Nieman Foundation at Harvard
HOME
          
LATEST STORY
The New York Times’ new Slack 2016 election bot sends readers’ questions straight to the newsroom
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
Feb. 17, 2012, 1 p.m.

St. Louis Beacon test drives iBooks Author with “Meandering Mississippi”

The nonprofit news site is one of the first to try Apple’s new app to compile its writing, photos, videos, and more into an ebook.

It was a little over a month ago when Apple had its big publishing/education announcement and introduced the world to iBooks Author. At the time Josh predicted that the shiny, user-friendly app would make it relatively easy for news organizations to compile their journalism into ebook form.

And now we’ve got some proof. The nonprofit St. Louis Beacon just produced Meandering Mississippi, an ebook that collects its writing, photos, and video on last year’s record floods. Taking your best coverage and converting it into an ebook isn’t new, but the Beacon may be one of the first news organizations to do so using iBooks Author.

The book, now available for 99 cents in iTunes, weaves together a narrative stemming from the Army Corps of Engineers decision to breach the Birds Point levee, flooding more than 100,000 acres of land in an attempt to save the town of Cairo, Ill. Across 54 pages, the Beacon combines the text of its stories with slideshows, audio, interactive graphics, and video interviews to try to enhance the storytelling. “The text carries the basics and the meat of the story, but having all these extra elements to add to the book really make it stand out,” Brent Jones, the Beacon’s display editor, told me.

Jones assembled the book himself and described it as a mostly pain-free process, one he said even editors with little design knowledge could use. He relied heavily on the templates that Apple provides, but he says there’s plenty of flexibility for those with who want it. The workflow will look familiar to anyone with experience with other Apple apps like Keynote or Pages, he said.

Assembling the package was made easier by the fact that most of the flooding package was already assembled for a printed magazine product the site gives to its donors. Jones simply had to go back over the multimedia elements to see which would fit in the story and how they could be best used within the book. He decided to decouple an audio slideshow, for instance, splitting it into a solo slideshow and an audio track to use in a different part of the book.

“It all goes back to the story you’re trying to tell and making sure you’re using the new tool and all the features within that tool to support the story,” Jones said.

Jones said he downloaded the app on the night of the announcement and mocked up two pages of the book for his iPad. The next morning, he took the book into work to show his editors and got the green light. It took Jones about a week to put the book together, mostly working from home. (iBooks Author only runs on Mac OS X Lion, which Beacon computers didn’t have installed — but his personal machine at home did.) But after that things stalled for a bit. It took a little over two weeks for the book to go through Apple’s publishing process, which is known for being slower than, say, Amazon’s for the Kindle. Aside from having to provide the necessary information for payment and other authentication, Jones said he’s not sure why the process took as long as it did.

Still, the Beacon found it to be a relatively quick process that fit in fairly easily to its workflow. The Beacon isn’t placing any expectations on the ebook; it’s using it as a kind of test balloon to see if readers are willing to pay or if they like reading in the tablet format. As a wholly different media from the website, ebooks could offer a lot of opportunity for the type of work the Beacon does, Jones said. They just need to find out if there is an audience for it.

“It’s a good example of what we do — looking more deeply into stories and sticking with stories over a period of time,” Jones said.

POSTED     Feb. 17, 2012, 1 p.m.
SHARE THIS STORY
   
Show comments  
Show tags
 
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
The New York Times’ new Slack 2016 election bot sends readers’ questions straight to the newsroom
“Instead of asking you to come to us and be part of this massive room of people shouting over each other, you can bring us to you, and have us be, essentially, one more person in your conversation.”
The Conversation expands across the U.S., freshly funded by universities and foundations
The news site that uses academics as reporters and journalists as editors now boasts 19 paying member universities and is opening up posts in Atlanta (and maybe in the Bay Area).
A Boston public radio station is redesigning its site to make audio “a first-class citizen online”
But: “I’ve tried to be really disciplined about not calling this process just a redesign,” WBUR’s executive editor for digital Tiffany Campbell said. “We’ve built a brand new platform.”
What to read next
0
tweets
For McClatchy’s new head of news strategies, analytics and social traffic bolster good journalism
“It’s a beautiful thing when the powerful, public service, noble interests of journalism actually align with your business model.”
0The Information is offering members a perk: an exclusive trip to “meet the right people” in China
The $399-a-year site covering the tech industry expects subscribers to pay their own way, but promises access to “people only the most well-known execs typically meet.”
0From Nieman Reports: How news outlets are harnessing the power of video games for journalism
As digital technology allows more and more of our lives as consumers to be framed as play, scoring points or competing with others, companies of all kinds have been incorporating games into their strategies.
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Encyclo is our encyclopedia of the future of news, chronicling the key players in journalism’s evolution.
Here are a few of the entries you’ll find in Encyclo.   Get the full Encyclo ➚
Yahoo
Semana
Sacramento Press
Houston Chronicle
Global Voices
Spot.Us
New York
The Weekly Standard
Current TV
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Apple
Hacks/Hackers