Why I will not be renewing my subscriptions to the iPad versions of The Western Mail and the S W Echo

The technical stuff

The editions for iPad use a standard PDF (portable document format) presentation and not a specially designed one for an on line edition, like the award winning Guardian iPad edition. The pdf simply reproduces each page as it is printed. There is no additional editorial or design intervention to present the information in a tablet/iPhone format. After page one, the pages are presented in a two-page spread: on an iPad you can read the headlines, but little else. To read an individual story the text has to be expanded – often very slowly rendered to be readable – and the text of the story will not be isolated from other text around it. If a story runs from say page one page to page four there is no dynamic link – you have to scroll through the pages

There is a mini-page view – so you can skip sport for example – and there is also a completely useless text page listing. There are no:

  • ways to search the edition
  • ways to search across editions or to link related stories
  • ways to save, bookmark or print an individual article
  • no way to tweet or send a link to an individual story. To achieve all these things you have to access the (still very poor to navigate) WalesOnline website.

Issues often arrive a long time after I would expect to read them ie with my tea at 7 AM. Even with high-speed broadband, downloading takes a significant time and is not carried out in the background automatically – as with other publications.

The application itself is buggy, the simplest action e.g. zooming or scrolling page, can cause a complete crash.

Technically this is an outdated and very poor implementation of the new technologies. Although none are perfect, there are plenty of high standard iPad newspapers to copy from!

The editorial stuff

iPad edition front pages The Western Mail

iPad edition front pages The Western Mail

The major editorial problem for these online editions is the way in which they allow the reader to make quick comparative judgements which are not so easy with the printed editions, even if you put them on a table side-by-side. As such it gives the reader the technology to understand just how poor the editorial content of both newspapers is.

SW Echo iPad

The iPad edition front pages of the SW Echo

The “homogenisation” of TrinityMirror Newspapers editorial is painfully plain to see in the digital editions. Although supposedly “the national newspaper of Wales” lead news stories in both newspapers can be same. In any pair of editions it is easy to find near identical stories reproduced with little or no regard to what should be differentiated readers. This is as true of national coverage as local.

In terms of assessing editorial quality and readability the digital editions make scanning articles oh so simple – on average I have seldom read more than two or three complete articles in any edition of either newspaper. Skimming takes longer with printed pages but it doesn’t mean that the editorial quality is any greater. Because the iPad edition is simply a rendering of a newspaper editorial choices become even more vivid and pronounced: take the B-list, personality-led, front pages of the Western Mail for examples. Or the massive second-coming headlines (usually followed by less than a paragraph of copy) front page screamers on the Echo. Neither approach is suitable for new media presentation.

In summary, and sadness, then

Perversely perhaps, one months digital editions have simply proved to highlight all the worst (rather than best, there must be some!) of the two newspapers. Yes, digital presentation is content, content, content. And here these newspapers show up very badly. But there is also sufficient experience now to know that simply delivering photographs of the print edition is not a digital edition. The Guardian and the Daily Mail have massive online presence in their web and in tablet versions because of the interaction of readers and the additional value that these editions can have over the printed page..

Sadly, online editions of tThe western Mail and SW Echo will do nothing to stave off the relentless decline of newspapers in Wales, and even more importantly, good reporting of life in this country.

If this was an end of first term report it would barely rate 3/10.