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Boston Globe Trek Redefines Digital for Newspaper Industry

The Boston Globe recently launched a digital scavenger hunt that further blurs the lines between physical and digital spaces, news and entertainment, and social and traditional media.  Boston Globe Trek is a prime example of innovation within an industry struggling to reinvent itself, and other news organizations should take note.

Trek is perhaps the most forward-thinking newspaper play since the New York Times opened its API to allow third-party users to visualize news and information.  The program leverages iPhone and Android-based mobile devices to engage readers in scavenger hunts around Boston focused on local trivia and landmarks.

Users of the app check in at various locations and scan QR codes on paper machines to earn points in the game.  They can choose from a variety of challenges, including “Romance Challenges,” “Sports Challenges,” “Tech Challenges,” “Photography Challenges” and “News Box Challenges.”

What’s brilliant about the initiative is that it highlights the one core strength of the daily newspaper: locality.  Today information is ubiquitous and flows freely across digital platforms.  Newspapers are desperately seeking eyeballs and new ways to generate ad revenue, and the Globe’s mobile promotion leveraging the power of place, hometown ties and allegiances has the potential to engage a new generation of readers.

On the surface, the promotion may feel gimmicky and lacking of staying power.  It arguably distracts from the fundamental purpose of journalism.  Getting readers engaged in the game will no doubt be a challenge.  And it certainly isn’t a cure-all for what’s ailing daily newspapers.

But if the Globe plays its cards right and treats Trek as a platform instead of a one-off promotion (currently the game is slated to end in September), it may have legs.  If the tasks are continually refreshed, and gameplay evolves, Trek is a platform with the potential to crowd-source news similarly to CNN‘s iReport.  It opens up exciting new possibilities for advertisers, including underwriting aspects of the game’s narrative and progression or incorporating branded content, customer-loyalty programs or other special offers.

Boston Globe Trek is a prime example of how newspapers can borrow from the fundamentals of social media, gaming and mobile apps beyond merely tweeting or establishing a Facebook page.  And the FourSquaure-like aspects of the promotion are certainly intriguing.  While it remains to be seen whether or not readers will adopt an independent, newspaper-sponsored platform and engage with the Globe brand, the strategy behind Trek is a giant leap forward for a staid medium.


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