USC students present plans for future of news to legacy media

By Jackson DeMos

Groups composed of USC journalism, business, engineering and computer science students presented entrepreneurial ideas and plans for the future of journalism at a May 27 meeting at USC Annenberg.

The presentations marked the culmination of a two-week News Entrepreneurship Fellowship Program (read the initial press release here) that consisted of 12 students from USC’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, Marshall School of Business and Viterbi School of Engineering. The students collaborated with each other, University faculty and the Knight Digital Media Center to pitch their ideas to the Los Angeles Times, Orange County Register and Southern California Public Radio/KPCC – formulating “best practices” for new mobile technology trends such as social media and applications.

“I think it is very accurate to say that I have been dreaming about this day since the moment I set foot in my office at Annenberg,” School of Journalism Director Geneva Overholser said. “I have yearned to get students together from across the University and have them think about the future of journalism. And here it is.”

A group made up of Ashley Ahearn (M.A. Specialized Journalism ‘10), Kevin Dugan (MBA ‘10), Keaton Gray (B.A. Print Journalism ’11) and Taran Raj (Master’s Electrical Engineering ’11) stressed the importance of news organizations embracing both new and old mobile technologies. They built a fully functional Android mobile application (“app”) for Southern California Public Radio/KPCC, which is hosted by Freedom Interactive.

“There are only a handful of apps that make me wish I had an Android, and the demo of the KPCC app is one of them,” Orange County Register technology reporter Ian Hamilton said.

The application for the highly popular Android phone came complete with “text-to-donate” and “listen live” buttons, and the ability to register as a user and have a “friends’ card” area that might entice users with special deals from KPCC’s local underwriters.

Five individual presentations started the day with topics news organizations should know about mobile news, such as Wireless Access Protocol (WAP), mobile operating system trends, social media/geolocator, Quick Response (QR) codes, and iPads and tablets.

“You can’t ignore the people still using feature phones,” said Dugan, explaining that a WAP browser on a mobile phone provides similar services as a computer-based web browser – only on a simple screen that hosts fewer pictures and less text. Most of the U.S. population still uses phones that don’t have the same screens or functions as smart phones such as the iPhone or Android. “The biggest challenge in developing a WAP site is balancing the features you can offer with the navigability.”

Dugan presented his “10 Commandments” of Wireless Application Protocol that media companies should follow, including recommendations such as putting quick data up top, using fewer than three clicks before users access their information, and keeping page sizes under 20 kilobytes.

"You can’t compare a WAP to an app,” Raj (pictured, left) also explained. “An app is faster and, more importantly, an app should exploit the features of the phone. An app can access GPS, camera …. A WAP doesn’t do that."

A group consisting of Rebecca Lett (B.A. Print Journalism/Economics ’11), Kevin Lu (M.A. Broadcast Journalism ’10), Drew Prickett (MBA ’10) and Saravanan Rangaraju (Master’s Computer Science ’10) partnered with the Orange County Register to pitch ideas for its future. They said the Register is particularly well positioned to take advantage of new technologies because of its centralized and concentrated interaction with its audience, which should include a rapid implementation of an iPad application.

They estimated 30,000-40,000 iPads have already been purchased in Orange County, with many more buyers to come soon.

“Think of that number in terms of readership,” said Prickett, adding that the paper can create devoted iPad subscribers by focusing on interaction among newspaper, reader and advertiser.

Lett recommended the Register take advantage of more social media advertising through websites such as and

“Direct your ads with location so you’re getting your readers where the business are located,” she said, noting that some newspapers are already implementing live Twitter feeds into their real-time advertisements.

Jason Choi (Master’s Mechanical Engineering), Dominique Fong (B.A. Print Journalism/Political Science ’10), Vibhor Mathur (Master’s Mechanical Engineering ’11) and Joe Piasecki (Specialized Journalism ’10) saw the opportunity for the Los Angeles Times to take advantage of “geotagging” advertisements by alerting mobile readers to nearby advertisers.

“Phones are portable, which means you can reach readers wherever they are,” Mathur said.

Piasecki said a company such as AdLocal, which specializes in mobile advertising, is a good place to start for exploring local mobile ad networks.

“When we were going into this we were looking for this Holy Grail, this ‘magic app’ – we never found that,” Piasecki said. “Mobile is about strategy. It’s participatory. The idea is to engage audiences.”

Fong said there are two reasons readers would come to a mobile LA Times site: to get hard news fast, or to be entertained while passing time. Targeted advertisements would be useful for both audiences.

Other individual presentations:

Mobile Operating System Trends

Choi said U.S. media must spend time and money implementing content on three mobile platforms: WAP sites (that also can be used on a Blackberry), iPhone applications and Android applications.

Foursquare: Social Media + Geolocation

Lett encouraged news outlets to follow in the footsteps of The New York Times and inject editorial content and business reviews by geotagging stories with their relevant locations.

“If news organizations take an interest in Foursquare, it could become the location-based social media of the future,” Lett said. “Foursquare is really personal. That’s a great selling point.”

2D Barcode or Quick Response (QR) Codes

Rangaraju said U.S. print media can use barcode technology already popular in Japan to bridge the gap between print and online media.

He played a video showing what happens when a special two-dimensional barcode located in Esquire Magazine was held up to a scanner and read by a computer. The barcode can trigger a video to play on a compatible computer or smart phone that accompanies the printed material. He gave examples of a print sports page linking to video of a soccer player’s goal or a car advertisement directing an interested buyer to an interactive site where he or she can personalize the car’s color or options.

“It’s already existing technology,” he said. “There’s not a lot of software involved. The system will work well with anything with a camera.”

iPads and tablets

Prickett presented on tablet-style screens such as the iPad that could revolutionize journalism if tablet owners buy applications from newspapers, which The Wall Street Journal has already had some success with.

“Is the iPad the savior of journalism?” Prickett asked. “The collective answer is maybe.”

He said more legacy media has the opportunity to eventually charge for subscriptions if the content is delivered in a rich and enjoyable style located behind a pay wall.

* The 2010 News Entrepreneur Fellowship Program on Mobile News was made possible by a generous gift from the parents of a USC Annenberg student. *

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