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Evening Pilot: new tablet edition leans forward, leans back, crosses “the bridge”

TAKEAWAY: It’s been a year since the publication of my digital book about tablets: so what’s happening with newspaper tablet editions today? This is Part 3 of our four-part series, What’s Trending with Tablets. Today: The Virginian- Pilot unveils its Evening Pilot tablet edition: a conversation with editor Denis Finley.

TAKEAWAY: It’s been a year since the publication of my digital book about tablets: so what’s happening with newspaper tablet editions today? This is Part 3 of our four-part series, What’s Trending with Tablets. Today: The Virginian- Pilot unveils its Evening Pilot tablet edition: a conversation with editor Denis Finley.

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Illustration by Reed Reibstein

During the last two days, we have been examining trends in newspaper tablet editions. We have also taken a look at the major highlights of a short but busy history since the first iPads appeared in 2010, leading to newspaper versions on that new platform.

Today we devote our blog post to The Virginian-Pilot’s just launched Evening Pilot, a newspaper tablet edition that I consider as a good example of what I refer to as “bridge” between what has been there so far and what we may see more in the future.

At a time when many newspapers have no idea where to go with their digital platforms, particularly the tablet, the Evening Pilot team has managed to produce an evening tablet edition that hits the spot, and responds to what the research points us to: tablet readers do not wish to have a replica of their online or newspaper editions. They want to lean back with curated material, access to breaking news and, most importantly, content where the “finger is made happy”, as in videos, pop ups and engagement.

Evening Pilot also includes what I believe today’s newspaper tablet edition should be: a combination e-paper, live coverage, lean forward and lean back. Not that Evening Pilot is 100% there yet, but it is a fantastic start for those of us who study and create newspaper tablet editions.

It aims in the right direction in recognizing that while tablet users may enjoy their lean back time—-kicking off their shoes and reading long pieces and those important “extras”—-they are also in lean forward mode all the time, ready for breaking news headlines and the flow of what the newsroom considers must know information.

As soon as we downloaded and studied Evening Pilot, I knew I wanted to have a conversation with The Virginian-Pilot’s Editor, Denis Finley, about this new tablet edition.

A chat with Editor Denis Finley

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What was the thought process that led you to go evening with the tablet and to make the choices you made about content organization?

I had read a lot of research and articles about the tablet and its readers. It became clear that the tablet reader was a different animal, one we could reach with a different set of goals and content choices. I formed a committee led by Katrice Hardy. Its task was to do more research on tablet habits especially in our local market to see how we could serve it. When they found out that the local market was basically the same as the national, we saw an opportunity and created EP to fill it.


Your app is free at the moment, will that change?

The app is free, but the content will be metered starting late September along with the rest of our digital content. So technically, the app is free, but the content is paid.


What’s the reaction from readers and from advertisers?

Overwhelmingly positive. Our launch page sold out to four large advertisers in a matter of days. Other advertisers are lining up to buy ad space because they were upset they didn’t get in right away.

Since we launched we have almost 4,000 downloads already and more than 250,000 page views. We included a survey on the app and the responses have been outstanding.


Why did you decide to include both tablet-optimized stories and a wide range of reformatted content from PilotOnline? Were you concerned that including the web content would give you less flexibility for taking advantage of the platform with your feature stories?”

That is the actual Spreed “cookie cutter” app behind the app we built with Spreed’s help. We figure it’s good to have it there if readers want to go to a news site. Then they can have it all at their fingertips and will not have to leave EP to get news. We do not have the resources to build an entirely original, native app.


Do you have plans for the next version of the app?

Not at this time.


About advertising (a subject mostly unexplored by existing news apps, with few exceptions), tell me about the decision that went into using banner ads and full-screen ads instead of creating advertising suites or the like.

This is the way we traditionally monetize our digital content and it seemed appropriate for EP. The thing that is different for us is the launch page, which is sponsored.


Who participated in the planning and creating of Evening Pilot?

The committee I appointed was cross-departmental comprising representatives from news, advertising, IT, circulation and interactive media.


How did you come up with the name Evening Pilot?

I conducted a company-wide naming contest as well to get the name Evening Pilot. These were names that ended up on our short list: Extra, GoPilot, NIP (no ink Pilot), Pilot 2.0, Pilot after Dark


What’s your presence in smartphones?

Our presence on the smartphone is a feed from PilotOnline. That’s what the tablet would have been had we not created EP.

The role of print at The Virginian-Pilot

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This was the front page of the Fourth of July edition of that always visually surprising The Virginian-Pilot

As readers of this blog know, we admire the design of The Virginian-Pilot, a newspaper that has had a long tradition of creativity and innovation in visual storytelling. In fact, only last month we displayed the July 4th edition among the Pages We Like. This is why I was quite interested to get a note from Editor Denis Finley attaching a pdf of that same page with a comment that read :

By the way, we haven’t stopped doing innovative, even revolutionary in my opinion, print design. We still take risks. I’ve attached here our July 4 front page for you to see. It was produced in response to the debate in our country around security vs. privacy a la the NSA revelations. We used the front page as thought provoker.

