It is easy to laugh condescendingly at the media dinosaurs trying to enter the 20th — oops, make that 21st — century. But you know what? Traditional media's expansion into the ether is actually helpful. I started subscribing to the Kindle version of the Richmond Times-Dispatch last year, and I read more of it than I ever did when I had it delivered to the door. I occasionally miss the coupons, but I definitely don't miss dealing with the recycling.
Of course, Kindle's just the tip of the digital iceberg. Here are some of the more interesting developments in my view:
Phones and Tablets
I drive with a dining guide in my car, just in case I need to look up a restaurant, but many people are more digitally advanced than I. For folks with smartphones, Style Weekly has a free happy hour app (say that three times fast after a 50-cent PBR) at happyhours.styleweekly.com/richmond/mobile. It works on iPhone, Blackberry, Android and mobile Web.
Meanwhile, Richmond.com offers news, forecasts, traffic maps and entertainment coverage on a free app available on Android and iPhone; its Media General cohort, the T-D, has a signup for mobile alerts via text message, as does WWBT-NBC12. The T-D also has an iPad app that provides a digital copy of the print version. Check richmondtimesdispatch.va.newsmemory.com for information. WTVR-CBS6 has an app that offers local news, weather, sports and other updates, available on any phone that handles data.
Clear Channel-owned stations WRVA, Q94, 102.1 the X, 106.5 The Beat and Sports Radio 910 (as well as 800 other stations nationwide) can be streamed on a free app called iHeartRadio available for phones and tablets. See iheart.com for more information. Another free app I like is TuneIn Radio, which allows you to pause a live streaming station and pick it up after your phone call or other interruption is done, like DVRs do with television. Some local stations are available there, along with radio from around the world.
Richmond magazine includes smartphone scans in our pages, linking to house-made video. I gently suggest we should get into the app game, maybe for special events like Broad Appétit or the folk festival. (I say gently, because it would be others doing the work.)
I have to say, though, that the local media should take inspiration from the Media General outlets in Tampa, Fla., which offer some fun applications, like Garage Sales of Tampa Bay or the pirate-themed Gasparilla Festival app. Just think about what could have been in 2011: text alerts for Lincoln star sightings or a Fabergé scavenger hunt app.
Paying for content isn't popular with most readers, and it's a risk for media outlets, especially if they put too much content behind a wall. But that doesn't mean it's not a risk worth taking. Richmond Biz Sense charges $45 a year for some valuable information, at least to some business owners: lists of new patents, business licenses, business permits and certain stories.
The Times-Dispatch charges for access to archival articles (back to 1985), with a variety of plans — from $2.95 a story to a one-year, 1,000-article plan at $1,995. Going way back in time, the paper offers scans of historic documents from the Civil War, a project that started last year. Another cool feature is the sale of high-resolution scans of photos dating to the 1950s.
On radio4all.net , a free network of podcasts, quite a few WRIR-97.3 LPFM shows are available free. (Full disclosure: I volunteer there.) The easiest way to find them is to search "WRIR." For the world-music lover, there's Global A Go-Go, Ambiance Congo and The Motherland Influence, and punks and hard-rock enthusiasts may enjoy Gutter Satisfaction and dog germs.
Over on rvamag.com/podcasts , Midnight Soulstice (another WRIR show) and a rotating group of local spinners produce mixes. Chris Bopst, the granddaddy of indie DJs and T-D entertainment columnist, provides a weekly music podcast at rvanews.com .
Political and news content from Times-Dispatch reporters and columnists (including Olympia Meola, Jeff Schapiro and Public Square discussions) is available free on iTunes.
So, there you have it. Going mobile means that you don't have to carry the paper or a magazine under your arm to a park bench anymore.