Patrick Thornton


How news organizations are taking advantage of the latest iPad’s features

The newest iPad has ushered in a new high-resolution Retina Display that renders text that’s similar to the quality you see in print.

The core of most news apps is the printed word. The coarse typography of the iPad 1 and 2 and other tablets led to less than ideal news experiences because letters and words literally don’t stand out as much on low-resolution displays. But that’s changed with the latest iPad.

News outlets have been updating their apps to take advantage of the new iPad, which features a display with twice the pixel density, 264 PPI. Apple says that pixel density qualifies the 9.7-inch iPad as a Retina Display. (Individual pixels are not perceptible by the human eye).

Usability expert Jakob Nielsen said in a phone interview that the new iPad’s display will cause people to use the device more because it’s a more enjoyable user experience, particularly for reading text. Read more


iPad 3′s Retina display will make news apps stand out, present new challenges for news orgs

Apple announced its latest iPad today, which features a much higher resolution display that’s perfect for reading and for news apps.

The new iPad could finally elevate the text reading experience on a tablet to something much more akin to reading a printed newspaper, magazine or book. Most major news organizations have released iPad apps, but the blurry, pixelated text from the relatively low-resolution iPad 1 and 2 always stood out. iPad news apps may have great looking photos, videos and interactive graphics, but text — often the core of what a news organization produces — doesn’t look that good, especially in comparison to what humans have been able to enjoy for hundreds of years.

Today that changes for the tablet market. This change could be a great opportunity for aggressive news organizations to push more users to purchase and use iPad apps. Read more


How Siri, if opened up to third-party apps, could enhance news consumption

Apple’s Siri voice technology is one of the must-have features of the iPhone 4S, and has become one of the phone’s biggest selling points.

Voice technology is not new. What makes Siri and similar technologies different is that it uses natural language processing.

With traditional voice technology, a user would have to use exact phrases to accomplish a task. With Siri, users can get answers to the same question or perform a task through a variety of phrases. You can ask Siri, “What’s the temperature today?” or “Do I need to wear a coat?” or “Is it cold out?” All of those questions will prompt Siri to look up the weather and give a report.

“The best part of natural-language recognition is that there’s a much shorter learning curve,” Marco Arment, creator of iOS app Instapaper and former lead developer of Tumblr, said in an email. Read more


iPad news apps lack accessibility and usability

Apple’s iPad and iOS come with several built-in accessibility features that make the iPad relatively easy for disabled people to use. Unfortunately, many news applications were not built to take advantage of these accessibility features, rendering the apps ultimately useless for people who are disabled.

VoiceOver is the crown jewel of the iOS accessibility features (the operating system behind the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch), and it gives the entire operating system and every application access to screen-reading technology.

Gregg Vanderheiden, director of the Trace R&D Center at the University of Wisconson-Madison, said in a phone call that iOS is the only mobile operating system to come with a built-in screen reader, and that this technology often costs hundreds of dollars or more on other computing platforms. Read more


How journalists are using metrics to track the success of tweets

When I first started on the project almost three years ago, very few journalists and news organizations were using social media. In fact, you were considered kind of strange if you used social media. Now, it’s strange if a news organization or a journalist doesn’t use it.

The debate has moved from, “should we use social media?” to “how do we get the most out of social media sites such as Twitter?” This question is leading people and organizations to try to figure out what kind of tweets garner the most traction and why.

Services such as, Chartbeat, Radian6, etc. allow journalists and news organizations to track how many people click on their tweets and see what’s getting retweeted, and many journalists are using them to track their tweets’ effectiveness and reach. Read more


Plain Dealer Creates New Comment Policy, Encourages Staffers to Interact

The Plain Dealer rolled out a new commenting policy this week that aims to end bigoted comments and trolling, while also encouraging staff members to engage users in meaningful discussions.

Editors and writers got tired of all the racism, fighting and mean spiritedness that dominated comments at for years. The Plain Dealer was getting very little value out of the comments on and many staffers thought that the comments hurt the paper’s image.

It wasn’t just users, however, that were hurting discussions on Most staffers didn’t even bother to read the comments posted after stories. John Kroll, director of training and digital development, said there were legitimate questions being asked and points raised in the comments that staffers never responded to.

“Some people said that the comments are so bad, you should drop them,” he said. Read more


Knight Foundation to Fund Plug-and-Play Version of EveryBlock

The Knight Foundation is assembling a new team to further develop the code behind the hyperlocal, geo-coded EveryBlock project and to develop plug-and-play architecture to make it easier for news organizations to install the software.

Meanwhile, the foundation plans to create “test kitchens” to expand the implementation of other innovative projects created with Knight support.

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Gary Kebbel, director of the Knight Foundation’s journalism program, told me about these moves Monday after commenting at the Online News Association conference that the foundation is rethinking how it handles projects that, like EveryBlock, are sold to commercial firms. Kebbel told an audience Saturday that the foundation may require that such sales fund open-source software or community news.

The changes reflect how the Knight Foundation’s support for journalism innovation is evolving after its  experience with EveryBlock, which was created with a $1.1 million Knight News Challenge grant and was sold to Read more


NASA’s Spacebook Offers Lessons for Newsroom Collaboration

NASA launched its own social network, Spacebook, earlier this year in an attempt to increase interaction among employees and foster more group collaboration. The network, which I describe in detail below, offers several lessons for how news organizations can embrace social media technology to develop a more open and collaborative work environment.

Spacebook, one of the projects presented at the Gov2.0 summit this month, is a secure internal social network that’s available only to NASA employees. As the name suggests, Spacebook is patterned after Facebook. The network allows NASA’s estimated 18,000 employees, regardless of where they’re stationed in the world, to interact and collaborate.

The site gives employees the ability to change their status on their profile pages, share files, friend other NASA employees, follow their friends’ activities a la the Facebook news feed, join groups that interest them and more. Read more


Washington Post Develops Visual, Web-like Commenting System has developed a new commenting interface dubbed “WebCom” that arranges comments in a web based on which ones are most-liked by readers and spur the most discussion.

It’s the latest effort to solve a problem that has persisted since news sites first enabled users to comment on stories: how to foster better conversations and help users find them.

Some commenting systems allow users to vote comments up or down. Some let users respond directly to each other and display the threads of discussions. But on most sites, comments are presented in the same basic way: chronological or reverse-chronological lists. Those lists don’t do much to help users find the best comments, especially when hundreds of people have responded to a single post.

WebCom is’s visual solution to the problem of knowing which comments create the best conversation, said Steven King, the site’s editor of innovations and product development. Read more


Twitter Yields Uneven ROI for News Organizations Using Automation, Curation, Interaction

Journalists and news organizations are all atwitter these days, but they are seeing different returns on investment from their uses of Twitter.

Conventional wisdom says that to be good at using social media sites like Twitter, one must be social. For high-energy New York Times tech columnist David Pogue this strategy has worked. He has about 850,000 followers on Twitter, in no small part because he is entertaining and personal, while also interacting with fans.

But most journalists aren’t rock stars like Pogue, and most news organizations don’t have someone like him. What works for The New York Times may not work for other journalists and news organizations.

For every Pogue with hundreds of thousands of followers, there are plenty of journalists with few followers. The success of Twitter for individual journalists, however, isn’t just about followers and sending traffic back to news organizations’ Web sites. Read more

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