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May 9, 2012, 2:18 p.m.
Mobile & Apps

Revenge of the afternoon newspaper: Brazil’s O Globo sees engagement skyrocket with a magazine-like iPad app

O Globo’s new evening iPad edition is beautiful and dynamic — and it’s keeping readers hooked five days a week.

A surprising thing happened when Brazilian newspaper O Globo launched O Globo a Mais, a new weekday evening edition designed for its iPad app in February. The amount of time that people spent using the app per day shot up from an average of 26 minutes to an incredible 77 minutes. The jump seemed unbelievable, even for the team behind the new publication.

“We were amazed,” Pedro Doria, digital platforms editor, told me when we spoke after his presentation at this year’s International Symposium on Online Journalism. “We weren’t expecting that much. We didn’t think it would be such a success, but I think that in the end it simply makes sense.”

The numbers, surprising as they were, added up to Doria because they were the result of a deliberate effort to draw tablet users into O Globo content in new and interactive ways.

“The tablet is in that period of time where if we were talking about the web, the background would be gray and links would be either blue or purple.”

“We said we have to do something, and we should do something different, and most importantly we should start editing for the tablet,” Doria said. “Not for the web, not for the newspaper — for the tablet. We should start thinking about this gadget as a thing in itself. A new and different way of doing journalism.”

First, Doria’s eight-person team had to look at the unique ways in which people use tablets. He found people use desktop and laptop computers the most from about 8 a.m. until 6 p.m., while usage shifts toward tablets after work.

“For the tablet, there’s this little peak in the mornings, but after six o’clock it just goes sky high,” he said. That matches other data showing tablets (and let’s be honest, we mean iPads here) have usage patterns similar to the afternoon newspapers of old. O Globo set out to deliver an iPad edition each weekday at 6 p.m., with a longer edition on Fridays.

Next came the bigger question of content. Doria likes to repeat an observation that others have made: Photos may be cheap to produce but they look expensive on an iPad. Peruse through O Globo a Mais’ photos of the day — a regular feature — and you can see what he means, from the pop of President Dilma Rousseff’s red blazer to the shine of the buttons on Prince Charles of Wales’ jacket.

O Globo a Mais layout designer Télio Alvarenga

The evening iPad edition also features daily news, videos, original art, and articles about everything from policy and politics to pop culture and history. Each issue ends with a photo from the newspaper’s archives.

O Globo a Mais has the designed, produced feel of a magazine iPad app rather than the templatized, spare feel of many newspaper iPad apps. Stories get a paginated text presentation similar to Esquire’s, and the story-to-story navigation recalls that of Condé Nast’s apps. (It still needs an update for the new Retina display iPad, but that model won’t launch in Brazil until Friday.) For all of the attention that iPad-native The Daily has received for its distinct made-for-the-iPad aesthetic and functionality, O Globo a Mais is stylistically right there with it.

It’s notable, too, because where many magazines have adapted well to tablet presentation, some newspapers have struggled to take full advantage of the medium. All in all, about 550 people work for O Globo’s news operation, and Doria’s team is able to tap into work produced by reporters in other areas of the newsroom for the iPad evening app.

“Because it’s a premium product, the iPad will never publish anything that has been published before,” Doria said. “But after you see it in the iPad, you probably see it in the paper, because it’s good stuff.”

While you might see the same articles in the paper, much of what’s available in the iPad app simply can’t be replicated on other platforms. Single pages are layered with multiple captions, photos and videos. Other interactive features make for an experience that wouldn’t be possible online.

“It’s totally different,” Doria said. “The content is the same, but the experience is different. One of the things we did that made me more happy was this special that we did on this 18th-century paintings and watercolors of Rio 300 years ago, [layered on top of photographs of] how it is now. The experience of the tablet is quite intimate because as you’re spreading your finger across the painting, and suddenly the picture is showing.”

There was a similar feature online in which, using a cursor, readers could slide a vertical bar side-to-side to compare the photos and watercolors.

“It was interesting but it’s simply not as intimate,” Doria said. “It’s so intimate, the relationship you have with the iPad. You start uncovering the picture and seeing, wow, that’s how the city changed in these last 300 years.”

Digital subscribers pay R$29.99 per month (about $16), which includes access to the O Globo app — that’s where you’ll find the new iPad evening edition, along with a print replica of the paper. Existing print subscribers can access the iPad evening edition each day for an additional R$10 (about $5) per month, and non-subscribers can either buy new editions for R$1.99 (about $1) apiece or wait a day until they’re available for free. Doria won’t give concrete figures, but says the number of subscriptions has been growing substantially since the launch of O Globo a Mais — which translates to O Globo Plus.

The three editors who lead the O Globo a Mais team each have decades of journalism experience apiece, a factor that has been “fundamental” to creating a quality product, he said. The most critical components of the app’s early success, Doria says, is having an “integrated newsroom” — meaning great content goes wherever it fits best, and an attitude that no single platform is more important than the other.

“The print edition is as important as the website, and it is as important as the p.m. edition,” he said. “We do journalistic products. We are about producing quality news, quality content. And we should have that same drive looking for quality in whatever product we decide to work on.”

At this point, Doria says O Globo is “only just discovering” what is can provide on the iPad. He also says he has “no doubt whatsoever” that every one of O Globo’s readers will have a tablet in the next five years.

“Right now, the tablet is in that period of time where if we were talking about the web, the background would be gray and links would be either blue or purple,” Doria said. “It’s really the beginning. It will change a lot, but to be in the beginning is to be part of this invention process.”

Photo of O Globo a Mais layout designer Télio Alvarenga courtesy Pedro Doria.

POSTED     May 9, 2012, 2:18 p.m.
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