USA Today pitches mobile app for media organization
March 25, 2015
A new digital app for smart phones and tablets may be coming to campus that will change the way students read the news.
On March 3, Mary Ellen Couture, a regional sales manager for USA Today, came to a UW-River Falls Student Senate meeting and pitched the USA Today app called “The Buzz.”
This app is an extension of the USA Today Collegiate Readership Program, in which USA Today delivers newspapers to campuses that wouldn’t normally be able to get such a variety of news.
However, Couture said in a phone interview, because many universities are outside of the geographic delivery system, it has become more and more difficult to offer print versions to a variety of schools. Because UWRF cannot get many printed papers that are available through the readership program, USA Today decided to offer just the digital app.
USA Today beta tested the app at 12 universities, including UW-Oshkosh and UW-Stevens Point, according to a USA Today press release. USA Today held off for about a year in order to gather information and feedback, according to Couture. Now USA Today will be offering the app to 50 campuses around the country by the fall of 2015.
The app includes several features, including four banner ads that are controlled through the university. This can be used to advertise events on campus, important dates, and student newspaper stories. For UWRF, that would include the Student Voice, the campus newspaper.
Other features include changing the app to display the university’s school colors and logo. The individual user will also be able to customize which news they want to specifically look at, according to Couture.
Changes that are currently being made to the app are a possible multi-publication fee, in which USA Today would stream several Gannett-owned newspapers through the app as well as newspapers that are partnered with USA Today through the readership program, according to Couture. However, it is unclear how much the multi-publication fee will cost along with the original $12,000 it costs each university to acquire the app.
UWRF Allocable Fee Appropriate Board (AFAB) Chair Dylan Asp said that Senate is excited about the idea of the USA Today app coming to UWRF.
“It will increase readership for the [Student] Voice, so I think that’s really good for the Voice and everyone involved in that. I also think that it’s incredibly sustainable," Asp said. "Printing and stuff like that, we’ve been trying to cut back on it everywhere on campus, in our office, office of Student Life, everywhere. So I think it’s much more sustainable, because then we’re not printing as much paper. And it’s also cost effective. The cost to print the paper yearly is $20,000 approximately, according to the budget, and this would only cost $12,000.”
But according to Jack Tuthill, editor-in-chief of the Voice, the USA Today app replacing the printed edition of the Voice is not something, at least at this point, that the student organization is interested in.
“I don’t think it’s feasible, nor do I think it’s necessary,” Tuthill said. “We already have a responsive web design for the Student Voice and we are working on getting a better product out there on the web every single day.”
Tuthill also said that he doesn’t know why Senate is looking to pursue this app after cutting the Student Media Committee’s budget from $4 to $3 per student per semester in February, and cutting the Voice's overall budget down to $14,000 on March 24.
“We were a little confused, especially how much it costs, why they were approaching us with this possibility,” Tuthill said.
Tuthill is worried that the USA Today app would use up nearly the entire Voice budget, while USA Today would make money and gain readership while using the Voice's original content.
The talks with USA Today are still in their early stages, according to Asp, and there are still many things to still be discussed, including where the $12,000 would come out of the budget and how this app would affect the Voice.
“My next step, personally, as the one kind of trying to lead this, is to get in contact with Student Voice as much as I can,” Asp said. “This can’t be done without them, even USA Today knows that. We know that it has to be done in collaboration.”