Have you ever looked at your TV and thought, “Man, if only there were a way I could get news on this thing”?
Well, wonder no more, because the Washington Post has a new app for Fire TV and Apple TV that let you read the Post on your television. Frankly, that sounded like a notably weird idea to me, until I tried it. Then I found it is a notably weird idea. Not bad, necessarily, just weird.
I tested the app, which didn’t ask for my subscription details, on a Fire TV Stick hooked up to a 2019 4K television made by LG and read the news on my TV for a few days. To use the app, you employ your remote as a kind of mouse, clicking left and right to flip through a carousel of stories–a good mix of three to four dozen politics, culture, opinions (even an editorial cartoon), and travel articles—and up and down to read. If you click a video in a story, it opens up without preroll ads in glorious fullscreen, which is how I learned that: a) my kids are not getting Stadia; and b) Post videogame reporter Gene Park keeps an original Game Boy on his desk.
So that’s nice. I could see how someone on a treadmill, for instance, might multitask by using this device to peruse the day’s stories. What they couldn’t do, however, is click on the word “here” when the Post‘s live blog of the impeachment inquiry hearings says “Read more here”–stories on the app don’t include links, which leaves much of, say, a story about a dustup between Will.i.am and Qantas, up to your imagination.
The type is nice and big on stories, but the sheer real estate a long story takes up on your television means that anything longer than a couple hundred words is going to give your clicking finger a real workout, too. The Washington Post Magazine‘s recent feature on Democrats’ shift to the left took 30 seconds to scroll through quickly (apologies for my crap video):
Magazine “packages” like this that work great in print can be difficult to translate to digital platforms, something anyone who works at a publication with a print magazine in 2019 is acutely aware of, but on a TV the problem seems even more absurd. You’d have to be extremely motivated to get to Reason Editor-in-Chief Katherine Mangu-Ward‘s thoughts, for example, since they’re about halfway down the page.
The oddest thing about this app is its relative dearth of video content, not just because video, you know, tends to work pretty great on TV but also because the Post shovels a lot of moving-picture content onto the internet every day. If this app featured the Post‘s wonderfully strange TikTok videos, I’d probably use it once in a while to horrify my children with the glancing knowledge of memes they afford me. One strong argument for the app appeared on Thursday’s story selection: The ability to listen to Post Reports, the publication’s daily podcast.
But listening to podcasts via this app is similar to its other pluses. Despite offering a good mix of articles and other pieces of content that would keep you decently informed if it were your only news source, this app’s best use cases depend on you living in a reality where you’ve lost the use of your phone, computer, smart speaker, or any other device that won’t mount to your wall easily. The Post’s PR operation has not yet responded to my requests for an interview with someone who can explain the thinking behind it, but Kat Downs Mulder, a vice president for product and design, told Fast Company last month that among the hopes was to demonstrate that your TV can “do more than play movies and shows.”
Under Jeff Bezos‘s ownership, the Post has aggressively pursued presences on platforms that might not make a lot of sense to outsiders, like the messaging app Viber, where a Post-branded sticker pack has been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times, managing editor Emilio Garcia-Ruiz told me earlier this year. Frankly, the Post can afford to wait to see if any of these bets pay off or, like Washington Post Radio, recede from the memories of all but the most rabid local media obsessives.