Fairfax Regional Media’s mobile app turns readers into reporters

by Bevan Shields        

App transforms the way Australian newspapers engage with their communities, launching first at The Examiner and now expanding to other regional newspapers.

Click the image to view a larger versionFor 170 years, The Examiner has delivered the news to Launceston, a historic city nestled in the lush green Australian island state of Tasmania.

Late last year, the newspaper turned tradition on its head, releasing a groundbreaking iPhone app to empower readers to make the news — not just consume it. The Examiner’s audience has overwhelmingly embraced its new role as mobile citizen journalists, a relative first for the Australian media landscape.

The iPhone app, commissioned and developed jointly by a Fairfax Regional Media project team and staff from The Examiner, quickly reached the top position for free news apps in the official Apple store and has since been downloaded by 13,000 readers — more than 10% of Launceston’s population and about 50% of The Examiner’s average daily print circulation.

The challenge for Fairfax Regional Media is to now increase the app’s long-term take-up rate, as well as to sustain participation from mobile users.

Since December, the app framework has been rolled out to five other comparably sized Fairfax Regional Media publications. Android versions have been launched at two mastheads, including The Examiner, in a bid to capture non-Apple users.

Stuart Howie, Fairfax Regional Media’s general manager/editorial development, said the intention is to rollout iPhone and Android apps throughout the group, tying them to the company’s trusted and historic brands.

“We have 220 titles and 160 Web sites, spanning every state of Australia, so this is a mammoth commitment. But we are excited about reaching new audiences,” Howie says. “Put simply, we cannot just expect our readers to be there each morning like a trusted dog, ready to pick up the paper. We have to deliver our news and information where, when, and how our audiences want it to be delivered.”

The apps are fed by a new digital content management system, a similarly huge task to rollout given the size and diversity of titles within the media division. What the CMS and the apps have in common is how they tap into user-generated content.

“A hero aspect of the apps is that they allow users to become citizen reporters, with the ability to send and make the news at the touch of a finger,” Howie explains. “Already they have sent us thousands of photos and news tips.”

The app’s prominent “report” button allows readers to take part in special assignments set by editors, as well as to send news tips and photos. Examiner Editor Martin Gilmour said the function added another layer to the depth of the newspaper’s print and digital coverage, opening a new stream of content for The Examiner that has been presented across print, online, and mobile.

“The readers are rewarded for their efforts by seeing their work in the paper or on the Web, on the app, or maybe a combination of all three,” Gilmour says. “The social pages of our Sunday edition are pretty much totally made up from photos people have sent us via the app. We’ve also had some harder news pictures that have come in, and at least half a dozen have turned into very, very strong news or picture stories for us.”

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