Ready for Life in the Small Screen World?

you, the columnist

By Dave Lieber
Dallas Morning News columnist

Dave Lieber

Dave Lieber

I’m taking the long view with you, the columnist, about the future of journalism and column writing. The long view now is 18 months away. Remember when it was five years?

In this briefest of essays, I was prepared to argue that all the efforts we put into our print newspapers, blogs, YouTube videos, tablet appearances and social media postings seem to be headed in the same direction. Is it all for naught in the end?

The world is moving extremely fast — but not to a digital world. We have entered the small screen world. How we appear on a cell phone screen is all that matters anymore.

But the small screen world is about to change substantially in the next year. Do you know how?

Before I share how, here’s the latest research courtesy of the Associated Press Media Editors’ NewsTrain workshop I recently attended:

  • Sixty percent of all online viewing is now on mobile devices, with the rest on desktop computers. That number grew 20 percent in one year.
  • By the end of 2014, half of all news views online will be through mobile.
  • If an average person spends three hours a day online, only 2 percent to 5 percent of that time is spent consuming news. But that news consumption number is expected to grow.

At my newspaper, The Dallas Morning News, there was an attempt last year to charge customers for premium Web page viewing minus advertisements. It didn’t fly. The project was quickly abandoned. Also, if you haven’t heard, the newspaper home page is pretty much a relic.

Now my paper plans to unveil a new Web platform that is mobile first. After that, tablet and PC platforms will be released. But at first, the focus is completely mobile.

Meaning the small screen world. That’s smart. But I have fears that this ultimately could lead to columnists’ undoing.

Our work is already buried deep within our media outlet’s Web pages. First, usually, are the online all-stars — sports, crime news and weather. Columnists somewhere after that.

In a small screen world, how are our story-teaser headlines, let alone our full work, going to find enough space for display?

How can we stand out when there’s only so much room already for promos and that’s about to be reduced even more? How will we get any attention?

On Sept. 9, Apple may announce a new iWatch. Apple’s iPhone 6 is rumored to have a screen about an inch larger than previous models.

But the big event coming, the one that changes the small screen world forever, is the public arrival of Google Glass. The beta version of Google’s Web-in-your-face glassware quietly went on sale to the public in May for $1,500. A consumer version is expected to be released before the end of 2014.

Is there room for you and your work on someone’s watch face? Can your best work find a place in the corner of a glass lens while someone is walking a dog or driving?

“Glass, show me Suzette Standring’s latest column on spirituality.”

I told my son Austin, a high school senior, that his cell phone may become a relic. He can’t imagine that his third hand is about to go the way of a fax machine.

They call these devices — which only beta testers have used so far — wearables. That’s another name for the small screen world.

The small screen life is something that newspaper organizations haven’t come to understand yet. Nobody has, because it’s only seven years old, born in 2007 when Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone.

The coming disruption caused by wearables will be as great to society as the original advent of the Internet for public consumption was in the mid 1990s.

Or it will be a bust like Y2K.

We’re about to find out.

• • •

Dave Lieber is The Watchdog investigative columnist for The Dallas Morning News. Check out his latest stuff at dallasnews.com/watchdog.

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1 comment for “Ready for Life in the Small Screen World?

  1. October 12, 2014 at 4:05 pm

    Scary to consider, esp. for those of us with well-used eyes. Focusing on something so small is difficult, and we’d miss all our favorite columnists. Recently I saw a cartoon of a man reading a “tablet” about the size of a newspaper. The caption was something like iPhone 20.0. Don’t think I’d like to carry that around. I guess I’m just a cranky old f***.

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