Building a Portable, Digital and Better Newspaper

People will soon be reading newspapers in a convenient, portable digital format that will allow readers to emulate the experience of a standard newspaper with enhancements such as audio and video, a pioneer of electronic news said Friday during the fifth annual International Symposium on Online Journalism.

While web-based news is not portable and difficult to read at length, tablet PCs and downloadable digital newspapers will allow readers to enjoy the print format in the enhanced digital edition, said Roger Fidler, a journalism professor at Kent State University, who has worked with new media since 1979.

Fidler and his colleagues at Kent have developed a prototype of a digital newspaper, which offers news stories in a format almost identical to print, with enhancements such as embedded audio and video, interactive advertisements, and full color photos on all pages. Fidler’s goal has been to capture the essence of newspapers and enhance them, rather than to create a new medium.

“We had to learn what is the essence of newspapers, which is to allow people to scan a great deal of information quickly without sacrificing content,” he said.

Fidler also noted the importance of newspaper enterprise work, particularly in in-depth serials. These stories are often difficult to read in print and on the web, he said. People often do not read all of the articles in a series in print, and lose interest in reading large blocks of uninterrupted text on the web. However, Fidler said this downloadable newspaper format is perfect for these stories, even when they are posted on a Web site as a “newsbook”.

Fidler’s group created several electronic newsbooks, combining all of the stories in a series into one book with color photos, audio and video. Fidler plans to initially draw people to this technology through these books. Several of these newsbooks are already available for download from newspapers like the Rocky Mountain News.

While Fidler’s group designed the prototype with tablet PCs in mind – light, portable computers with detachable keyboards and screens optimized for reading – Fidler said the focus was not the delivery technology, but rather the content.

“It’s not the tablet, not the computer,” he said. “It’s the newspaper we’re making.”

ISOJ 2004: Roger Fidler (Keynote), from Knight Center on Vimeo.