Denis explains that the Pilot’s focus for the printed edition is on local investigative, explanatory and watchdog news stories, while the strategy for digital is breaking news, interactive features and enhanced coverage in select subject areas.

I have been repeating this slogan the past few years: Break it online, explain it in print. That doesn’t mean we don’t break news in print or do explanatory journalism online, but the primary focus of print is explaining and the primary focus of online is breaking.

What the research showed

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Katrice Franklin is the Evening Pilot’s editor. She says that her team felt strongly that any app they proposed would have to play to our strengths.

We were almost giddy when our research showed that tablet readers loved strong photography, narratives and interesting and engaging content, already among The Pilot’s strong suits. The tablet also gave our incredible designers a new playground to explore.

I refused to present a proposal that was easy or economical, for example simply a regurgitation of what we offer on our other platforms. I certainly weighed the fact that we couldn’t hire a bunch of new folks and that we couldn’t spend gobs of money, but our ultimate pitch had to be a special product that our research showed readers would love and that was truly unique.

Reactions to Evening Pilot so far:

According to Denis, here are some sample comments:

Most impressive app since National Geographic.

Current up-to-date news easily accessible.

Easy to navigate using either option, the app makes access easy, love the look!

Ease of use – fast load and right at my fingertips We are also a paper subscriber I think it’s well presented,crisp clear pictures. great articles.

I just love it. I find my self looking at my watch to see if it’s 6:30 so I can get the days copy.

I love my morning edition of The Virginian-Pilot also. Another great feature of both is being able to read them off line if I am where there is no WiFi. Thanks for a great addition to my reading enjoyment.

Another view of the Evening Pilot

Reed Reibstein, our art director and project manager, has also reviewed the Evening Pilot. Here is his take on what works well in this first version and what could use improvement:

What works well:

—The visual flair of the home screen and lead feature openers, which perfectly channel the trademark energy of the Virginian-Pilot in print.

—The focus on the evening, and on content created for the tablet. The promotional video said all the right things on this count.

—The app contains both the tablet-focused features and many stories published on Readers may like having access to everything the Pilot has to offer in the app, though I’d prefer if they honed the tablet-optimized features instead of trying to do so much out of the gate.

What doesn’t as much:

—Once past the lead features’ openers, the design loses some impact, emphasizing stripped-down HTML text (though the image captions and pull quotes that appear do retain the Pilot style). Perhaps this was done to allow a single template to accommodate both the tablet features and reformatted web stories, but the effect is to take the reader out of the engaging experience they were primed for by the opener. Similarly, the few “pop-ups” (video, photo galleries) are not well integrated. For example, a YouTube video is embedded next to the text, but as a horizontal video within a too-small vertical container.

The app’s interface is not as refined as some others. In particular, the navigator’s buttons feel too small, and the overall aesthetic is not in keeping with the visual energy of the home screen and story openers.

Mission statement for the Evening Pilot

EP is a premier digital news magazine, delivering must-read unique and engaging content presented in a compelling format for our growing tablet market in Hampton Roads.

We want to publish interesting, imaginative, unique content and visuals, including photo galleries, long-form storytelling and offbeat subjects.

Three attributes for EP: EXCLUSIVE EARLY EXTRA

Tablet content must have at least one of these attributes. Exclusive means it is tablet only and will not be found in any other Pilot products; Early means that tablet readers will get overlapping content on the tablet first; Extra means that readers will get something else with overlapping content – a video, a photo gallery, a timeline,etc.

The Virginian-Pilot will publish Evening Pilot six days a week, Monday through Friday at 6:30 p.m. and on Sundays at 6:30 a.m.

Download the Evening Pilot app free here:

Evening Pilot promo video here:

Hear Editor Denis Finley and Tablet Enterprise Editor, Katrice Franklin discuss the new tablet edition:

What’s Trending With Tablets?

Coming up in TheMarioBlog:

Thursday: A conversation with Joe Zeff and Michael Eder about where newspaper tablet editions are headed

Previously in this series:**

Part 1: What’s Trending with Those Tablet Newspaper Editions?

Part 2: A brief but eventful history for newspaper tablet editions

Gulf News: the awards keep coming

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Here is a double page from today’s edition of the Gulf News, of the United Arab Emirates, celebrating 19 awards received from various journalistic/design organizations worldwide.

It honors me to work with the talented team of the Gulf News for over a decade now. Editor is Abdul Hamid Ahmad; design director is Miguel Gomez.

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