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Live chat replay: What opportunities do storytelling apps hold for journalists?

With a solid career in news design Joe Zeff, has become a top designer of apps. Formerly the graphics director at TIME, Zeff designs apps that, among other things, focus on telling stories.

His latest project is Spies of Mississippi, Free in the iTunes store. “Spies of Mississippi” is also a book and a PBS show. All tell about the state campaign to block African American voting rights during the civil rights movement. Zeff’s project, which includes documents that help tell the story, is described as “Unlike a book or documentary, this ‘appumentary’ leverages the multimedia capabilities of the iPad to enable audiences to engage, explore and respond.” We’ll talk about the marriage of traditional journalist values and storytelling with new forms and how journalists can get ready for those opportunities.

Here is a replay of the live chat.

You can revisit this page at any time to replay chats after they have ended. Visit www.poynter.org/chats to find an archive of all past chats.

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News in motion: six ways to be a good mobile editor

So you want to be a mobile editor?

Or maybe you just got the gig. Congratulations! Now what?

I’ve heard that question a lot lately from newly minted mobile editors at organizations big and small. It’s not that surprising. Mobile has been the coming future of news and information for a long time, but many news outlets only woke up to its importance in the last year.

Why? That’s easy: 50 percent. Last year, many news organizations either hit or approached the 50 percent mark in digital traffic coming from mobile. That opened many eyes. It became very clear that mobile isn’t coming — it’s here. It’s been here. Mobile is now. And news organizations need mobile editors more than ever (read on for Six Ways To Be A Good Mobile Editor).

I became The Wall Street Journal’s first — and, at the time, only — mobile editor in 2009. Mobile was different then. Legions of BlackBerries with trackballs still strode the Earth. A new book-sized gadget promised to revolutionize the news business: the black and white eReader. The shockwaves from the iOS asteroid impact had only begun to spread.

The years since have seen remarkable change. Android’s rise. The iPad. HTML5. 4G. Mini tablets. Giant phones. Google Glass. Smart watches. Mobile and tablets overtaking desktops and laptops. Even improved auto-correct that — mostly — doesn’t turn my last name into “Honda.”

The mobile editor job has evolved, too. It’s a job that must be as nimble as the changing technology, adapting as people interact with news in new ways.

In my world, the work changed from running a BlackBerry app and a first-generation mobile website to conceiving of, building and running entirely new tablet and phone apps plus creating publishing tools, global newsroom workflows and cross-platform content algorithms. Lately, I’ve been pondering hard the future of journalism amid the Internet of Things. Across five years, I went from being a solo act to leading a mobile editorial team.

There is no one set job description for a mobile editor. It will vary from organization to organization and situation to situation. The needed skills will vary, too. There are many flavors and combinations.

For most, the job will likely involve curating news and multimedia presentation on a mobile app or website, providing human editorial judgment. At the other end, it might be about overseeing content algorithms and automated publishing to phones and tablets. It could be both roles, too.

The job often involves making sure graphics and images are mobile-friendly. It could be about working with developers, designers and product folks on setting a direction and helping create new news experiences. It might involve troubleshooting tech problems or testing new mobile advances. Maybe you’ll work with mobile and tablet news aggregator partners, too. It could be deeply technical work down to coding or perhaps not that at all, instead more focused on daily news tasks like sending out breaking news push alerts.

Very often it is an advocacy job, spreading the mobile way in the newsroom since what begins with a mobile editor must end with an entire organization thinking about news on mobile and platforms beyond.

And the job could even be all of these things. Trust me, it can happen.

When I’m hiring a mobile editor — and I’ve hired more than half a dozen of them since 2010 — the first thing I look for is news judgment. That surprises folks. They expect me to rattle off a big list of tech qualifications like Homer naming the ships. Tech skills from serious coding to Photoshop chops are a big plus, but not the heart of what’s needed. Instead, I look for a high and almost instinctive comfort level with technology.

Since everyone loves a list these days, I will not disappoint:

Six Ways to be a Good Mobile Editor

  • A mobile editor needs to be a mobile user. A serious mobile user. Simply owning a smart phone isn’t enough. Because if you don’t live it, you don’t get it. If you’re not using apps and mobile websites and mobile tools yourself in your own life, it’s all but impossible to do a good job serving that audience.
  • Know you are a journalist. No question. This is a real journalism job. You may not be an “editor” in the traditional sense of the word, but you still have to understand news, to value clarity and accuracy and immediacy and relevance and speed.
  • Be a mobile tech MacGyver. The technology has been around a while, but in the big picture a lot is still new and changing very fast, especially in newsrooms. So you must be willing to dive into the guts of it when things inevitably break. More so if you don’t have lots of tech resources on call. Learn to speak the language of developers. And keep the duct tape handy.
  • Understand the vast variables. A lot can affect a mobile user’s experience with news. Screen size. Device rotation. Operating system and version. Device age and processing power. Connection quality. Location. Time of day. App versus Web. Adaptive versus responsive. It is indeed a lot to keep in your head, but serving a digital audience has come a long way since Netscape browser testing.
  • Fight for the users (yes, a Tron reference in addition to Homer and MacGyver). In this day and age, an editor does more than edit. To deliver a meaningful, beautiful, relevant, engaging mobile news experience, a mobile editor has to be there on the front lines every day understanding how the constant flow of news, the changing technology and the many needs of readers and viewers come together.
  • Be an advocate. Despite mobile being everywhere, in many newsrooms the mobile editor might be the only person who understands mobile deeply. And the only one who gets why it is so important and so critical to the future of news and journalism. So you must teach and talk and train, one person at a time if necessary. Tell them why “click here” is a bad thing to write in a world of touch screens.

