Thursday, February 03, 2011

Harmless News Future

I have seen Rupert Murdoch's The Daily...and it is OK. The big brains melded with the 79-year-old's for a long time may have done their best. Yawn.

Last night, I installed the iPad app for The Daily and loaded the first issue. I gave it a solid workout. I confess though it doesn't take long (the point, eh?) and my index finger wasn't even tired.

Fortunately for us all, lots of folk were doing the same. If you want substance, Salon runs a good set of links for the yeah, bleeh, and no-way crowds here. Knowing those are collected, I avoided them to keep my indifference simmering low.

The aged caliph of media, to his credit, tries to stay relevant and influential. He's most famous for making most of his billions on tabloid and other lowest-common-denominator journalism. This go is similar, but with an effort to incorporate this century's technologies. Clearly, he wants to be known as the guy who figured out how to make some money from online news.

Here I grabbed a page from their promo instead of the first issue. This does not get into the sometimes confusing navigation. Rather it is typical of The Daily I saw last evening and you can watch in the promo.

Let me be plain. This is a magazine. It has short, graphic heavy articles, none with anything you can't find elsewhere. It is what we in the print biz call toilet reading for the low time and intellect demands.

That written, The Daily delivers this stuff pretty well, for an online magazine. You can amuse yourself quickly, but you sure won't be the center of attention among your coworkers or friends discussing the surface-level info here.

The initial load of a day's issue takes a couple of minutes on an iPad. You'd think they could have loaded the contents and such more or less instantaneously, keeping your interest. Instead, it begins loading automatically and then updates on occasion throughout the day.

You can swipe through an issue in typical iPad/iPhone style. Good. You can touch a category (like news, sports, gossip, and even games/puzzles) to go to that sub-content. Good. You can go to the ToC and touch a headline to go to the article. Good.

Yet swiping through a whole issue or section doesn't let you settle a piece easily. Pages flash or drop you into an article with the least inattention. Instead, electronically flipping the pages gives you an accurate sense of how short and LITE the articles are.

There's lots of little navigation tricks — touch this to go here, this to return to the front and so forth. They take a little accommodation but do use the iPad features.

The app is free through Apple. The first two weeks of issues are as well. Afterward, it costs 99¢ a week or $39.99 a year. Now there's model to scare the pay-wall types, like the Boston Globe! Basically as low as 11¢ a day, readers can ask, is it worth a dime or so?

The counterpart surely is that the content may be free to Murdoch. That is, there aren't going to be offices of supporting journalists gathering expensive news and images to support this. There is so little stuff here and nothing unique, his folk surely cannibalize all from material they already produce. The reformatting is pretty much just cutting material.

It appears as though The Daily intends to make a little from subscriptions and much more from its ads. Its overhead is likely low enough that a few tens of thousands of subs will cover all costs, keeping the profits coming and growing. It won't a high percent of newspaper readers sick of the ever-increasing price hikes and ever-decreasing content (quality and quantity) to say $40 a year is a lot better than $250.

Those who switch will continue the dumbing down of readers. They likely will be no dumber in the end than anyone who turns to TV news as the primary or sole source.

The Daily is pretty easy to use, gives the illusion of content, and comes in affordable. It should make it.

It is not anyone's manifestation of a breakthrough though. Its profound effect will come as the many laggard pay-wall types try to imitate or better this effort.


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