remarkable definition tablets have these days. (The print edition still beats both, in my opinion: I can see multiple photos at the same time with a design built to match each particular photo story.)

The point, though, is you can read news in whatever platform most pleases you at the moment.

That’s not exactly cutting edge. It is a necessary move to keep up with changing reader demands.

Charging for content is hardly new, either. Readers have paid for the newspaper for most of the Missourian’s nearly 104 years. Several decades ago, paid and free versions of the print edition became popular.

As you know, most newspapers began providing free content online when this little thing called the World Wide Web went mainstream. The trend is tipping the other way. One of the early adopters was the Columbia Daily Tribune, which launched a subscription system almost a year before* The New York Times.

The reason is simple: Unlike the former, free, print Missourian Weekly, which was paid for through lots of advertising, businesses are taking their ad dollars many more places, including their own websites.

The Tribune’s system has become popular among newspapers. You can read a certain number of articles per month — 10 in the Tribune’s case — but have to subscribe for total access.

“The public has spoken, and public has said we will pay for news if there’s a high value to the content and presentation,” said Guy Tasaka, a digital news expert who worked with the Reynolds Journalism Institute to create the Missourian’s new system.

The Missourian’s change to a pay model is consistent with industry trends; its method, with everything free for the first 24 hours of publication, is experimental and reflects a core mission of this newspaper to test innovative practices for the news industry.

Tasaka created the digital suite and the business concept to go with it. So far as Tasaka can find, the Missourian is the first general purpose newspaper in the country to adopt the model.

You can read everything on columbiamissourian.com for free for the first 24 hours. An article reporting on a City Council action Monday night is free until Tuesday night. Another article published Tuesday at 9 a.m. is free until Wednesday at 9 a.m.

You might be surprised how much gets published every day. Most of the overnight notes I receive every morning report the volume. For Election Day on Aug. 7, for instance, 45 articles, 27 photos and five photo galleries were published.

After the first 24 hours though, each of those journalism pieces or anything displayed on the suite of apps requires a membership to view.

Seems counter-intuitive. After all, isn’t news most valuable when it’s most timely?

Tasaka says that most news when first published can be found in lots of places. It would be hard to escape the news about the shooting at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin on the day it happened. Here in Columbia, I can find out what happened at a City Council meeting through multiple sources, including Facebook.

Where the real value lies, Tasaka says, is in the aggregate: When discrete events and nuggets of news create a more coherent story.

A 400-word article can’t possibly provide all the context and background to an issue. That’s why the Web is so great; I can check out past articles or other pieces of information to get a fuller picture.

There’s value — not for everyone, perhaps, but for many — in being able to access all the information. There’s value in unlimited access to the Missourian archives. There’s value in apps designed for tablets and smart phones.

We’ll soon see how much readers value becoming members of the Columbia Missourian.

Tom