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Gannett gets mobile ready

Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper publishing company, is taking noteworthy steps in the print industry by equipping reporters, photographers and some editors with iPhones and iPads.

While smartphone capabilities like email, texting and cameras have increased convenience for reporters over the last several years, iPhone features like high-quality voice recorders and video cameras, as well as instant access to the Internet and social media sites, will likely give Gannett reporters an edge in breaking news and engaging readers.

The announcement that Gannett was planning to purchase the latest iPads and iPhones for its employees came in a memo from corporate in December. But distribution of the Apple devices didn’t start until this February. It’s a move that is considered by many to be somewhat cutting edge for the 89-year-old company.

Although journalists at the Gannett-owned Pensacola News Journal don’t have their hands on the new toys quite yet, the impact of smartphones in the newsroom is already apparent. “I actually have a company-issued Droid right now which we are turning in for iPhones any day now,” said Pensacola senior reporter Kimberly Blair in an email interview. She added, even with Droid capabilities, she’s able to break news more quickly and efficiently. “I send in many more online updates and photos from the field,” she said. “I may send in a quick update with a photo for the Web then follow up with other updates if it’s breaking news, and then write a full story for the next day’s paper.”

The ability to instantly upload content to the Web could help Gannett and other newspapers that follow suit to keep up with the fast-paced world of online news. “iPhones will make it easier for reporters to post news, photos and video in real time,” said Jim Hopkins in an email interview. Hopkins is a former USA Today editor and reporter who now blogs about Gannett and the newspaper industry. “That’s crucial as newspapers try to compete online with more tech-savvy competitors.”

Blair added, oftentimes, these devices help newspaper websites beat out broadcast news. And she even feels the iPhones and iPads give Gannett employees an edge over other reporters at print newspapers that don’t have the Apple devices.

But reporters aren’t the only ones reaping the benefits from this technology upgrade. Readers – especially younger ones who are glued to their phones – will also enjoy some perks. The iPhones “provide news quicker, as it happens, similar to the way broadcast news delivers news,” said Blair. “But they also provide a way to give readers an interactive way to digest news.”

While comment boards, Twitter feeds and Facebook pages can be great places to air grievances and express opinions, they can also prove vital to a story. “Reader comments often lead to sources who may be able to contribute valuable information to a story,” said Blair.

Gannett may be the first to give its journalists instant access at their fingertips, but they probably won’t be the last. “It could inspire other publishers to follow,” said Hopkins. Gannett “is an industry leader, and it often sets the pace for other publishers.”

–Cara Hedgepeth

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