Will the iPad save the news? | Article | The Punch by Joel Meares

A new messiah arrived in the US over the Easter weekend, ready to save the world???s flailing print media industry.

Sandal-less and sleek, it was, of course, Steve Jobs??? new fantasy tablet, the wild????ly anticipated, possibly revolutionary, definitely state of the art, iPad thingymajiggy. And America threw a bonza welcome party for its latest chosen one. Australia will have to wait a month to throw theirs.

Apple sold 700,000 iPads in two days, with 300,000 plucked from shelves and UPS men on Saturday, the first day of sales. By any standard that???s a massive take-off; even by Apple standards. The now ubiquitous iPhone sold 200,000 on its first day in stores in 2007, a third less than its plus-sized cousin.

But it was the media laying the palms for the iPad???s arrival more than the shoppers.

Reporters, editors and publishers, particularly those behind old-media behemoths like Time magazine and The Wall Street Journal, enthusiastically flopped to their knees to declare the 680-gram, 24cm x 19cm-device an industry savior.

Surely, the team that brought music back from the brink with its sexy little wheeled device will do the same for the ailing print industry. Right?

As a young journalist, I certainly hope so. But its not up to Apple anymore. They???ve given the media the equivalent of a 21st Century printing press. Now we just have to figure out how to use it right. And soon.

About to graduate with a Masters in journalism from a prestigious and ludicrously expensive American university, Ive been job-hunting of late. The prospects for people in my position don???t look good.

Ravaged by plummeting subscriptions, a downturn in newsstand sales and falling ad revenue, newspapers and magazines are shedding editorial staff, not hiring them. Web sites offer a glimmer of hope for news-fiend job seekers, but display ads are sold cheaply online and digital media has generally failed to develop lucrative business models; at least, not lucrative enough to compensate those who write for them.

The job search pages Ive been looking at are dominated by unpaid internships-some of which turn out might be illegal over here – and of course, the Extras Needed postings so familiar to SEEKers across the country. Laid-off senior journalists looking to come back into the fold often nab the few low- and mid-level editorial positions posted.

The story floated this Easter is that the iPad will change all this, reinvigorating newspapers and magazines and creating job opportunities for collegiate two-minute-noodle munchers like myself.

Old-schoolers say its also likely to bring long-form magazine-style narratives back in favour, with readers turned off by having to click through clunky pages online happily stroking through a feature story on their iPad. Again, us youngsters are hopeful. Our futures may hold more substantial work than updating the company Twitter feed.

Just how will the tablet save the media?

Firstly, the interactive and hyper-visual magazine apps developed for the interactive and hyper-portable iPad ??? such as the app for online-only Viv Mag shown in this demo or the app for Cond?? Nast???s Wired shown here – will attract subscribers willing to pay for content they would not fork out for when laid out on a now-archaic seeming Web site. Time???s certainly hoping so, charging $4.99 per week (5 cents more than its print edition) for its app, which includes the print edition, live updates from Time???s Web site and video and photo content

The appeal, as Howard Chua-Eoan writes this week for Time in Me and My iPad: The First 24-Hours, is that:

On the iPad, magazines in their electronic manifestation get to be real magazines again, incarnated without paper. The iPad makes the electronic magazine something you get your hands around again, something you can play with. Look at the fantabulous app from Popular Science where each story is a wonderland that you can scroll and push and pull, moving overlay and text and stories around like a jigsaw puzzle.

With the ability to make ads as interactive and attractive as that-combining the glamour of a (moving) magazine spread with the ability to visit a products Web site with the click of a mouse or push of a screen publishers-expect companies will hand over big mullah to get onto their iPad apps.

Fidelity, Korean Air, Liberty Mutual, Lexus, Toyota and Unilever all signed onto Times iPad launch issue.A promising start.

So, print or type, as we should probably start calling it is back in business, right? If I check back next month, my job prospects might look a little better?

Perhaps, perhaps not. Rivals Time and Newsweek both featured splashy iPad-themed covers on their print magazines this week, touting the tool and its creator as the future. They???re hoping its a self-fulfilling prophecy and there seems to be a little understandable desperation in their camps.

Newsweek editor Jon Meacham is quoted in the Washington Post saying, the iPad could finally be the device that does for visual content what the iPod did for music. ???To my mind, there???s no bigger story about media or culture-and media and culture affect everything else-than the future of the delivery of news, and that made an iPad cover a clear call.???

I agree with Meacham about the importance of news delivery; it???s why I do what I do. But too much is unsure right now to declaratively say whether the iPad is a genuine savior or just a puffed-up cult leader we might be following over a cliff. And it might be the media???s fault more than the medium itself if it turns out to be the latter.

The iPad has arrived with plenty of promise, but few news organizations have actually released apps for the launch. Those that have are meeting with mixed reviews, Time getting the big thumbs up for its video-stuffed, highly interactive app, while the New York Times has been given a bit of a ribbing for a lackluster effort, two-steps behind its fine Web site. We don???t know yet how other magazines and papers will play out on the tablet. Until we do, the iPad???s future is as unsure as journalism???s.

In theory, the iPad has the potential to dazzle and wow with its features. But it will require leaps of imagination and barrels of money from struggling news organizations to create apps that utilize the technology???s full potential. It will also require plenty of staff -ahem.

That investment could mean the difference between being the iPod or the latest Tamogochi.