Can the iPad save news media? The Guardian certainly hopes so: alongside its numerous other digital platforms, the paper recently launched an iPad app edition of its newspaper content to considerable acclaim, and saw 175,000 downloads in the first two weeks it was available.
We spoke to the paper's editor, Alan Rusbridger, about apps, the future of news, and the way technology has changed the job of a journalist.
When did you know that you wanted to move into journalism?
AR: Well at university I did what we'd now call being an intern, we didn't then - I just went to work on a local paper during my holidays and I got the bug. So that was in the mid 1970s, while I was still at university.
And have things changed a great deal in the time since then? What's the main difference between the newsroom in those days and today?
AR: Much quieter.
AR: These people don't... there's a sort of library hush. The job as such, and finding things out, interviewing people, verifying - there's going to be some things that are the same, but in lots of ways, it's such a different business these days. Everything about the publishing schedule, the medium in which we publish, the fact that we're publishing live, we're publishing around the clock, responsive, everything else about the job has changed. Apart from the sort of eternal verities of journalism.
So technology is a major factor in the way that things have changed. Do you think this has added extra pressures to the life of a journalist?
AR: Well, yes and no. Given that the only research tool we really had when I started on the local paper was the library and cuttings folders - in a sense, the fact that you've got the world at your reach and so much information is now published, in a way it's easier.
But I think it's undoubtedly true that the pressures have also grown with that. The fact that you're publishing essentially 24 hours a day, at the same time as bringing out a newspaper, means undoubtedly the pressure... people work much harder than they did when I first became a journalist. And there's more pressure to get things right and to do things quickly.
Do you think that contributed to the way the Amanda Knox verdict was reported in Britain?
AR: It shouldn't do, because the people who are quickest and most accurate are traditionally news agencies like Reuters and AP, so there's... being an agency reporter is all about doing things very quickly and doing things accurately. But it's undoubtedly true that mistakes can slip in if you don't keep reminding yourself that it's better to be late than be inaccurate.
How do you consume the news yourself? Are you a paper man, or an online man?
AR: I still get papers at home, though I find now with the Guardian iPad [Edition], the fact that it's downloaded in the middle of the night, I'm one of those sad people who keeps an iPad by their beds. I use it last thing at night before going to sleep and instinctively it's the first thing I actually reach for in the morning. I still like papers, and still read papers, though I guess if you added up the amount of hours that I look on screen, as opposed to the amount of time spent reading papers, I must be overwhelmingly a screen person.
Do you think the tactile pleasure of a paper - do you think that's something that will help it to survive? I'm thinking of the feel of the Guardian app itself, the way you're touching it and you're involved with it physically.
AR: We were trying to recreate something of the pleasure of reading and the things that a newspaper does well, the things that people like about newspapers. You can scan them quite easily, they have a sense of hierarchy, it's not just all undifferentiated. I think the iPad succeeds on that score. It's very legible, and a lot of thought went into the ordering, you go sort of section by section, and you can find your way around it quite easily. I think you're right - the tactile element of it is also important. One of the gorgeous things about an iPad is that the interaction between the hand and the screen is so intimate and immediate.
What about the Kindle - do you think the novel has a different future to the newspaper? Do you think they'll both go digital in the same way?
AR: I think the main advantage of a Kindle... it's sort of cheap and cheerful, I suppose you're a bit less paranoid about the physical... there's something incredibly precious and shiny about an iPad. Whereas on holiday with a Kindle, you can read by the pool, it seems a more utilitarian object. And it's also easier to read in sunlight. The Guardian on Kindle is a less beautiful thing, it's purely utilitarian. There's much less sense of something that's been designed for a screen. I guess that will change with the new Kindle product, the iPad clone. But at the moment it feels like a different idea.
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