Blog: A few thoughts about the future of publishing and which outlet can take advantage

I remember quite vividly one of the first conversations I had with Mike Bambach.

He had just been hired by the Sun Coast Media Group, my former employer in Port Charlotte, Fla., after he previously built up USA Today’s digital sports coverage.

Ironically, he was asking me what our paper could do better with its online coverage.

“You guys grew up with that, you know the Internet,” he told me. “I’m a newspaper guy, that’s what I grew up with.”

For whatever reason, I shrugged that off and thought to myself that I hold the key to what could save the newspaper industry, if only I could find it in myself.

And while that still may be true, the more I think Mike knew all along.

One of the (many) days we split a Taco Bell taco 12-pack, I asked him quite bluntly what the future of newspapers held. Charlotte County had a unique position of having one of the oldest median ages in the country, meaning it was as good a place as any to publish a community paper.

But what about his old stomping grounds of USA Today which has seen readership dwindle? Or what about the Boston Globe, that was sold for a small fraction of what it’s actually worth (and cheap enough for half the Yankees lineup to afford), what does its future hold? The Chicago Sun-Times slashed its photography department, and more and more papers switched over to a paywall.

So excuse us if we didn’t know what was going to happen.

And for a moment, Mike was speechless. He had paused for nearly as long as me when I considered my bowel health before agreeing to have the feast of tacos.

But then finally he spoke up.

“Tablet publishing, that’s the answer,” he said, and later continued before I could say a word. “Think about it, more people are getting their news on tablets now, and the medium is just waiting for somebody to come in and own it. The New York Times has a terrible iPad app, and it’s up for grabs.”

While I believed he might be onto something before, I can’t believe more four weeks after that discussion.

Upon my personal reflections, I’ve discovered that I now receive the majority of my news on my iPad through standard websites. I know I’m in the minority, though, with how many apps I actually use; the ESPN Scorecenter app is replacing the mobile site and please don’t get me started on Bleacher Report and Buzzfeed.

But for a more artistic view, Sports Illustrated is absolutely flawless in my opinion and are by far the winners of embracing the new ear. If you don’t have an SI subscription (especially as a journalist in any field), you’re losing. Even if you do, if you don’t download the digital edition every week for your tablet, you’re missing out badly.

The print edition’s format seamlessly transitions to the tablet starting with the cover, which are visual masterpieces of their own. Just a few swipes in, a page displays a bonus content page of what’s to come, and it’s quite a bit.

That is immediately followed by up-to-the-minute stories (no matter what time of the week you’re reading). A page later lists the writer’s directory, and touching any of them displays all of their recent tweets, taking full advantage of a whole different online medium.

Scroll just a few more pages, and you even see the Sports Illustrated Instagram feed, which again, incorporates some incredible photos (which, again, is what SI is known for) that otherwise wouldn’t be seen unless you open that app and happen to follow the publication already.

That’s just getting started.

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Let us please finally get to the centerpiece of the edition, a story by Tom Verducci (who I like to call “Track Suit”), which leads off with a scintillating picture of Chris Davis that will go in depth about how he perfected his swing. I can’t say that I’m a huge fan of Davis, but I can’t resist.

After reading the early part of the story, the fifth page (if reading in landscape mode), has an embedded video (not just a link to YouTube) that allows you to actually see Davis’ swing in motion. A thousand words can only do so much, but the short clip is the perfect supplement to Verducci’s sweet sentences.

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Besides that, there’s a number of other breakout elements that would make any journalism professor salivate.

If that wasn’t enough, SI has to brush off the dirt from its shoulders once more with a slideshow of “Sudden Sluggers,” of which Davis is undoubtedly one. The images of Ralph Kiner, Cecil and Prince Fielder, Jose Bautista and Roger Maris flash on the screen (as I begin to wish I had a newer version with Retina Display to appreciate the beauty even more).

Eventually the story ends, and through pieces on London Fletcher, Mario Balotelli and Brad Stevens, the design elements were not a rarity confined to “Crush.” And for what it’s worth, a Q&A with College Game Day’s Chris Fowler, exclusive to digital subscribers, was submerged in the middle of that. At the end of the issue is a gallery from the Little League World Series, and I can’t help but be happy with the treat that this week was.

I don’t know how much my dad is paying for it (it was a Christmas gift, OK?), but it’s worth every penny. As much as I love seeing each issue showing up in my mailbox each week (and I truly do), the ease and features of the tablet version make it a necessity to download each Thursday.

Now, I hope that newspapers and other publications that have made their bread and butter killing trees and angering Greenpeace can also adapt. They have to.

And it’s funny – occasionally I would make a follow up joke with Mike if he made one first that he was old, but that’s no longer an excuse. If he, unlike an overwhelming population of those in journalism, can see the opportunity that young people don’t have the ability to conquer and that the established don’t know how to, eventually someone else will.

We’ll be smiling when they do.

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