There's nothing quite like unfolding a newspaper, scanning the day's headlines, and diving into a local news story or an image-rich feature. It's a wholly immersive experience that ends with your brain full of knowledge and your fingertips covered in ink.
But nobody's got time for that. Even I, a former newspaper reporter with an 80-year-old man's taste in reading material and liquor, prefer to get my daily news online. Luckily, a slew of new apps are competing to cater to our dwindling attention spans with snappy headlines and social sharing features. Those newsreaders, which include established players like Flipboard and upstarts like Trove, now have to fend off the latest entry: Facebook's Paper, which combines its own News Feed with news stories in a magazine-like effort at reinvention.
So how does Paper stack up to the competition and which newsreader deserves the app equivalent of a Pulitzer? (Is there such a thing?) Well, it depends on what you're looking for.
The team behind the Washington Post's once-popular Social Reader built Trove, a new iOS app to share the stories you love. Trove has a clean and simple interface that lets you dive right into the news. To get started, you sign in with Twitter or Facebook--or register a new username--and pick the topics you're interested in. Trove's algorithms will dig up stories for you to read. You can curate your own trove, or collection of stories, with news that interests you and that you want to share with friends. The personalization aspect is great. But Trove isn't the best way to stay up-to-date. The feed is chronological by time the story is added to a trove, but you can add really, really old stories to each trove. That interesting headline your friend posted an hour ago could actually be a week old. That's not really a negative factor if you're into long reads and don't care about being current, but it's annoying if you're a news junkie.
There's a social aspect--you can also see the troves curated by your Facebook and Twitter friends, if you sign in with those login credentials. But here's the deal: You know what kind of stories your friends read. You see what news articles they post on Facebook. They're usually complete crap. The upside: You can follow troves curated by celebrities, which offers some insight into what famous people are reading.
Best app for:Long-read addicts and people who trust their friends.
Prismatic reinvented itself in December as an iOS newsreader based on your interests. Ideally, you start with 10 topics you're really into, and then follow more genres or people as you figure out what kind of stories you want to read. Prismatic also recommends interests to you based on your Twitter or Facebook followers and friends, or on what people near you like (apparently subways, Jay Z, and Canada are popular interests in New York). The topics can drill down pretty deeply--if you only care about pianos, then Prismatic will show you all the piano-related news your heart desires. There are about 10,000 interests to choose from so far.
The app has a few social elements: You can comment on stories, like or dislike them, and share them with friends. In that respect, Prismatic can foster more community than other newsreaders, which offer limited interaction, if any. Prismatic also has the most eclectic mix of stories--the app processes about 5 million new stories a day--so if weird, random news is your thing, this is the reader you need in your life.
Best app for:People with crazy interests who aren't interested in headlines or viral stories.
For straight-up newsreading, it doesn't get better than Circa for iOS and Android. Circa's journalists distill the day's stories into a few grafs for easy mobile reading. Photos, quotes, supporting docs are all in separate cards you can view if you scroll down. You don't have to sign up to read the news of the day, though you can, of course. If a particular story intrigues you, there's an option to follow it for notifications when the story's updated with more information. There are only a handful of sections to browse through--no "Cute" or "LOL" frills like Facebook. Circa is about the must-know stories of the day, and that's it. Yahoo's new News Digest app has a similar approach to news, delivering twice-daily digests of top stories, but I prefer Circa.
Best app for:News junkies who want their fix fast.
Flipboard's iOS and Android apps go above and beyond what most newsreaders offer, with a beautiful, flippable, magazine-style design to boot. You can get all the basic news from the introductory Cover Stories section, which is already filled with the day's top stories. Then you can start adding sources you like or topics you're interested in to round out Cover Stories. You can also connect your Twitter and Facebook accounts to see stories your friends have shared with you in the stream. You can even listen to music. It's just not fair. Plus, Flipboard has tablet versions that are even better than the original for evenings when you have time to actually read. Flipboard's only downfall is that it's all a little much. Sometimes you just want no-frills news. (I guess that's what Circa is for.)
Best app for:Magazine subscribers who have time to kill
Like Flipboard, Facebook's news-driven new iOS app takes its cues from magazines with customizable sections, though the network curates both the sections (you can pick from 20) and the stories that fill them. The best part about Paper is that it offers up Facebook's own News Feed as one of the sections, so you can see your friends' news before you flip over to current events. Paper takes Flipboard's gestures a step further with tiles that you can toss up, flip down, or slide over. Honestly, I've started trying to apply these gestures to other apps, which results in a lot of frustration. The mix of stories Facebook selects for each section is solid, and you won't be so overwhelmed by content that you retreat to your ignorance in defeat.
Best app for:Facebook users.