The headline from the interview, however, was that sometime in the next few weeks, the R-J will unveil a smart-phone app that, Hengel said, they expect to charge for in some manner.
Here's that exchange, which started after I noted to Hengel that my reporting showed that one of the things he was known for at the Pine Bluff newspaper was instituting a paywall, meaning readers had to pay for access to some or all of the news content:
Friess: Are you looking at a paywall for the Review-Journal?
Hengel: Not on the website.
Hengel: First of all, you’ve got to understand, and I think you do, it’s not just my decision on something like that. It’s primarily not my decision. But some of the things being considered are everything mobile, everything other than what you see on the website may at some point have some pay element to that. Right now it’s all fluid.
Friess: When you say everything other than the website, what are you referring to?
Hengel: Like mobile, an app, an iPad, an Android, a Kindle, phones…
Friess: You don’t see anywhere where the R-J will have a paywall similar to what The New York Times just started?
Hengel: I wouldn’t go so far as to say never, but I don’t see that in the immediate future, no. We’re not talking about that right now.
Friess: The Las Vegas Sun already has a mobile version of their website. If you look up their site on an iPhone, you get their mobile site. You don’t do that with the R-J site. Will that be coming?
Hengel: Real soon. Within weeks.
Friess: What about an app?
Friess: Is it already in development?
Friess: And when will we see that?
Hengel: That’s also the same time. We don’t have a date, but it will be within weeks.
Friess: What will the app be? What will we get on it? And if you’re a home subscriber, do you get it for free? Is there any deal for that?
Hengel: Well, I can’t answer that right now. I’m sure there’s going to be some cost, I don’t know whether the cost will be for the app itself or for the app and some kind of subscription. That hasn’t been decided. But under consideration, Steve, is the fact that we’ll charge for some of those.
Friess: Will you charge for the mobile version of the website or just the app? They’re two different things.
Hengel: I know. They’re similar. They’ll look a lot the same, but… I’m not trying to dodge you, I just don’t know.
Friess: Are there newspaper applications you’ve looked at that are models for what they R-J’s one would be?
Friess: Which one?
Hengel: The Associated Press.
Friess: They have an app people pay for?
Hengel: No. But that’s the look and the feel. Made by the same company.
So, obviously, the next thing I did was download the AP's free app and it's actually pretty awesome. But I do wonder how practical it is for the R-J to charge for a mobile app that does much the same thing when the AP's also has a "LOCAL" tab that then lists all of the R-J's stories, too. See?
Can they tell the AP to kill the Vegas section of their app? That would kind of ruin some of the charm and convenience of the AP's app, which I've grown to love since Hengel pointed me to it.
Clearly, they're still figuring this out, as the entire news industry is. It's just so great that they're finally on the case, anyhow. At a luncheon speech I attended two days before our interview, Hengel spoke smartly about the importance of being mobile, citing data that indicated half of all news consumed online came from referral via social media. He gets it.
While we're on this topic, though, I have to say that the crack Web staff at the Sun is bafflingly absent on this. Yeah, there's already a mobile version of the website, but where's the Sun app?!? So far as I can see, the only app Greenspun Media Group has put out there is the Las Vegas Weekly's, and it contains absolutely no news content from the magazine or site. Really, it should just be called the Vegas.Com app, since it's a city guide, not anything relevant to the Weekly as a publication. My editor, Sarah Feldberg, is awful cute in this explainer video, though it's ironically only available in iPhone-hated Flash:
See what I just did there? I took their video and presented it to you here. But I can't do that with any of the video on the R-J's website, and Hengel unfortunately doesn't think that's a problem. I noted to him that I can't download it or subscribe to it or embed it or any of the other means we are all accustomed to consuming and sharing such material. "We don’t have any changes planned for video," he answered.
Then there was this:
Friess: How much longer are you going to have Nate Tannenbaum doing that daily thing that he does?
Hengel: I have no plans to change anything.
Friess: Is it popular? Do people look at it?
So I went back to take a look and, you know, it's a much-improved product. It's certainly a smoother, more sophisticated production and there's a lot less of staring a Nate and his see-through dress shirts. (Sorry! Nothing happens when you click above. See the problem?)
But I still don't get it. These videos are teasers to what's coming in the newspaper the next day, right? Wouldn't it make sense to allow people to get it as a podcast or to find it in places other than the R-J website? If you're watching it on the site, you're already, umm, on the site and you've already seen the headlines. It's not like they're putting links to the stories discussed within some vicinity of the video. The entire enterprise is mystifying.
There's much more in my Hengel interview, which you can hear for yourself as I mentioned. We talked about the albatross he bears trying to convince the community that the paper's news coverage is not tainted by right-wing bias, his perspective on the odd Sun-RJ relationship, how he reacts to all of the Pulitzer talk surrounding the competition. (This interview was done three days before the Sun was a Pulitzer finalist, so I was asking in order to have some comments in my back pocket in case the Sun won.)
Just one last nugget, though. I noted to Hengel that since he and Brown took over, there's been a notable and welcome absence of petty personal attacks going back and forth between the R-J and the Sun and others. I also noted that neither he nor Brown had taken a column, as Frederick and Mitchell had. His response:
I couldn't have said it better myself.
I love that! "Rated 9+ for "Infrequent/Mild Realistic Violence." This is an app that presents news, photos and videos about wars, disasters, the most horrific crimes. Something tells me the violence is somewhat more than "infrequent" and "mild." As for being "realistic," I've always thought reality was about as realistic as you can get, but what do I know?