The Daily Snooze

The hype around Rupert Murdoch and News Corp.'s new iPad news app, The Daily, is deafening. And baffling.

"The newspaper hits the information age," headlined TechCrunch. A "digital renaissance," crowed Murdoch. "New times demand new journalism." (His Fox News even broke into coverage of clashing protesters in Cairo to cover The Daily's introduction today.) "The app appears rich and magazine-like," wrote Damon Kiesow on Poynter. "This is a significant launch," wrote Insanely Great Mac. 

And then there was this breathless gem, also from TechCrunch: "Provided the content quality stays high and the news value is there, this could be the first iPad app to beat Angry Birds and, more important, truly bring journalism into the 21st century." 

Really? Seriously? Actually, The Daily barely brings digital journalism into the late 20th century, much less the 21st. I don't think Angry Birds has anything to worry about. Maybe—to steal a comment from Jim Brady (thanks, Jim!)—Murdoch's bigger problem will be Angry Readers.

Unfortunately, the Daily is yet another example of a newspaper pasted on a screen—in this case a tablet screen—that epically fails to acknowledge or take advantage of the way people use and interact on the Internet.

There are virtually no links in The Daily. Its interaction with social tools like Twitter and Facebook is perfunctory, at best. There are symbols hinting at Facebook, Twitter or e-mail sharing, but when you tap them a warning pops up that says, "This article is only available in The Daily app." Gee, helpful. Comments seem to be attached to pages, not individual stories. The interface is pleasant, but a little clunky and stiff. And don't even think about aggregating content from The Daily. It's largely verboten.

The journalism itself? Brief and superficial, sort of a Time magazine/USA Today hybrid. Yawn. Missing in action: Business and tech news. Huh?

Maybe most incredibly, The Daily truly is…daily. It gets published in the morning, and that's basically it. While the world is riveted today by the violence in Cairo, the premier issue of The Daily leads with an outdated story about yesterday's peaceful million-man march in Tahrir Square. This is intentional, apparently. While The Daily's app supports more frequent updates, PaidContent quotes The Daily's editor, Jesse Angelo, as saying, “I don’t want another site that’s constantly updating.” (Okaaay. Good luck with that.)

Despite its vaguely slick veneer, The Daily is yet another symptom of a running problem with traditional news people trying to bring traditional news products into the digital age: They just don't seem to understand the current state of the technology and the way audiences use it. They seem to think multimedia glitz is all that's needed, even though, in digital news, we've been there, done that.

Whenever I see the latest whizbang attempt to create a news app for the iPad, I wonder whether the creators were paying any attention to what was happening in the early '90s, when the first multimedia CD-ROM news prototypes and products were showing up. CNN, for instance, had a terrific CD-ROM news prototype in 1992 that was every bit as good as the overhyped Sports Illustrated tablet prototype that surfaced in late 2009. Newsweek published a quarterly CD-ROM product in the early '90s whose presentation and features weren't very far removed from what The Daily is doing. The delivery method is different—tablets vs. clunky desktop PCs—but the products are remarkably similar. It's as if multimedia news presentation concepts have been frozen in amber for 15-plus years—and completely ignorant of the revolution in interactivity and social connectivity. The digital world has moved on; news providers apparently haven't.

Murdoch is hoping that hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people, will download The Daily's iPad app and sign up for a subscription, and that advertisers pay to reach that audience. (Jeff Jarvis crunches some numbers on The Daily's economics.) But even at 14 cents a day, I can't imagine actually wanting to pay for The Daily when the two-week free trial runs out (I'll bet that trial period gets mysteriously extended. Yep, thought so!)—and I should be the ideal customer for The Daily: a news junkie with an iPad. Sorry, no thanks. The Daily just doesn't break any ground in digital news, nor is it a product that I can imagine anybody coming to rely upon for a regular news fix.

Want to see some nice work being done on iPad apps for news? Look at Pulse and Flipboard, both designed by smart tech people, not news people, to leverage technologies like Twitter and RSS feeds, in an attractive package with loads of social features. Maybe these apps don't have The Daily's cute graphic of a plane landing on the screen to illustrate a travel story, or live Sudoku and crosswords—but they're infinitely better as news products. And isn't that the idea?

Fortunately, not everybody has bought into The Daily hype—especially folks, like me, who've actually tried The Daily and found it wanting. Scott Rosenberg nails it: "Reading it feels like a spin in the Wayback Machine." And Seth Weintraub on 9to5Mac wrote: "Was anyone else as underwhelmed as we were? … I seriously don't get it." Neither do I.

5 thoughts on “The Daily Snooze

  1. Very helpful post, Mark. Of course, I wouldn’t be able to opine on the new service myself as I don’t own an iPad or iPhone.
    That said, I’m encouraged by the fact that it’s only published once each day, as I’ll be able to have you send me the screen scrape of the key stories at the end of the day without having to worry that I’ve missed much. 😉
    I’m really torn on this one…on the one hand, I’d like this sort of thing (i.e., BIG MEDIA trying to harness new technological modalities organically) to succeed, in part to show that there are other ways to skin the new journalism cat…on the other, the schadenfreude part of me wonders whether this might not be THE lesson that teaches BIG MEDIA that they’re really going at this the wrong way.


  2. Thanks, Josh. Agreed–I really wanted to like The Daily. But it’s yet another disappointment from Big Media. It can’t be this hard to understand how the digital world works and how to take advantage of it—Pulse and Flipboard amply prove that. But the big media companies just can’t seem to break from their past bad habits. It’s very frustrating to watch.


  3. I suspect that the problem is less habits and more “mindsets and business models”.
    All traditional business models have their root in some form of package of content, and this is just another attempt to resurrect that way of publishing.
    Beware zombie business models…


  4. Daily links (geddit?)

    A few pieces worth reading about The Daily: The Daily Snooze – an entirely positive review, as the headline betrays. 🙂 The Daily is a one-way channel – Scott Rosenberg suggests that the paper is less than social. Daily economics…


  5. After 2 editions, Mark, here’s what I say.
    Is this a newspaper or a magazine? If it’s a mag, I’m not interested.
    If it’s a newspaper, I need more. I know the techies are mad that the “thing’ is not updated constantly thru the day. As a news maven, I need more. If this is supposed to be the only thing I read each day, I feel as though i have no idea what happened yesterday– in Washington, and virtually anyplace else. In sports, I want ALL the results from last night—all sports.
    The graphics are great, but the stories are more feature oriented. That’s why I don’t read Time and Newsweek.
    If you have checked out The Times (London) and The Sunday Times, with those editions when you finish, you have been greatly informed and get more than your daily requirement of news, info and features.
    I was hoping The Daily model would steal a bit more from those two other paid Murdoch sites.
    I hope some changes are made, The Daily has potential……but it must ask itself if it can do more. Otherwise, it’s not a “must-read.”


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