Karen Peterson

Karen Peterson: Capital Update app ready, free to subscribers

Monday will be a good day to be a News Tribune subscriber. And if you’re not one, Monday would be a good day to start.

Monday is opening day of the 2014 session of the Legislature. This year, TNT subscribers will have a new way to follow the action in Olympia: our just-released mobile app called Capital Update. Its sole purpose is to provide wall-to-wall, up-to-the minute coverage of state government, particularly the Legislature.

TNT subscribers get Capital Update for free. Yep. For free.

Nonsubscribers pay a one-time fee of $49.99. That’s a good price for an annual subscription to this kind of content. But it’s not as good as free.

We’re excited about Capital Update. It’s a brand new publication. It’s our first niche app available for smartphones and tablets. And it showcases some of our best journalism.

It allows us to reach current readers and others in the community and across the state with a strong interest in state government. It creates a new marketplace for our advertisers. And we get to do something nice for our subscribers.

The effort began about a year ago when we hired Melissa Santos as the Capital Update editor. Santos worked for us from 2007 to 2010 as a reporter covering East Pierce County. She wrote many stories during that time about the goings-on in Olympia that affected those communities.

Santos left to move overseas for two years with her military husband. During that time, she studied digital media and Web technology. We were fortunate to hire her back last year to begin building Capital Update.

We’ll feed Capital Update mainly with stories from our team in Olympia, the largest statehouse bureau on the Capitol Campus. It includes veteran reporters Jordan Schrader and Brad Shannon and columnist Peter Callaghan, along with Santos, who writes stories in addition to managing the app. University of Washington legislative intern Annaliese Davis will join the team this year. Davis is a senior from the Tacoma area.

We’re practiced at covering the Legislature; state government coverage has long been one of our top priorities. However, none of us knew how complicated the process would be to build an app.

First, we settled on the content we wanted to include: stories, editorials, short biographies of legislators, committee assignments and state salary databases. We decided to add content from other trusted news organizations around the state, making ours a one-stop shop for this kind of news. We built a Twitter stream of influential people interested in the Legislature. And we learned to send breaking news updates for the most important happenings each day.

Spreed, a digital vendor we work with for our general news apps, provided a framework for Capital Update, so it will look and feel familiar to TNT app readers. We spent much of the 2013 legislative session perfecting the content and learning to operate the app. Last year we beta-tested iPhone and iPad versions.

Since then, we added a number of features including a “Bills to Watch” page that Santos will update continually. We also built Capital Update versions for Android phones and tablets.

And we changed our business model. Last year, we planned to sell the app for $4.99 a month to subscribers and nonsubscribers alike. Now that we have a print-digital bundled subscription, we decided to include Capital Update as one more good reason to be a TNT subscriber.

Reporters working on Capital Update will continue to provide stories for the next day’s print paper. The apps have the advantage of giving readers the news as it happens.

Even with all that planning, our Capital Update launch came down to the wire. Once completed, we submitted the apps to the Apple App Store and Google Play Store for approval. Google tends to do that quickly for Android apps. Apple is fussier, and we never know how long it will take.

Our Capital Update iPad app went live Wednesday, just five days before the session starts. Whew.

Getting the app is simple. Subscribers can go to thenewstribune.com/capital-update-app for instructions. Nonsubscribers should go to the App Store or Play Store directly and search for Capital Update Tacoma.

Please try it out, and tell us what you think. We’ll add features as you suggest them.

Karen Peterson: 253-597-8434