May 22, 2015 Last Updated 7:50 am

Those annoying bugs: media companies learn to deal with app issues and constant change

Tribune Publishing reacts quickly by issuing an update for one of its apps after readers began reporting crash issues following the release of a previous update

The app team at Tribune Publishing today issued an update for LA Times, the paper’s universal news app. As TNM reported on Monday, a previous app update which was supposed to fix some bugs was causing some users to experience crashes.

LAT-iPhone6-updateThe latest version, the one designed to fix the crash issues is version 3.3.6.

Until now, all the Trib apps have been at the same version number, so it is odd that users were only complaining about the LA Times app (not, say, the Chicago Tribune or Baltimore Sun apps).

I admit to having great sympathy for the app teams at newspaper and magazine companies, app quirks will drive you mad. TNM’s own Tablet Publishing app was released with a bug – thankfully, a very minor one.

I discovered the bug shortly before we released the app. Every once in a while a thin, white box would appear on some pages, as if the InDesign page used to create it contained an empty, bordered text box that had not been deleted. But the box seemed to appear randomly, not always in the same spot, and sometimes not at all.

In the end, though I shared screenshots with my design partner, Konstantinos Antonopoulos, now an interactive producer with Al Jazeera English, when he could not replicate the issue we decided to release the app.

Almost immediately, following its release, I finally figured it out: the issue would occur when the reader tapped on a biography. That tap brought up a pop-up text box with the bio. Then, when readers would go to another page the phantom box would appear. It would go away if the reader looked at another author biography. Very annoying, and I’m not sure we ever figured out why this was happening, or how to get rid of it – it just stayed in the app.

Five years ago this site said that to succeed in the new world of digital publishing media companies would have to learn to become developers themselves, to learn and embrace digital publishing technology with the same commitment that they have print technology. A few companies have done just that.

Those that haven’t include a number that have in the past claimed to be digital-first media companies. In order to cut corners they have generally outsourced their app or digital edition work to third parties. They have found this to be the quickest, and cheapest way to launch apps, new websites, etc.

But those companies that have developed their own app teams, I would argue, are more valuable today than those that have chosen to outsource. What is needed now is for management to understand that bugs happen, readers will complain, Apple and Google will introduce new systems that will mean massive updates, etc. This is the world of apps and digital media. Being in the middle of it beats seeing it all from the outside.

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