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posted: 9/15/2011 5:00 AM

Friendship takes step toward an awesome future

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In 1994, I attended a journalism workshop devoted to an exciting view of the future of newspapers. Then-Knight Ridder newspaper designer Roger Fidler and a small staff of technologists had created a prototype of what they called the "digital paper." It was in tablet form, and you could carry it with you anywhere. Stories were written for content value, eliminating space limitations. You could touch a static picture of a play from last night's baseball game and watch it in audiovisual replay. You could touch a graphic embedded in a story about Yugoslavia and watch an interactive lesson on the geography and social background of the region. You could touch an advertisement and watch audiovisual descriptions of products as well as interact with the advertisers for more information or to make a purchase.

It was awesome. Turns out, it was also amazingly accurate, and it at last is coming to pass. Of course, you've been able to read the Daily Herald and other newspapers online for years, so Fidler's vision may not thrill you today as it did me 17 years ago. But only recently, first with the advent of iPhone and Android smartphone apps and now with iPad and other tablets, has the full potential of the "digital paper" begun to be realized. Last week, as we were rolling out our online subscription service, it came to fruition for Daily Herald users on the iPad.

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Fidler missed a couple of important developments. His prototype, for instance, did not foresee the Internet as the delivery system, and he certainly never expected that within a little more than a decade, we newspapers would create a multifaceted digital product, give it all away for free and use it to nearly destroy our industry. But, reports of our demise being somewhat exaggerated and premature, we still are far from destroyed, and with advances like the Daily Herald's new app for iPad, we are back in position to give readers what Fidler and his crew did foresee, a portable information resource that blends the distinct advantages of radio, television and newspapers into one convenient package, with breaking local news stories, sophisticated investigations and enterprise, video highlights of local school events, photo galleries, charts and graphs and much more.

Plus, we can add a level of interaction beyond even what Fidler predicted. We can, for instance, provide the "Talk to the Editor" conversation that Editor John Lampinen started online this week, enabling readers to interact directly with the person in charge about specific questions, concerns or ideas involving the paper's coverage. We can create programs like our video sports Q&A beginning today, in which sports reporters respond on video to questions readers have about local teams or coverage of them. We can develop more such projects, as we certainly will, to stay in closer touch with our readers' interests and adapt more quickly to their wants and needs for information. In short, we can build on our neighborly approach to journalism, applying professional resources and community interest to produce a depth of coverage and a breadth of affection for each of our suburban towns available nowhere else.

In his 1994 video, Fidler disputes the notion that people don't care where they get their information and extols the value of the newspaper as "a friend ... somebody you've come to trust." This, he says, is what will enhance the value of newspapers and keep them from becoming "road kill on the information superhighway."

"We believe that newspapers in fact can evolve into a new form of media that blends the old familiar aspects of a newspaper with the new technologies that are emerging so that you have the ability to read and browse and scan as we do today, at the same time being able to interact with the newspaper, to interact with advertisers through your newspaper, in ways that are not possible in the print media today," Fidler says.

The Daily Herald has taken major steps toward that evolution in the past couple of weeks. Some of you may not want to come along, and we're certainly happy to keep your friendship in a print environment only if that's your preference. But for those of you who also value the additional features, uses and information that the "digital paper" offers, we look forward to rewarding your faith as we take our friendship to an awesome new level.

• Jim Slusher, jslusher@dailyherald.com, is an assistant managing editor. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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