I was just rereading a post by Steve Yelvington — whom I used to call the smartest man in online journalism (and he may still be — it’s just that there are so many more people in it now, it’s hard to name just one).
Steve’s post (A tablet revolution: It’s like it’s the ’70s all over again) has several excellent points that made me remember not the 1970s but the mid- and late 1990s, when news media companies could have invented Craigslist — but of course, they didn’t. When they could have invented YouTube — and didn’t. When they could have made websites that were irresistibly fun and interesting so that people would come to depend on them — oh, yeah, somehow they didn’t do that.
Why didn’t companies with loads of talent and profit margins in excess of 20 percent seize the reins and gallop confidently into the new territories of the Web?
Steve notes that Apple’s iPad “is just an opening round” in the latest chapter of a story that began with a big, wide selection of tacky little plastic “home computers” in the 1970s. Tablet computers have been coming out (from various manufacturers) for several years already; it’s just that Apple’s phenomenal marketing budget and sexy operating system have made the iPad a household word (at least in North America).
So Steve points out that this is no time to sit on the sidelines and watch the revolution pass you by — it’s time to experiment, test, and try new things. And don’t think the iPad is the only platform — there’s lots more on the way! As sexy as the iPad is, it’s not a sure win (Steve asks us to remember the failure of Betamax video and the Amiga computer).
While reading Steve’s post, I was thinking about news organizations and the question I asked in paragraph 3 here. Some news organizations are experimenting with iPad apps — and mobile apps for several non-Apple platforms such as the Android. Bully for them.
What about trying new things? I have yet to see an app from any news organization — for a phone or the iPad — that spells innovation. Steve refers to “completely new information experiences that don’t even vaguely resemble old products,” but whatever these are, I have not seen them. A new way to read a magazine? It looks cool, but it’s still a magazine.
After a few minutes with the eye candy, you’re back to reading text. Plus a little “Like” and “Retweet” action, which is hardly new or innovative.
As a phenomenal platform for viewing great still photography, the iPad blows my mind. But sliding photos back and forth and dragging little thumbnails around to make my own “playlist”? Okay, thanks, but that’s a far cry from a “completely new information experience.”
Taking risks and being smart about it — that’s what’s missing in news organizations.