2.22.2010

The New York Times' Mad Science Lab Experiment

Did you hear the latest news? The 150-year old New York Times is pioneering digital journalism together with Apple. Users now get to manipulate how the NYT columns, font size, and how it looks and acts with a simple flick of their fingers. How? When they access the NYT via the new Apple iPad.

This latest reincarnation of tablet products provides yet another way to slice the digital bread and butter of the publishing world. It also makes promises for a number of amazing and reengineered ways to access published content with complete mobility. Something the Times has been very keen in addressing with all its online media experiments.

During the Apple iPad press conference, phrases thrown out to connect with the user base included such gems as “users no longer needing to adapt to their tools, but rather, the tools fit them.” That expands all sorts of publishing boundaries. Of course there’s Kindles and other assorted electronic tablets out there, so this is hardly the best new thing. The touch screen navigation, however, makes personalizing the content from newspapers and other media as easy for users as painting with their fingers.

But what does this mean to me as an online NYT reader? Well, for one I’ll continue to be able to access the NYT from anywhere, but I imagine that I’ll be making the experience of reading it more mine, by being able to personalize how it looks via fonts and other preferences. As a book reader, tools like the iPad and Kindle make it so much easier to carry your entire library of books with you—as if you were able to do so with the print copies.

But imagine what it would be like being able to heft around tomes such as the hefty Harry Potter and Twilight books on a tablet! All your favorite NYT clippings too! This is exactly what mp3 players did for music.

Can print media’s move to online only finally release journalism from the chains of the costs of print? Best of all, no ink stains on your fingers or crisp white dress shirt from reading the NYT on your morning commute. This is the main reason why I read the Times online versus in print anyway.

But IS print really going away? How can the static content from media such as a book, a newspaper, or a magazine be made more interactive or helpful to the reader? This has been a question publishers have wrestled for time immemorial. Or at least since the Internet seriously began competing for readers’ attention and time in the mid to late 1990s. Some newspapers and magazines have added more photos, by award-winning photographers. Many others have urged readers to follow up on the story online for more in-depth coverage via interviews or video. Both things the NYT has done.

Do you wonder why Apple selected the NYT among all the other newspapers or magazines for their grand unveiling of the iPad?

The NYT is known for its high quality typefaces, layout, amazing photographs, and excellent writing. They have a strong, solid foundation. They have both good looks and smarts. However, this doesn’t only apply to the NYT. Other newspapers and magazines can and should be taking advantage of this model. This is how old becomes new again, and we can only hope other newspapers and magazines catch up—fast. It looks like, for the very nervous publishing and journalism industries, it may very well come down to allowing users to paint with their fingers after all.