ACU Commits To Bring School Newspaper To iPad, Others To Follow?

Abilene Christian University may be one of the small universities in the vast state of Texas, but it is surely making a name for itself in the media market. Particularly the market that pays close attention to Apple.

ACU made waves across the educational and technology markets back when it decided to hand out iPhone 3GS phones to incoming freshmen, and now it's the first major institution to commit to bringing its school paper to the iPad. Apple clearly designed the iPad to be used by newspapers, and we already know that big ones like the New York Times will be jumping onboard to bring their content to Apple's first tablet.

But in our estimation, it will be the reaction of the smaller outlets and lesser-known papers that really defines the iPad. Will this finally be the device that convinces papers to make the jump to digital distribution? There's no doubt that the iPad is tailor made for newspaper reading, and if one school does it, others are sure to follow suit. Dr. Cheryl Bacon, chair of ACU's Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, says students and faculty already are working to bring the paper (The Optomist) to the iPad this Spring. The school delivered its paper in iPhone format way back in the Fall of 2007, and now an iPad Task Force has been formed to "use dedicated faculty and student leaders from across campus to develop The Optimist's new digital publication platform."

"We pay close attention to the way young people consume news," says ACU's Kenneth Pybus, faculty adviser of The Optimist. "They tend to use all the tools at their disposal to get information. With the iPad, we foresee the potential for an explosion in news consumption."

Professors Pybus and Bacon believe the iPad and its publishing platform will yield a marriage of audio, video and text unseen even since the advent of laptops and smart phones.

George Saltsman is executive director of ACU’s Adams Center for Teaching and Learning. "The work we will do leading up to the formal debut of the iPad is an outgrowth of research that's been happening on our campus for three years," says Saltsman. "Our campus community is already riding the next wave of digital communication. Publishing The Optimist on the iPad means our students will be ready to work with this revolutionary technology in the marketplace the minute they graduate. For some of our students, that day is right around the corner -- so of course they'll have a major jump on not only their peers, but also on veteran software developers nationwide."

The aspect of this software development drive that most fascinates Bacon is how it could revive the publishing sector as a whole, and newspaper publishing specifically. "The news business must find a way to keep news delivery profitable. Remaking the model for news delivery is the single most important discussion in journalism under way today," she says. “If our students and faculty, by being in the middle of that discussion, can help devise a profitable new delivery system, we will have accomplished something extraordinary.”