Let's start with the good news about Rupert Murdoch's The Daily, the new daily news app created specifically for the iPad: It’s everything the hype said it would be, so far as the technology goes. But when it comes to what’s inside that tech package, there are some major caveats.
Introduced Wednesday morning (Feb. 2) at a New York City press conference, The Daily is a new publication designed from the ground up for the iPad. Reported and edited by a dedicated staff — there are reportedly 100 reporters on its staff with bureaus in New York and Los Angeles — and promising to deliver roughly 100 pages per issue, The Daily comes to market with a table of contents including, in order, news, gossip, opinion, arts and life, apps and games, and sports.
There are no dedicated international, business, health, or technology sections. But Wednesday was its first day, and the idea of a light, breezy news source — "news publication" in Murdoch’s words — that reads more like a magazine than a newspaper, was obviously the impression that News Corp. wanted the public to see.
More than a few are looking at The Daily as a blueprint for the future of newspapers online.
“New times demand new journalism,” Murdoch said as he opened the press conference. “(Our) challenge was to take the best of traditional journalism, competitive shoe leather reporting, good editing, a sceptical eye, and combine it with the best of contemporary technology.”
On the latter front, the technology front, it has succeeded well. It's a fully developed multimedia work: a smart integration so far of text, video, still photography, graphics, animation, and social media. Substantial thinking has gone into the design and presentation. There is little "effects for effects' sake," an issue that has dogged some other news apps.
Two images come to mind from today’s read: a 360-degree manipulable omni-directional view of Venice, Italy. Or, a bird’s eye view of Cairo's Tahrir Square, epicenter of Egypt’s ongoing turmoil: the picture slowly zooming into a detailed closeup of the people in the square. Print can’t duplicate that; video would blur its impact.
Its sports section also innovatives. For this weekend’s Super Bowl, the first day's section featured animated key plays by both the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers, plus a raft of team statistics.
If that meld of technology and storytelling is emblematic of The Daily's ongoing editorial thinking as it settles into the grind of a daily publication, then The Daily may be worth watching.
Aside from the question of who has time or the inclination to read through 100 pages of any publication, the scope of its ambitions is plainly big. I previously pointed out that some estimates are that as many as 28 million iPads could be sold this year, and that’s just the iPad brand. Murdoch made it clear that The Daily will migrate at some time in the future to other tablets as well. Ninety-nine cents a week ... times 52 weeks ... times upwards of 28 million readers (considering iPads and other tablets)... You do the math.
News Corp. is one of the world’s largest media empires. The $30 million it has invested thus far in The Daily is pocket change to the company (it reported $324 million in net income for its second quarter). Alone among the media giants such as Time-Life, Conde Nast, Virgin and Oprah Winfrey, whose iPad ventures thus far have met with little success, News Corp. has made what appears to be a long-term commitment to the concept of tablet journalism. If it succeeds, if it has read the public's desire correctly — that multimedia technology is now inseparable from journalism —then The Daily will be a true journalism benchmark.
No wonder publishers everywhere are watching; its success could have an enormous effect on the era of free Internet journalism: offering publishers an avenue to monetize their content, and curtailing the "free lunch" of today's Internet-based journalism.
There is little new about the technology displayed in the first edition. The idea of a flickable “carousel” table of contents is old news to any Apple user. Imbedded video and audio? That’s old school to readers of any online news source. The inclusion of tweets and connections to other social media, or the ability to copy articles to be read later? Been there, done that. The 360-degree photos and zooming pictures? Both are familiar effects.
What The Daily does, however, is bring all these ideas together in a cohesive package and make these technological tricks add value to the news product.
That’s the good side.
The more problematic problem is its content. At the press conference, which I watched online, Murdoch was asked about the target audience for The Daily. He replied, “Everyone.” That may be its problem. Its table of contents places “Gossip” as the second item in its sections listing. Perhaps that’s the reality of "new times demand new journalism"; News Corp. certainly has the resources to produce market studies that would help them determine public taste.
To many bloggers, judging from numerous reviews, The Daily’s content is light, not yet to be taken seriously.
Wednesday’s first edition brought out a far more glaring issue: a question of timely updates, and the publication’s commitment to the first job of any news organization: to get the news out quickly and accurately. The cover story, as The Daily’s run began at roughly 8:00 a.m. PST, was “Falling Pharoah – Obama pushes Mubarak to quit now as a million march in Egypt revolution.” Over 14 hours later, the cover and main story, “Mubarak: I’ll Quit,” remained virtually unchanged despite all its technology.
Yet in those 14 hours, the Egypt story had changed dramatically. While The Daily still led with its “Falling Pharoah” page, virtually every other major TV, online and print medium was reporting the near-catastrophic and violent breakdown of peaceful demonstrations in downtown Cairo.
Where was The Daily? Ironically, during Wednesday morning's press conference, one of the News Corp. execs noted that the app demonstration being rolled out to the press was "live," and a breaking news story could change the front of the paper even as the press conference rolled on. The reality was that such an event did take place, and The Daily totally missed it.
Yet, as a blog called The Wrap reported, The Daily did revise a small item during the day that seemed to imply that Sarah Palin was being “demonized” by the Left: a characterization some might see as typical of a Murdoch publication. In a later edition, The Wrap points out that the critical point of view was softened.
It does seem curious that a micro-revision was made while the macro-update, the tremors shaking the Arab world, would go untouched, at least as of this writing — some 14 hours after it unleased its first edition into to the world.
But this was the first day after all.
The Daily is available only for the Apple iPad, and only through downloading from Apple ITunes Store. A weeks’ worth of news is available for 99 cents; a year’s description is currently $39.95. For the next two weeks, the app is available free of charge.