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Gatehouse goes mobile

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The journalism mobile revolution is here. One only needs to download the latest newspaper iPad or smartphone app to read the news. But while metro daily newspapers like the Wall Street Journal and New York Times invested in mobile early on, local newspapers have been slow to join the conversion.

Growth into the mobile markets for local papers may soon be picking up if Gatehouse Media’s recent announcement is any indication of a trend. The local newspaper publishing giant announced late last month they would be rolling out mobile apps for the iPhone, Blackberry, Android and iPad in their local markets. Although Gatehouse officials wouldn’t say specifically when or what markets, a press release said the apps will start to be available sometime this month.

Gatehouse collaborated with the Toronto-based mobile technology company, Spreed, to launch the newspaper apps, which will contain unique branding, stories, images and community events specific to each paper. Publishing close to 500 community papers across the country, Gatehouse could choose to launch mobile apps in a variety of markets, from the suburbs of Boston to communities in Kansas and Arkansas. “We recognize the importance of mobile to the future of our business,” Brad Denison, vice president of the news and interactive division at Gatehouse, told inVocus in an e-mail interview. “The smartphone market is exploding, as is the time consumers spend using them to find information. We see a growing demand for local content in what is still a fairly young space, an opportunity to dominate that space in our markets, and we are seizing it.”

Although Gatehouse comes en masse into the local newspaper app market, a few other community-based papers have also been experimenting on a mobile platform. According to Romenesko, the weekly Leesburg Today in Lansdown, Va., has an app for both the iPad and iPhone. Another community paper to go the way of mobile is The Hays Daily News, in Hays, Kan., with a circulation of approximately 12,000. So far, the paper’s apps have been downloaded a few hundred times for the iPhone and iPad, noted Patrick Lowry, publisher and editor of the paper. The paper also has an app for the Android phone, but it’s only been running a couple of weeks. “As mobile devices sell at a greater rate than PCs, the adoption rate of various apps is soaring as well,” Lowry said in an e-mail interview. “I do believe it’s vital for papers to be mobile. Metro papers are already dealing with radically different consumption patterns; smaller markets will be there soon. It’s just a matter of time.”

Ronald Yaros, assistant professor at Phillip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, tends to agree. However, it will probably take a while before mobile apps are as prevalent for local papers as they are at large metro dailies. Regardless of whether the paper is in a small community or a large city, he believes people in any market are going to want to access information, either from their local news source or a newspaper from somewhere across the country, on a mobile platform. “It’s a modern day version of the newsstand,” he said. “I think it’s important – it’s just another way to reach your citizens.” So why haven’t all papers invested in mobile apps? It can take money and resources to develop one, he noted.

An article from Romenesko’s Steve Myers elaborated on the potential issues: “News apps aren’t like other kinds of journalism, and they’re not like other kinds of programming. Editors who understand how to craft compelling narratives can’t necessarily envision an engaging, useful news app. IT departments set up to support the manufacturing and distribution of a daily newspaper may not know how to handle deadline-driven software. And although computer-assisted reporting — which has been around for years — is in news apps’ DNA, many journalists don’t really understand what developers do.”

Regardless of the potential difficulties in developing mobile news apps, Yaros encourages his students to embrace the platform. “All indications are it’s a rapidly growing market,” he said, noting that as mobile technology grows each year, so does its audience grow in mobility and sophistication.

“I’m extraordinarily positive on mobile technology. If any newspaper called me and said ‘should I be doing this?’ I would say ‘yes.’ I don’t have any indication that it’s not going to be a dominant medium for news and other information.”

–Katrina M. Mendolera

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