by Tom Kaneshige

Why Is Gannett Giving iPads and iPhones to Reporters?

Dec 22, 20114 mins
Consumer ElectronicsiPhoneMobile

Reporters will like the freedom of mobile gadgets and Gannett likes the price, but laptop alternatives do not lend themselves well to the stuff of journalism.

Gannett Co. journalists may be getting a belated Christmas present – iPhones and iPads – early next year.

This week, an independent journal about newspaper publishing giant Gannett, Gannett Blog, published a leaked memo from Bob Dickey, a division president, saying Gannett has just purchased thousands of tech gadgets for journalists, including iPhone 4Ss, iPad 2s and netbooks, MiFi wireless hotspots, and the iPhone tethering service.


Slideshow: 15 Ways iPad Goes to Work

“These new tools will help our journalists meet the demands of the new news cycle, one that requires agility in real-time reporting, social media and greater emphasis on video storytelling, further increasing our competitive advantage,” Dickey writes.

I’ve been reporting and writing stories off and on using my Apple package (iPhone 4S, iPad 2 and Apple Wireless Keyboard). Check out my tips on swapping your laptop with an iPad, which include ways to move data on and off your iPad.

While the mobility is great and social apps make it easy to promote stories on social networks, this Apple package is not a panacea for journalists, or most workers for that matter.

First, the pros: The iPhone 4S camera shoots great photos and video for rendering on the Web. Heck, photo journalists even took amazing photos with previous iPhone models. Here’s my favorite from New York Times photographer Damon Winter:


The iOS apps are the real deal in this tech package. I’m willing to bet that there are a host of great apps for almost any job. In my profession, I use the following:

WordBook dictionary, AP Stylebook (although expensive at $25), Quickoffice, iA Writer (a great writing app), SoundNote for taking voice and text notes, Dropbox for cloud storage, and Recorder for the iPhone to replace my standalone Sony recorder.

I’m also on the lookout for story ideas and sources using iPhone apps such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Twitter has become an indispensable tool for journalists; some reporters even post tweets of news as it happens. I can promote stories on social networks with just a tap of a button, and have built a decent Twitter following over the past two years.

Lastly, the iPhone tethering service that connects your iPad to the Internet means journalists can file stories from just about anywhere. Such mobility and freedom is critical for reporters, as a former editor used to tell me when seeing me at my desk: “What the hell are you doing here? Get out there and get me a goddamn story!” (Old-school editors weren’t known for using kid gloves with cub reporters.)

Next, the cons: Many knowledge workers spend an inordinate amount of time researching stuff on the Web. Their desktop computer screens are cluttered with all sorts of open apps, Web browsers are chock-full of tabs. Reporters, too, spend a lot of time researching on the Web. That’s why I’m at my desk, old man!

Despite the iPad’s multi-tasking features, such as Safari tabs and the Fast App Switcher Dock (double tap the home button to bring up the dock), the iPad is still a lousy research tool. The 10-inch touchscreen just doesn’t provide enough real estate to navigate and multi-task in an effective way.

Then there’s the problem with the iPad’s on-screen keyboard: Most reporters I know can’t type effectively on it. This probably means Gannett will need to provide keyboards. I picked Apple’s Wireless Keyboard and am very happy with it, the lone exception being that the keyboard burns through the two AA batteries.

But the bigger reason I can’t give up my Windows laptop is because of legacy systems and processes. Some systems require the use of Internet Explorer. Some desktop apps are just too big to run as an iOS app. Some processes require extra steps with an iPad. At times, you’ll need the heft of a powerful laptop.

For instance, I can write a story on iA Writer but must convert it to an MS Word document using Quickoffice before emailing it to my editor. Writing in Quickoffice is a little quirky because of a lag between keystrokes and their appearance on the screen.

In turn, my editor uses Word’s desktop editing features to slice and dice my story and then sends the tortured Word document back to me. Yet most watered-down iPad Office apps don’t fully support these editing features.

There is one Apple computer that would be perfect for reporters: the MacBook Air.

But after reading Gannett’s memo, I began to wonder if this was simply the latest computer refresh in the newsroom. If so, the underlying message just might be cost savings: The iPad 2 is far cheaper than the MacBook Air, which, of course, wasn’t on the list.