Never take your eye off the prize

Chris Courtney

Blogs

All comments posted below are mine alone and do not reflect the position of any of the entities mentioned. Got it? Whew. Feel free to continue now...

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Sometimes it takes a long, long time to see something through to reality.

This is more than just something I remind myself about when I am struggling to hook my models with my controllers as I toll away with the other students at Code Academy.

I recently was reminded that passion for a goal can mask the pain of pushing over the long haul. 

Let's rewind, seven years.

Back in 2005, as the new Design Director of RedEye, I had big goals and plans for the publication. One of the things I wanted to see was the content and energy of the publication reach out beyond the physical limitations of our print delivery system. Looking at the backbone of the Tribune, it made sense in my head that if we wanted to launch other RedEye into other markets, we should use the same content (sans the local stuff) and simply have RedEye LA, RedEye NY, RedEye Miami, etc.

While the Tribune did launch other RedEye-like publications, there is no RedEye LA or RedEye NY. And while I would love to be able to take the blame for the print products of the Tribune sharing their content in a modular manner, I was not part of that process. In short, I think the management team made the right move.

I left print all together in 2008 to team up with Jonathan Ozeran (now VP Product & Mobile @RECSOLU) to begin building the mobile strategy for Tribune. A few of nice design and media awards and 60+ apps later, we built a rock solid team only to see it shaken apart by corporate turmoil in late 2010. We were just beginning to turn our attention to RedEye when the floor fell out from below us and the corporate level and much closer to home—I was struck by stage 3 Hodgkins Lymphoma.

Time out. I was officially on the shelf for a moment.

When everything settled, good people were shuffled around and out while I found myself lucky to have a spot upstairs with Bill Adee and the local digital team. The first thing on our plate was getting RedEye into the mobile space. With that direction, the collective ended up creating the RedEye Transit app. For all the bumps and bruises that we got in the process of making it, we ended up creating an award-winning application that generates millions of page views per month, is loved by the RedEye readers—all while keeping from replicating the print product.

But through it all, I still had not scratched the itch of bringing RedEye to the masses outside of Chicago. 

Before you say, 'what about the website' understand that I am looking for something deeper than web—more engaging than web. I won't say that what we've created isn't without its flaws, but I think it gives you a glimpse into what I feel the web will be like in the not too distant future.

Go take a look.

What you'll probably say to yourself first either a) 'wow, that's pretty awesome' or b) 'why is it only for the iPad'.

I completely understand both statements. On one hand, yes, I am happy to know that the design and wit of the RedEye brand will finally have a way to be delivered on a platform that allows us to escape the print medium and puts us into the hands of people globally.

Others will gripe about web standards this and walled gardens that. I get it. If RedEye was bowing to the typical process that drags on a product release at the corporate level, then this thing would be tweaked and tested until it the market had already passed. 

Whatever you are working on—make it real, then worry about making it right.

I was lucky enough to be part of the 2011 Excelerate Class where we focused on actually releasing products. I think that RedEye for iPad and its predecessor The Bulletin are examples of how corporations can do themselves a favor by live testing products with real customers and rapidly adjusting them as they grow. You have to find out if the product has an audience before you throw the kitchen sink at it to make it successful. This is classic business building and the way that an investor would approach a startup. Why more corporations don't take this approach is really beyond me.

Oh, I remember why more corporations don't do it this way. Because building products this way can be a painful experience. It generally requires long hours and a lot of sleepless nights to work it in around the staffing restrictions and requirement that you still must perform your daily duties atop creating this new product.

But you get to release products! And who needs to sleep when the payoff is actually releasing your work and getting feedback on it?

Also, you get a chance to work with people who love to build, which is exactly what makes the RedEye team so special. They are a rockstar staff that gets overlooked so many times in the hierarchy of local media entities. Working with them to get this product out has been a fun adventure—not to mention the fact that I get to write this blog post at a desk that I haven't sat at in over four years.

Long story short—with a push of a button, the glossiest version of RedEye ever will be available anywhere iPads are connected to a network. Bigger potential audience. Fraction of the cost. There still is a lot of work, tweaks and pivots ahead—but when you build and release you force yourself to grow. Like I said, I couldn't be more proud to have worked with this team.

Just wish we could have been running at this speed for the last 11 years. Better late than never.

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With RedEye for iPad officially released, you can count on me to take a substantial break. Mainly so I can spend the next two weeks working on my Code Academy project for demo day. I personally can't wait to show you guys.

Just because I am taking a break doesn't mean that I don't have things to build.

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