John Jones ’11 blends love of computer science and journalism
by Michelle Simmons
March 23, 2011
John Jones ’11 recently developed PaperBoy, a mobile app for college newspapers, the first of its kind. “I have a really strong interest in computer science and journalism,” says the son of Judge John Jones III ’77. “It’s rare that those two things converge. It’s just my own personal geekness.”
After getting an iPad as a gift last summer, John Jones IV ’11, like anyone with a new toy, began tinkering with it.
“I’m a big newspaper guy, so I spent a lot of time using the new newspaper apps, like the Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The New York Times,” recalls the computer-science major and editor-in-chief of The Dickinsonian. “And I was enthralled by them—they were really cool interfaces, like a newspaper but more interactive.”
Moreover, they’re highly portable, unlike Web sites, which tend to be designed for viewing on desktop or laptop screens.
Soon, Jones was talking with fellow Dickinsonian editors about creating an app for the paper. “Most of us in college have smart phones; we have iPads or tablets, so it seemed like a perfect idea,” he says.
The result is PaperBoy, a free mobile app that allows subscribers to read the campus paper on their iPad, iPhone or Android.
Early to market
“I thought about it all through the fall semester,” recalls Jones. “The idea was in the back of my head, but I was just too busy.”
In addition to his classes and extracurricular activities, Jones also was a student photographer in the Office of Communications. During winter break, he finally found the time to download the development software and buy a $100 license to offer it from Apple’s App Store. It took him only two weeks to design and build PaperBoy, then another two to have it approved by Apple.
Jones introduced the app in late January and began advertising it in the Feb. 10 issue of The Dickinsonian. Since then, other colleges—Allegheny, Elizabethtown, Gustavus Adolphus, Lebanon Valley and Ursinus—have signed on to publish their student newspapers via PaperBoy. Some underground publications are interested as well, and he’s beginning to think that there might be a business opportunity at hand.
“I know there are some other college-publishing companies working on an app, but I’ve beaten them to the market,” he says. “This is the first time it’s being done for a college paper.”
About 1,000 people have downloaded the app so far; Jones plans to make it BlackBerry friendly by summer, reaching an even wider audience.
“It was really basic when I first started, and I’ve just kept adding features,” he says, noting that he had to teach himself how to write code for the app program. “In computer science, once you learn one programming language, it’s not hard to learn another one.”
Paper and pixels
Jones kept small publishers with limited resources in mind when he designed PaperBoy, which allows editors to easily upload their newspaper’s content via a Web portal. “It’s just like a blog,” he explains. “When you publish [your print paper], you log on to the Web site and you post all the new content. Any college paper can use this.”
Jones is now upgrading the infrastructure to make it more user friendly, allowing editors to upload text and photos directly from Adobe InDesign, the newspaper industry’s standard software.
“One of the reasons why the app is so valuable is that we don’t have a huge staff,” says Rich Lewis, adjunct professor of journalism and advisor to The Dickinsonian. “People barely have time to spell the name of the paper before they’re up to their eyeballs in work. Anything that takes additional time to learn or deploy, they just don’t have the time for it.
“You don’t have to go through a long uploading and editing process,” he continues. “It’s useful because it’s simple. It put us in the game at the new-media level in a way we had never been before.”
As for readers who still enjoy getting newsprint on their fingers? Paper versions aren’t going anywhere—yet, adds the veteran journalist. “We’re in a transition period between paper and pixels,” says Lewis. “The app represents stepping away from the things we oldsters thought were permanent and toward the new ways that people get their news.”
Find out more about the mobile app PaperBoy.