Technology

iPad: The future of local news?

When the iPad was announced last year, my first thought was "I'm going to use that to help my son learn his ABCs and 123s." My second thought was "and I want to read the newspaper on it." Not the website mind you, but an actual digital version of our newspaper with a design that takes full advantage of the device.

Since then my now 20-month-old not only knows the alphabet, but listens to my music, watches "Up," puts together jigsaw puzzles and can almost beat my high score on the game "Fruit Ninja." He's all set -- but Daddy would still like to read his beloved newspaper on his iPad.

It's not my role to create such a thing, nor am I privy to any knowledge of what future plans our parent company, McClatchy, has for digital publishing. Ultimately the question is: Would you, the consumer, pay for a digital version of The Island Packet or The Beaufort Gazette?

And if so, how much? It isn't a stretch to say that our entire industry is waiting to see what will happen with The Daily, Rupurt Murdoch's iPad publication that launched Feb. 2.

Having played with the first issue, it is definitely impressive.

The Daily delivers original news content and reporting every day, along with multimedia and social networking features that utilize the platform. It costs 99 cents a week or $39.99 a year.

That's the part everyone is watching: Can a digital publication actually turn a profit?

The Daily isn't the first publication to charge for an iPad version, but it is the first that doesn't seem overpriced.

To answer my own question: If I'm being honest, then no, I would not pay for The Daily since its main focus is national and world news which is available in so many other places for free.

What if, however, I was reading local content that directly impacted me -- say, for example, what's going on with Beaufort County schools, traffic cameras on I-95 in Ridgeland or when that Olive Garden my wife likes so much is going to open in Bluffton? If that's the case, then yes, I absolutely think 99 cents a week is a fair price.

Having said that, it can't just be a smaller version of the paper. I would expect a certain level of interactivity -- videos, Web links, Twitter, etc. If I didn't get that, then I suppose I'd feel like I wasn't getting my money's worth, which is odd, given that I pay for the printed newspaper that doesn't give me any of those things. Of course, that could be because I have a unique relationship to the newspaper.

I feel caught between two worlds sometimes. I use all this wonderful technology to get my news throughout the day on all the subjects that interest me. And yet my main job is to print out aluminum plates from big machines that are then placed on an even bigger press which then prints on paper. To be sure, the technology involved in doing so every day is incredible in its own right, but my first instinct is always to use the computer -- it is simply a faster way to get information.

With that being said, I still very much enjoy sitting down with the Sunday paper. It could be just because I know how hard my co-workers and I work every day to make it happen, but I think there is still something special about holding that newspaper in your hands, ink and all. For me, it's about discoverability -- slowing down and taking the time to scan the headlines, reading the stories that an editor has picked out. I will always find things that I otherwise would have never known about, because I didn't go looking for them the way I do online.

I'm not sure that experience can ever be truly duplicated digitally, but even so I hope one day we'll try. If for no other reason than to give you another medium to get your local news -- and for me to get my iPad back from my son for awhile.

Morgan Bonner is Pre-Press Manager and a systems administrator for the Packet and Gazette

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