For all the talk about whether apps could be the salvation for newspapers, one little question has been glossed over: Are apps actually a disservice to readers of what, for lack of a better description, we still call newspapers?
The key advantage of the internet over radio or TV is immediacy. Stories fly straight from pocket-sized devices to a great discussion in the sky with no friction being heard. Short bursts of information — as much or even less data than traders on the exchange floor use to make snap, million-dollar decisions — are what drive the conversation now.
Newspapers all have, or could have, vibrant web sites. Web sites are exciting because they are immediate, hamstrung only by the stupidity of servers, how much traffic they can handle and how fast the Internet is working today. You share a story, and BOOM, there it is: Waiting to be discovered by random travelers, spotlighted by RSS, Tweets, Facebook updates and shared by a geometrical progression of friends you didn’t know you had.
The metaphor is: If you build it, they will come.
What is the metaphor for an app? Turns out it is exactly the same as the original newspaper paradigm: Here we are, come and get it.
Now, there are some economic realities involved. It is a fact that there is still much less money to be made per reader on the web compared to print, even for major media properties. It is also true that newspapers arguably made every mistake they could during the formative years of the Internet, trying to protect their print franchises and only grudgingly acknowledging the web.