As It Is To-Day

The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there. And so I’m loving the safari around the world’s largest city and capital of the British Empire, afforded by Chris Heathcote’s inventive Newspaper Club debut As It Is To-Day.

Chris has been feeding Newspaper Club’s editing software Arthr on a diet of old London press cuttings from the 18th Century to the 20th. The result is a delightful gallimaufry (my all time top new word of the week): here the city is described at the height of its pre-eminence in 1851, there is a reflection on the sad fate of Cleopatra’s Needle by the 1920s.

My own favourite dish gives a taste of the hazards of the 1790s “On Walking London Streets,” a 14-point list of instructions for avoiding pick-pockets, horse-drawn traffic and falling slops. I love the idea that the characters of my 1794 stories were moving through a million-person city for the first time. Was this their missing manual?

Also, an umbrella was considered “a machine”. So too, in the right hands, is a newspaper. You can buy it here.

Brought to book: some subtleties of social interaction

It’s a pleasure to see – at risk of sounding like a Key Stage One Literacy Coordinator – that reading is hot right now.

Into this maelstrom come the Mag+ concepts from BERG for Bonnier. If you haven’t seen the video you should watch it now. Beyond the thoughtful work on the interaction within the user interface, I like the thinking about “how the device might occupy the world.”

And separately, Christian Lindholm has some interesting ideas about linearity as a low-involvement user experience, perfectly suited to mobile.

Everyone’s talking about how it feels to be the reader – how he or she will be empowered to enjoy the best aspects of printed and digital media rolled into one wafer-thin device. It’s all very user-centred.

But I think to succeed eReaders must not only meet the needs of the direct user, but also of those around them, the friends and family who may not welcome their loved one’s absorption in this exciting new media. They are the “next largest context” within which the new device must win acceptance.

Continue reading “Brought to book: some subtleties of social interaction”

Print’s not dead, it’s just evolving

“Is Print Dead?” was the provocative title for David Parkin’s Leeds Media Breakfast Briefing the other day. If the answer had been yes, I guess we’d all have had to wolf down our croissants and get back to work. Thankfully as a newspaper business editor turned online start-up entrepreneur, David treated us to a more sophisticated  perspective, and a more leisurely breakfast.

David and I trained together on the Newspaper Journalism course at the University of Central Lancashire. It was the 1990s, but only just. Al Gore was still busy inventing the Internet, and only halfway through term two did Professor Peter Cole obtain some Amstrad word processors so we could ditch our manual typewriters.

On qualifying, I quickly succumbed to the lure of noo mejah, but David stuck with ink and paper for a decade longer, rising to become business editor of the Yorkshire Post. He quit less than a year ago to launch The Business Desk for Yorkshire and has already set up a second office covering the North West from Manchester.

David and his team are clearly making an impression among their target audience of regional business leaders. They’re successfully translating all the basics of good journalism from paper to screen, and relishing the same aspects of online that I love too:

  • freedom from press deadline tyranny – a big frustration as a newspaper journalist, says David, was “inability to get the news to our customers quickly,” especially as “evening” papers now hit the streets by mid-morning
  • the intimacy with a niche audience – for the Business Desk this means high quality readership for advertisers and high quality comments, like when Ken Morrison retired and senior regional business-people added their own tributes on the site
  • … and the instant return-path of online comments and web stats – “as a newspaper journalist I hoped and guessed who had read a story. Online you can see who’s doing what minute-by-minute and react.”

David still sees a role for newspapers as vessels for more reflective writing, and even as mementoes of major events like 9-11, though this seems at odds with the gutting of editorial budgets on smaller titles forced to go free to survive in the new landscape. Many media brands born in another age still seem to obsess about whether online is there to support print or vice versa. Which is the bubblegum and which is the baseball card? Do their readers really care either way?

And I’m not sure that David really engaged with the challenge from a number of breakfast briefing questioners, including me, that print retains a sensual superiority over electronic media. Need a flexible, sub-milimetre-thin, 1200 dpi interface? One that costs pence not pounds? You look in the R&D lab, I’ll be in the chip shop.

As I’ve said here before, I’m convinced that newspapers have gained a lot already from new media and they could be on the brink of another breakthrough – driven this time by print on demand, personalisation and seamless return-paths, such as mobile barcodes. My bet is that they’ll also learn from bloggers to be less lecuturing, and more local. For a deliciously disruptive vision of how to do it, take a look at the hand-drawn, limited-edition and all-round gorgeous Manual Newspaper project.

But here’s the biggest contradition of all in the Business Desk’s story. Denied coverage of his launch by the erstwhile colleagues with whom he now competes, David deployed some smart guerilla marketing tactics to introduce the new service to the commuters of Leeds and Manchester. His chosen media: printed coffee cups, printed beer mats, printed napkins, printed posters.

Is print dead? No, but it’s certainly evolving…

Newsprint bird

Old / new media mash-up – first impressions

Here’s the proof (geddit?) that the worlds of inky fingers and fat thumbs can coexist.

Last week I purchased a 1.5 inch type-high zinc block of the QR code for this blog, I wanted to see what happens when the beautifully tactile letterpress of my boyhood meets the amazing multimedia mobiles that I work with now. The answer, it seems, is they get on just fine.

That this works is a tribute to the staying power of Daler-Rowney’s Water Soluble Block Printing Colour, which survived 10 years in the loft to produce a perfect print first time, and to the amazing resiliance of the 2d barcode format and my Nokia N82’s 5 megapixel camera, which coped with all but the blurriest of my impressions.

And just listen to the sound of the roller transferring ink to the block – gorgeous :)

Old / new media mash-up

Block on Flickr

2d barcodes were everywhere on our recent trip to Japan, and seem to be gaining more attention here in the UK in some unexpected places. I recently downloaded Kaywa’s QR Code reader to my Z610i.

I find it really exciting that communications media have changed so much in my lifetime. At school I played with lead type and got inky fingers. Now I play with mobile phones and have one thumb bigger than the other. 2d barcodes bridge that divide, being printed in ink on paper yet offering an instant connection to the digital world.

What better way to reflect on the interface between old and new media than to get my QR code made up as a printing block. It had to be big enough across for a phone to read accurately – I went for 1.5 inches – and exactly type-high – that’s the 0.918 inch standard for lead type.

KPE Graphics of Kettering obliged – I mailed* them my artwork as a 1200dpi JPEG on Monday and the finished block arrived by post in a Jiffy bag today.

The photo above shows the block in its pristine state, but it won’t stay that way for long. Next step is to dig out my old printing kit from the loft and make a few proofs on paper.

* Postscript: I realised I meant e-mailed, of course.