Independent integrates augmented reality into editorial workflow

The Independent began adding smartphone-aided augmented reality features to its daily print editions on Tuesday. While augmented reality (AR) apps have been buzzing around the industry for a few years, the newspaper is the first to fully integrate the app into its editorial workflow, Press Gazette reported.

by WAN-IFRA Staff | April 26, 2013

Unlike QR codes, AR uses a phone’s camera to recognize specific images (in this case, newspaper pages) and superimposes information over the camera feed. AR technology opens related links and content within its app, whereas QR codes externally connect to links on mobile web browsers. Industry analysts agree that AR has more potential for newspapers than QR codes, which have been deemed “dead” by most.

Independent+ uses iPhone, iPad and Android app Blippar to update select print stories with new information and additional multimedia features. The newspaper is also using the app to increase audience engagement by allowing readers to vote in polls related to opinion articles. The Independent said AR supplements will be available in all sections of the newspaper, according to Press Gazette.

“We are committed to keeping our readers up to speed with the latest news and trends, and Independent+ allows us to do this, giving readers of the print edition access to real-time online updates and additional engaging content,”  said Christian Broughton, Digital Editor at

An ad for Independent+ asks, “Wouldn’t it be great if … your newspaper could be updated in real-time?” But the concept is hardly a new one: New Scientist was drawing print readers to related web pages a decade ago, The Register noted.

AR apps gained momentum last summer. The Star, Malaysia’s top English daily, introduced iSnap to connect print readers to interactive features, including slideshows and videos, the Editor’s Weblog previously reported. Over the summer Fairfax Media and News Limited also added AR features into apps for several of their publications, including Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

The Tokyo Shimbun also used AR to convert meaty articles into kid-friendly, illustrated versions, but lack of funding kept the attempt short-lived, with only a total of 10 AR-enhanced articles produced, The Register noted.

“[AR] is one of the many innovations that newspapers should be doing,” Fairfax Media Digital General Manager Nigel Tutt said, according to the Newspaper Publishers’ Association. “It’s part of the reader experience alongside print rather than the whole way content is delivered.”

AR represents serious potential for newspapers, which are focusing on engagement to combat declining circulations. Scott O’Brien, from the company Explore Engage, which developed News Limited’s AR app, said research shows people spend 10 times the amount of time with augmented reality than with simple videos, the Editor’s Weblog previously reported. Newspapers have also used AR apps to link to online commenting boards for print articles (video).

The technology also holds advertising potential (see a video of an example ad enhanced by AR). Zach Leonard, Managing Director for Digital at The Independent, expressed hope that the Independent+ will be used to “extend clients’ ad campaigns and sponsorships,” according to Press Gazette.

But Bill Ray of The Register said he doesn’t see much use in The Independent’s use of AR, as the linked content is already available on the newspaper’s website, without having to download an external app.

“Such apps are only useful if the content to which they link provides relevant and live information, rather than more adverts and a sprinkling of updates,” he writes.

Ray contrasted The Independent’s use of AR with The Tokyo Shimbun’s, arguing that the Japanese newspaper’s AR app added value to readers whereas the Independent’s doesn’t.

“Experimenting with new ways to integrate different worlds is unquestionably the way ahead for [newspapers], but it’s hard to see anyone on the train taking out a mobile phone to get additional pictures of Crossrail, or voting on whether Parliament’s backbenchers are more or less interesting these days,” Ray writes. “Which, unhelpfully for [owners Alexander and Evgeny Lebedev], makes the whole thing look like a PR exercise reminding everyone that papers still exist.”

Highlights of how other news organizations have been using augmented reality technology:

  • The Times: Used the Aurasma app to enhance its Saturday supplement (video). The app animated photos and allowed readers to buy items featured in the magazine simply by pointing their cameras at certain photos in the magazine.

  • The Telegraph: Experimented with AR technology in its motoring section, allowing readers to see the inside of vehicles. Also used in travel section to better showcase destinations.

  • The Los Angeles Times: Expanded Olympic coverage by using AR app to link print spread to extended photos and other features that did not fit in print edition.

  • Talk About Local: Geo-tags stories and presents them to users based on their location; represents potential for hyperlocal news organizations.

Augmented reality will also be the subject of a presentation at the 2013 World Editors Forum by Wong Chun Wai, Group Chief Editor, The Star, Malaysia. The event will take place in Bangkok, 2-5 June.

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