Electronic magazine designed exclusively for tablet computers


Sean Ireland
Research showing that users have different usage patterns for their tablet computers than their desktops, laptops and mobile phones has inspired The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va., to create a new daily electronic magazine.

On Aug. 4, the Landmark Community Newspapers LLC-owned newspaper launched Evening Pilot, a weekday night and Sunday morning magazine exclusively for tablet computers. An iPad app for Evening Pilot is available now. Apps for other tablets are coming soon.

The early returns are encouraging. In just one week, The Virginian-Pilot's Evening Pilot app was downloaded nearly 4,000 times and Evening Pilot had more than 250,000 page views. Advertising sponsorship of the app's loading page is sold out for three months, and readers were generating lots of positive feedback through the app's survey tools.

They're all good signs that the newspaper's concept for a product specifically designed for the desires of tablet readers is fleshing out the research that inspired the product.


Late last year Virginian-Pilot editor Denis Finley read studies that indicated tablet news readers have far different habits than people who consume their news in print or on their smartphones, desktops and laptops. "[Tablet readers] read in the evening and like lots of visuals and long-form stories," he said. He found that people used their other devices in shorter bursts during the day, searching for breaking news, traffic or weather updates.

Finley described the difference as a lean-back approach vs. a lean-forward one. With their tablets, consumers are looking for deeper reads. They're ready to sit back at night and unwind. They spend more time with the tablet, and they want to enjoy the content they read.

With that in mind, staff members representing all of The Virginian-Pilot's departments met to examine options for reaching that audience. The committee, led by Katrice Hardy, came up with the idea for Evening Pilot – a concept that is a combination of magazine and reincarnation of an evening newspaper. Hardy was later named tablet editor.

"The content is tailored is for what we know about the tablet reader," Finley said. "They want to read interesting stories and engaging content – content they can't get anywhere else, so we pick and choose stories that might not appear in the newspaper and tailor them to the tablet audience. We are trying to create a unique product."

Of course, Evening Pilot also has content that appears in the daily newspaper, but EP readers get it earlier and with extra features not available anywhere else. As part of a series revisiting the case of convicted naval spy John Walker, tablet readers were able to see timelines of the events in the case and the Cold War, graphic representations of the KGB and tools of the spy trade, and an interactive map marking locations in the Norfolk area where Walker lived and where he made drops of information for his Soviet handler. There's also a quiz on the world of espionage. "All of that stuff is tablet only," Finley said. "It's a lot of fun, and it's got the things that tablet readers say they use and want."

In addition to Hardy, the editor, Evening Pilot has its own reporter photo editor and graphic designer drafted from the roster of The Virginian-Pilot's newsroom. The app was built to The Pilot's specs by the newspaper's mobile vendor Spreed Inc.

Starting in September, when The Virginian-Pilot launches a paid digital subscription model, EP will be metered with a limited number of stories available to readers before they will be prompted to subscribe to it. Any subscriber can download the app for free. Banner ads from The Virginian-Pilot's website are also sent to Evening Pilot, and the paper's advertising staff has sold sponsorship of the app's loading page for its first three months.

The early success of EP can be attributed in part to having all of the newspaper's departments represented on the concept committee. "We are pretty collaborative organization. We've broken down a lot of the walls that have existed between departments," Finley said. "There's still a line so we can make sure we are independent, but we want to make money and sell our product, and to do that we work very closely with the ad department. It's a necessity in the business now."

Preparing for the future is also a necessity. "We have to bridge the gap between print and digital, and this tablet app will help us accomplish that," Finley said. "Someday everything will be digital. I think that's still pretty far away, but you've got to think now about bridging the gap. This is one way we are doing it. We're building expertise and audience and showing our community that we're not standing still."

For more information, contact Denis Finley at (757) 446-2321.

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