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Newsbooks, e-readers create longer shelf-life for investigative journalism

October 1, 2011

By Kari Williams
SIU-Edwardsville

College journalism students are going digital with already published content.

Roger Fidler, program director for digital publishing with the Reynolds Journalism Institute, spoke about the Reynolds Journalism Institute-Digital Publishing Alliance (RJI-DPA) tablet project at the Tablet/Mobile Strategies and Visions for News Organizations workshop in St. Louis, Mo. Sept. 29.

At the University of Missouri, Fidler worked on a Newsbook project, for which more than two dozen Newsbooks were designed for DPA members between 2007 and 2010.

“[We are] taking stories newspapers have done as investigative reports and put them into e-book format,” Fidler said.

He has worked with graduate students and other students at Missouri creating Newsbooks for the New York Times and the Washington Post, among other publications.

“The New York Times did an open secrets Newsbook taking all the WikiLeaks material and telling how it happened,” Fidler said.

The WikiLeaks investigative piece was put together as a Newsbook for Amazon’s  Kindle and iBooks for the iPad. According to Fidler, the story in the New York Times said this was the first time the paper had done a Newsbook.

Fidler also spoke about creating a Newsbook store as a pilot to see if there was enough interest in buying.

“The whole point was to create another source of revenue to support quality journalism [and] investigative reporting,” Fidler said.

They found that the Newsbooks that sold best were the ones where the newspaper promoted them on the website.

“[They were] directing people to storefront we created,” Fidler said.

Newsbooks are designed in InDesign and converted to a PDF format. Fidler’s team worked with embedded multimedia and layered content. The team also produced advertising for local advertisers and within the first 10 weeks of the trial, Fidler said they made money.

“The point of Newsbooks is that [they] represent opportunity,” Fidler said.

Fidler said the Newsbook Project is a new opportunity offered by the emergence of media tablets and third generation e-readers.

Fidler also spoke about RJI-DPA surveys in relation to the iPad. For the fall 2010 RJI iPad survey, there were 1,598 U.S. respondents. In a spring 2011 panel survey, 561 people from the original panel were followed up with. The summer survey, which began July 15 and is being extended through October, had more than 500 international respondents. It is being continued for one more month in hopes of building up to around 1,000 respondents, according to Fidler.

Future surveys include a phone survey that will be done this fall, probably in October or November, Fidler said, and the survey is being done in conjunction with the Center for Advanced Social Research at Missouri. They will survey about 800 people through random selection, with about 60 percent with landlines and 40 cell phones.

“It will be a much broader survey looking at how they consume news and how they’re using different mobile devices to get their news,” Fidler said.

Another tablet survey will be held in the spring, looking at a longitudinal study to see how attitudes change over time.

A second follow up will be conducted in fall 2012. The results of the first two surveys are available at rjionline.org. DPA members are given first access to the results of the surveys, which are posted on the RJI website after reviews by DPA members.

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