Today’s mobile editors are a diverse bunch. Some are former reporters, specialists in everything from deep data to high fashion. They come from print. They come from online. They come from video.

It is a great, crazy time for mobile news. Innovation is nonstop and crops up everywhere. You’ve got aggregators and atomizers and immersives. There’s no stopping the numbers: mobile is where people are and where they will be — at least for a while. And mobile editors are often the guides, figuring it out as they go and leading the way.

So, welcome aboard, new mobile editors. It can be a scary job in a land of constant upheaval, but that’s what makes it worth doing.

David Ho is editor for mobile, tablets and emerging technology at The Wall Street Journal. He is founding editor and co-creator of the WSJ iPad app and Tablet Edition. As a reporter for Cox News and The Associated Press, Ho covered presidents, protests and the pope as well as tech, telecom and terrorism. A Poynter Institute Ethics Fellow, Ho also teaches mobile and tablet journalism at the City University of New York. Follow him on Twitter @DavidHo. Read more

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Replica editions dominate recent newspaper iPad apps

In the newspaper tablet app race, the replicas are winning.

My informal review of news iPad apps released in March reveals that the majority are PDFs or PDF-like recreations of the print edition, dominated by a few vendors and newspaper groups.

Tecnavia developed apps released by four different newspaper chains this month, while Presteligence, NewsSynergy and Paperlit backed another handful of offerings. Among the apps I found, only the Tulsa World and The Daily developed their apps in-house.

The Daily is an outlier because its new Elizabeth Taylor Tribute Magazine paid app is meant as a one-time offering and was built using the framework of the daily publication.

Among the other 20 apps I found, the trend toward vendor-supported replica apps is both promising and troubling. Only the Greensboro News-Record and the Brainerd (Minnesota) Dispatch could be classified as “interactive” — resembling a traditional Web experience as opposed to a static representation of a printed page. Some replica apps also include breaking news updates and other limited Web-like features.

But, it is good that papers smaller than the New York Times and Wall Street Journal – among the early tablet adopters — are pursuing tablet audiences.

However, the use of PDF apps also points to an industry-wide failure to capitalize on the new opportunities mobile touch-screen tablet devices allow. Replica apps have their place in a portfolio of mobile offerings, but they cannot and should not be viewed as anything other than niche and transitional models.

Some segment of the current print audience will want and value replica apps on tablet devices. Using a vendor to serve those readers is fairly easy and a worthwhile strategy.

But to attract new consumers to local journalism, newspapers will need to develop more interactive, tablet-native experiences, including digital-only features and content.

And, more importantly, mobile and tablet platforms will soon be core to the news distribution business. To understand these devices, how to create engaging experiences on them, and how to create content for them, requires newspapers to develop new competencies in-house. Outsourcing these efforts to a vendor is a short-term solution that could have long-term negative consequences if an organization fails to learn these skills now.

Certainly, in some cases these replica-only apps are only a first step for newsrooms. I know several organizations have launched replica editions because of the low development costs and speed-to-market, and they are already planning more interactive versions.

The Tulsa World is one. According to president John Bair, the paper started planning its next iPad app the day the current version was approved in the iTunes store.

“Nothing we have ever done or are currently doing represents a final outcome. We are always evolving, as will our apps,” he wrote in an email. “To believe our first app on this device represents a final presentation is incorrect. The feedback we get from users, coupled with new technological offerings and capabilities, will dictate future offerings.”

For the month of March, here are the news apps I discovered, arranged by publisher and vendor or developer. This is not a comprehensive list. If I missed any, please leave a comment below.

These first three apps are interactive or Web-like offerings, the rest are more replica or PDF-like:

The Daily
Elizabeth Taylor Tribute Magazine

Landmark Media Enterprises (Xtern Software)
Greensboro News-Record

Morris Communications (NewsSynergy)
Brainerd Dispatch

World Publishing Co.
Tulsa World

MaineToday Media (Paperlit)
Kennebec Journal
Morning Sentinel
The Portland Press Herald

GateHouse Media (Presteligence)
The Repository

Lee Enterprises (Tecnavia)
Arizona Daily Star

Media General (Tecnavia)
The Tampa Tribune
News & Messenger

SourceMedia Group (Tecnavia)
The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette

MediaNews (Tecnavia)
San Gabriel Valley Tribune
Pasadena Star-News
Whittier Daily News
Inland Valley Daily Bulletin
Redlands Daily Facts
Torrance Daily Breeze
Long Beach Press-Telegram
Los Angeles Daily News
St. Paul Pioneer Press
Broomfield (Colorado) Daily Enterprise Read more

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