Public Editor

Variety of ways to read The Star online can be bewildering

Updated: 2013-05-28T15:34:53Z

By DEREK DONOVAN

The Kansas City Star

In the digital age, there are many ways to get the news: computers, televisions, phones, tablets, and of course in print. But the variety of delivery methods for The Kansas City Star’s content can be bewildering to readers.

I’ve had a rolling conversation over the past few weeks with a very nice reader who has had trouble juggling all the different ways she can read The Star on her iPad.

“I see the paper just as my husband across the table sees as he reads the print edition (he is so 20th century!), and that is what I want,” she wrote. Can she get an electronic version of The Star as it appears on paper?

Absolutely, and I frankly don’t think The Star does enough to let its readers know this option exists. At my lines, it’s one of the biggest slam-dunks the paper has rolled out in recent years.

I regularly hear from people who love the E-Star — an exact online facsimile of the printed paper, viewable on tablets, smartphones and computers. You use your mouse or finger to flip through virtual pages. Tap on a story or photo to open it up in a single window for easy viewing, and navigate easily through recent past editions. On the computer, you can even search full papers all the way back to 2007.

There are multiple ways to get the E-Star, depending on your platform. On the iPad, search the app store for “E-Star, iPad edition of The Kansas City Star.” That’s a native iPad app that installs itself with its own icon.

On computers, Android tablets or smartphones, go to the webpage http://estar.kcstar.com/ and select the “Desktop Version sign in” or “Mobile or Tablet Version sign in” buttons.

I shared all this information with the reader who’d asked about her iPad, but she was also confused to see a separate app in iTunes, this one called “The Kansas City Star for iPad.” Upon installing it, she saw a completely different experience from either the E-Star or KansasCity.com.

That app is designed as a native tablet app, and yes, it has a completely different look. While it carries much of the same content as the E-Star and KansasCity.com, it has its own organization and some unique content.

And if you visit KansasCity.com on a smartphone or some tablets, you will first be directed to a pared-down, text-based mobile version of the full website. However, you can scroll to the bottom and tap "View main website" to go to the full KansasCity.com, which recently received a major upgrade to what's known as a responsive design. That means the site detects the size and resolution of your device and delivers a version of the site tailored to the screen you're viewing it on.

Confusing? You bet. In fact, I understand one reader last year who termed the assortment of options “overwhelming.”

“How can I keep track of what I've already read!” asked my emailer.

The newsroom at a media outlet such as The Star is a much more complex place today than it was just a few years ago. Obviously, the print and online products produced by the same journalists are radically different beasts. But much of that is entirely by design, because the platforms attract largely different audiences. Much of the traffic to KansasCity.com comes from geographic areas outside Kansas City.

Looking through that lens, it only makes sense for editors to deliver content that varies by audience. Perhaps the most critical difference to consider is that while the print edition is essentially set in stone once a day, online sources can and must be updated as often as possible.

That can lead to reader confusion, though. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, and nobody has ever argued the online Star should remain static. But The Star could do more to explain all the options to its readers clearly.

To reach Derek Donovan, call 816-234-4487 weekday mornings or send email to publiceditor@kcstar.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/KCStarPublic.

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