400: For our 400th Story, a glimpse of the future for “newspapers” …

ver the past week, we’ve reported on some national news unfolding close to our Home Office in Michigan. First, the debut of Rob Bell’s new international tour. And, today, the Detroit Free Press’ experiment this week as the first big metropolitan newspaper in America cutting back to only three days of home delivery.
    I love newspapers. I subscribe to three in paper form and receive feeds from lots more newspapers online. I’m a 30-year veteran of American newspapers — and I value the institution as much as the top writers who shared their thoughts on newspapers at OurValues.org
    However, in recent years, I have moved professionally into new media — and it’s obvious that the future (as we reported on Monday) literally lies in the hands of billions of men and women around the world.

So, today, I am going to:
    1.) Share a valuable online tool with you.
    2.) Share an unfortunately clunky online tool with you.
    3.) And, invite you to share your thoughts — and send us tips about online tools or iPhone apps that are improving the quality of your life these days.


    It’s called Instapaper — and it lets you build your own news report day by day from as many online sources as you wish! This is getting very close to the ultimate custom-designed reading experience.
    New media gurus keep talking about a mechanism that eventually will let each of us organize a daily list of media — and pick it up wherever we paused — across multiple devices.
    So, referring just to newspapers here, you might begin your day with a customized list of newspaper stories. Read a bit on your computer screen while checking Email — then have your Kindle read aloud to you, wherever you left off, while you’re in the car commuting to work. Then, pick up the stories on your iPhone and finish reading while you’re waiting for a meeting to start.
    We’re very close to that right now.
    The Kindle keeps your bookmark, now, between both your Kindle and your iPhone — that’s a big step. Pick up either device and you’re reading wherever you paused earlier.
    Now, new tools like Instapaper allow the customized creation of your own media report each day — at least in terms of Web-based stories — that you can access both online and via your telephone. It works especially well with the iPhone.
    Here’s how it works: Whenever you spot stories you want to read, you “Tap” them by clicking a button on your Web browser. The stories are digitally clipped and sent to your own customized Web page — AND to your iPhone for reading during “down time” throughout your day.
    One Example: I get my New York Times Review of Books via Email. Then, I run down the headlines and “Tap” any articles I want to read. Next time I’m waiting for an appointment, I pull out my iPhone and read the Review of Books articles in the order I set up with just a few taps.
    CHECK IT OUT for yourself. It’s at http://www.Instapaper.com/


    On Monday, as I drove through a series of appointments around southeast Michigan, I also stopped at locations where the Detroit Free Press was distributing free copies of the newspaper. Although home delivery now shrinks to 3 days per week, the Free Press continues to print daily newspapers for sale in boxes and some shops. The Free Press is encouraging us to drive out and get a copy — by giving them away free (at least initially).
    I wanted to see how this would work, so I stopped at a number of locations and talked to people picking up papers.

    NOW, let me stress, the Free Press also maintains it’s very popular Web site — www.freep.com — and that’s definitely NOT clunky.

    BUT, one big announcement for this week’s transition is a free, online tool to let people turn the pages of the newspapers that they can’t get delivered anymore. While talking to men and women at these free-newspaper locations, I tried to find someone who had used the new online tool. I couldn’t find a single soul who even expressed interest in the idea. Of course, to be fair, people going to get paper copies are the ones who wouldn’t like the new tool, anyway.
    Personally, I find this new flip-the-pages tool cumbersome. The new tool actually works against my desire to have headlines prioritized to meet my needs. But, maybe that’s just me. Check it out for yourself.
    Here’s a link to that new Free Press Web tool.


    Think my assessment of the Free Press flip-a-page tool is too harsh? Check out the “My Turn” column by Emily Bingham, headlined “Digital Dad Versus the Dinosaurs,” in the current issue of Newsweek. I had the pleasure of meeting and talking with Emily’s visionary father, Barry Bingham Jr., in the early 1980s when I reported for the Kentucky Herald-Leader and he was running the Courier-Journal in the same state. Emily writes in her column about the national significance of the Free Press’ shrinkage to 3 days — and about missed opportunities among newspapers.


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    (Originally published at https://readthespirit.com/)

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