A smarter, greener, and more personalized news (Part 2)

This is part two of a two-part story on the state of the newspaper industry.

The first thing I do in the morning is grab my phone and read the Toronto Star’s website on my bed. I love reading the news, both print and online versions. Recently, the Toronto Star persistently had been calling me to renew my subscription. I did renew the weekend subscription, but I regretted it by Sunday. My biggest headache is the amount of unread paper piled up for recycling, and, to my surprise, since acquiring an iPhone in 2007, my reading habits have changed and I have become used to instant access of the news on my phone. So, on a few occasions, I forgot to pick up the paper by the door in the morning.

During a recent commute on the subway, I noticed a small technology shift. I saw a businessman in his 30s reading the Wall Street Journal on his 10” Kindle DX, instead of the broadsheets (which are often a challenge to read in a cramped subway). He was doing the same as I do. Every morning commute, I read the Toronto Star on my phone, but often Internet reception is not readily available in the subway. This got me thinking that there must be a better way to read the paper. How about a personalized, wireless, device-agnostic, and location-based news service?

1) Personalized and social sharing content:
The physical paper is always designed to cater to a wide range of audiences, hence the paper is usually thick and prints everything for everyone. Half of my Saturday paper is often unread. New web content is created every hour, and the old paper becomes uninteresting by the evening.

To solve the problem of excessive printing, let’s look to the Internet for some inspirations. The beauty of Netflix and Twitter is that we are our own personal content selector. Imagine a newspaper that gives you the level of personalization like Netflix and suggests similar genres or contrasting articles. On Twitter, I can filter only the journalists whom I want to “follow” or “unfollow”. I can also pick and choose what genre of articles to read. For example, I can subscribe only to the columnist Michael Geist and the political commentator Chantal Hubert. The paper connects with my friends and they can recommend other articles and be notified within the app, instead of receiving it as an email or a Facebook status update.

This is not a proposition to substitute all the editors with computers, but rather to have the readers create their own unique experiences as compared to the current indirect relationship between editors and readers. With a more democratic approach, users can find more niche journalists or articles that the print paper cannot accommodate. Readers will see it as a service, when the news is interactive, completely personalized, and filled with relevant information.

2) Instant access, and content to be delivered to all my devices:
Convenience is the key. The newspaper should push me the latest news before I pick up the device in the morning. For example, I can set to have the content pushed to my devices every morning at 7:00am, instead of having to access the web and physically downloading the content in which I’m interested. Also, I should be able to read the news even when I am out of range, as it is synchronized on a regular basis.

Make the news device-agnostic so that I can read it on my phone, my computer at work, or on a tablet. So, the news should be available on Android, BlackBerry, iPad, iPhone, Kindle etc, and the content synced up across multiple platforms.

3) Combine existing reviews with location services:
Say I am on Queen West, a trendy Toronto street. Wouldn’t it be nice to read the Toronto Star’s extensive reviews on restaurants, boutiques, and condos based on where you are using the GPS technology? Currently with foursquare, a location sharing technology, the reviews are added by average users. What sets The Star’s version apart is their brand value and large database of trusted reviews. Imagine the news can suggest the top three restaurants in walking distance, or boutique reviews, or Christopher Hume’s condo critics. It can also partner with Groupon to push coupons or cross-reference it to the profitable classified database.

4) Break news, but make it relevant:
For any breaking news that’s relevant to me, it will be pushed with a flashing icon and linked to a short update or quick video summary. I often wish the Toronto Star was the first go-to point of breaking news, rather than Twitter.

5) “Surprise me” button:
There are times I like to flip through the physical paper randomly and find the odd article, and often those are some of the best experiences of newspaper reading. A “surprise me” button will suggest articles that are normally not my personal preference.

Charge like a drug dealer.
Make the paper so good that is addictive. Give it for free to get people hooked. The free version can only follow three journalists for instance. Premium features such as exclusive Toronto Star discounts and an unlimited number of journalists could be charged at $2.99 a month and billed through the carriers as an add-on. Follow Chris Anderson’s “Five Percent Rule”  – five percent of users support all the rest.

Earlier signs of this version of news already exist in iPad apps called Flipbook (See YouTube video) and Pulse reader. However, they lack offline caching, location-based services, and push delivery. Before my fantasies materialize, I will continue reading my Toronto Star on my phone on the subway, saving interesting articles one at a time before losing 3G reception underground.

Like our previous blog about The Globe and Mail, newspapers have evolved and are getting smarter and more attractive. The question remains, will these changes renew the general public’s interest in reading newspaper? Or have people changed their reading habits completely? What would your future of newspaper be like?

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