Where Are the Newspaper App Developers?

Susan Hall

My colleague Carl Weinschenk wrote in late December:

One thing is sure as 2010 gives way to 2011: It's a good time to be an application developer.

Mobile applications development is on everyone's list of hot IT jobs these days, and research firm IHS iSuppli estimates that the sector's total revenue will increase by 81.5 percent this year, bringing in more than $3.8 billion. And mobile analytics firm Zokem announced last week at Mobile World Conference that mobile apps rank a very close second to the mobile Web browser in terms of monthly use and beat out voice and Web for the No. 2 spot.


Amid all that, Matt Waite, senior news technologist and the principal developer of the Pulitzer-winning PolitiFact, recently tweeted that the St. Petersburg Times had canned him. As Poynter explains it:

PolitiFact is structured around one core element: the Truth-O-Meter. The Truth-O-Meter is editorial content, showing at a glance a statement that was fact-checked and whether it was true ... And it functions as navigation, enabling users to browse content by the type of ruling.

And St. Pete news developer Jeremy Bowers announced he's taking a job at The Washington Post.


With newspapers desperately trying to salvage their advertising revenues and figure out their model for the Web, outsiders march right in and do it better. And newspapers just keep cutting staff-especially folks in IT-rather than coming up with useful and engaging apps, such as this database of pending bills in the state legislature.


Poynter also says:

Traditional news outlets have some tough decisions ahead if they believe programming is part of journalism's future. They need to decide where to place the people who do this kind of work, whether it's in IT, the department that manages the website (which may be separate from IT), or in the newsroom. They need to figure out how they'll balance the day-to-day work of running and improving the website against news-related programming. They need to find and retain employees who express an interest in and talent for this kind of work.

It also finds these factors influencing the field and its future:


  • News apps challenge longstanding perceptions of who owns technology within a media company.
  • Regardless of who is placed in what department, developers and journalists must be able to collaborate so they can create new tools.
  • News organizations will have to emphasize project management and product development if they hope to compete with digitally native information companies.
  • News organizations must truly support risk-taking in order to see its rewards.


Yes, take risks or die.

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