The Daily: Why iPad-only newspapers are not the answer

So, News Corp has finally launched The Daily, the great white technological hope that will save journalism forever and make everyone pay for news again. I am strangely reminded of the hype for paywalls, and the subsequent eerie silence on how exactly that is working out for the Murdoch stable of titles.

Here is a quick take on what I think are some of the major problems with The Daily, and the reason I don’t think it is going to change anything about the decline in the traditional press:

  • Locked to one device: Only on the iPad, really? It may be the hot new device out there, and in terms of tablets it certainly is the one to beat, but the available market is a drop in the ocean compared to traditional and new media channels. Not to mention that it cuts out the Android and Blackberry owners out there, a good proportion of whom probably want something in the way of tailored online news content.
  • Subscriptions too cheap for the content: The Daily’s USP seems to be it’s reliance on seriously labour-heavy stuff, like slideshows, video commentaries and custom rich media applications (stuff like the sports replay representations that have been bandied about). Not only is a lot of this going to be handled by people outside the editorial chain, probably without the input or oversight of experienced journalists, but it’s very expensive to produce.
  • Who is going to pay for news? A theory I have about electronic news sources is that people are no longer interested in pure play news. They can cream that stuff of anonymous headlines scraped by Google News. What matters is having a relatable and recognisable editorial position, an informed and engaged voice, and that means making real interventions in the debates that are generated around the news. I could be wrong, but I see little evidence that The Daily is going to be capable of that.
  • Churn-tastic: This is a necessary corollary to point two. Those of us with the misfortune to work in the wild fringes of journalism know that when a publisher comes along with a great and revolutionary idea to shake up the press forever and generate pots of revenue for everyone, the money to pay for that is coming out of Editorial’s pocket. Fewer resources for qualified and experienced journalists with the time and contacts to do good work means more reliance on agency copy, less fact checking and more hateful churning of lowest common denominator material.

Nick Davies in Flat Earth News compared the people who run the media to greengrocers (a comparison that is unfair  to a lot of greengrocers out there, I’m sure), but it has some merit insofar as it seems clear that the people at the top don’t really care what they are selling. Flashy presentation, quantity over quality and bargain basement pricing for faceless, personality devoid commodities are the values of big business, no matter what product is actually being sold.

The Daily

The Daily, looking all shiny.

It’s an interesting idea, and some of the technical stuff they showed off is definitely a step forward in terms of presentation of information, and should draw a bit of interest from jaded consumers.

So would I buy a copy? Not a chance. I wouldn’t piss on Murdoch if he was on fire, and there is no way I’d willingly hand over a penny to his corporation.

It also appears that due to the fact that every page of the Daily is mirrored online to ease sharing, a little work from some anonymous Samaritan means you can get access to all the content without having to pay for a subscription at all. Not to get into the morality of the action, but it’s yet another technical flaw in the way this whole thing has been approached.

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