E-reader pioneer sees his predictions come true

By Richard Epps, Presentation Editor, The Detroit News

Roger Fidler delivered a public thank-you to Steve Jobs Friday during his keynote speech at the Society of News Design annual conference this morning.

Fidler, who is the program director for digital publishing at the Reynolds Journalism Institute at Missouri University, said Jobs validated his prediction about the future of e-readers back in 1981. Fidler faced great skepticism back then when he forecasted the future of journalism was in e-readers. When Jobs released the iPad last year, no one was happier than Fidler.

“ Since the iPad debut, I have gotten dozens of calls of congratulation from people who said my nutball idea came true,” Fidler told a packed ballroom of journalists this morning. “But I won’t feel vindicated until more news organizations are producing compelling news reports (on e-readers) with good design.”

Fidler was hesitant to make the same kind of bold prediction today that he did back in 1981, when he was the content director and designer for Viewtron, the first online consumer service pioneered by Knight-Ridder in the early 80s.

“Life was pretty simple by comparison back in 1981,” Fidler said. “Today with all the technologies we re seeing out there, the cross-impacts make any predictions very difficult to make. Computers in 10 years will run circles around what we do today.”

The closest Fidler came to a prediction was his belief that any impact that threatens iPad’s dominance of the e-reader market must have a 9- to 10-inch screen that can provide more dynamic design. “Otherwise, you might as well just look at it on your iPhone.”

Fidler said the design caliber of news presentations on e-readers is in its infancy, with slickly produced templates that quickly become repetitive to readers. He warned the audience that publishers may very well listen to their accountants, and not their design directors, and automate the design of content across platforms, making designers expendable. He decried what he perceives as the “devaluing of creative talent.”

He urged designers to take a stake in their future by learning new skills, especially the applications with Adobe’s Creative Suite.

Fidler sent the journalists off with a rallying cry: “The future of news design is here. In this room, with all of you: You are the future. “