Opinion roundup: Murdoch’s The Daily

Now that the initial hype from The Daily‘s launch last week has begun to die down, J-Source rounds up opinions, criticisms and first impressions from across the web.

The Nieman Journalism Lab‘s Ken Doctor writes that, “At first blush, [The Daily] seems like a 2001 idea, dressed in new 2011 clothes. But maybe it’s the clothes that make all the difference, and that make Mr. Murdoch The Man. The new outfit, after all, is the iPad, the hot device of our time — the one that seems to be playing havoc with what we thought we knew about digital news reading (“The Newsonomics of tablets replacing newspapers“).

Over at the Hindustan Times, reporter N. Madhavan hopes that The Daily could
herald in the death of what he calls “loser-generated content”, a.k.a.
free online articles that cheapen the trade and ignore the human effort
involved in producing content.

Don’t have an iPad? Don’t worry. Seeing an opportunity in an editorial oversight (The Daily doesn’t have an index page), journalist and programmer Andy Baio launched The Daily: Indexed, a Tumblr page that features links to every article in the paper (which are available free online).

Nieman Journalism Labs Megan Garber likes the publication’s headlines, which in the first week included “Air Security Keeps it in your pants” and “Amish smugglers’ shady milk run.” She writes:

“They’re awfully and awesomely New York Post-tastic, full of the kind of general verve and occasional wit and juvenile punchiness — HEY!HEY!LOOKATME! — that gives Post headlines their love-to-hate/hate-to-love appeal.” The Daily can get away with SEO-unfriendly headlines because they aren’t written for the web, they’re written for an app. “They don’t need to scrounge; they need simply to seduce,” she writes. “And if they can do that while working in a reference to AMISH SMUGGLERS, all the better.”

While Garber admits that headlines aren’t an indicator of future journalistic success. “But much has been made — rightly, I think — of The Daily’s back-to-the-future sensibility: With its cutting-edge platform, it’s trying to reclaim something journalism has lost. And one little part of that something might just be the artistry that goes into a good headline: the wit and whimsy that, in summarizing a story, also manages to sell it.”

MacWorld‘s Joel Mathis isn’t so convinced The Daily will offer anything new journalistically:

“Having built a kinda-new wineskin, Murdoch’s wine seems awfully familiar … and underwhelming. With its breezy, pointed headlines–“Here we snow again, America”–The Daily strongly resembles News Corp.’s own New York Post. With its energetic coverage of sports, it is reminiscent of USA Today. With its emphasis on graphics and photos of beautiful people, The Daily seems like People or Us Weekly.

“But in its overall mix–light on news, heavier on celebrities and jocks, every item short and punchy–The Daily most reminds me of two other attempts to save daily newspapers from hemorrhaging young readers: Red Streak and RedEye, two free tabloids that appeared in Chicago a decade ago, aimed at twentysomething commuters who, it was thought, weren’t interested in news unless it was chopped up and dumbed down. There wasn’t much there there, and the same seems to be the case with The Daily: Murdoch’s reinvention of journalism looks a lot like the one before it.”

Design site Fonts in Use has photos of some of The Daily‘s sleekly designed pages, but notes that the “design trumps content.”

On the tech side of things, Wired Magazine isn’t too impressed. “If innovative user interfaces are your thing, The Daily will leave you cold,” Wired‘s Peter Kirwan says, pointing out that “what’s really interesting about The Daily” is the price: $US1/week, or $40 a year, for 100 pages of original editorial content every day.

The paper is designed to attract the “15 million Americans who will own an iPad by the end of 2011,” or so The Daily‘s official line goes.

Nearly 80-year-old Rupert Murdoch outlined the publication’s advantages during its launch: “No paper, no multi-million dollar presses, no trucks. And we’re passing on these savings to the reader, which is why we can offer The Daily for just 14 cents a day.”  

Wired notes that Murdoch neglected to mention “the absence of parallel production lines for print, web and apps at The Daily. At established news organizations, this diminishes the attention paid to digital output and results in costs that always seem to rise. At Wapping in 1986, Murdoch jettisoned a legacy that was holding the newspaper industry back. No doubt he views The Daily in similar terms.

Wired reports that Murdoch expects the paper to cost $500,000 a week to run, or $26 million a year (aside from the initial $30-million investment). “The Daily will need at least 325,000 subscribers paying $40 a year to break even,” Wired notes. “Taking into account the 30 percent gatekeeper fee that News Corp will pay to Apple, that figure rises to 420,000 subscribers.”

On his blog Buzz Machine, media analyst Jeff Jarvis notes that he’s not sure how The Daily will stack up in the advertising world. “The [tablet advertisingmarket will be small for sometime,” he writes. “I’m told these days that major brand advertisers won’t pay attention to a site until it gets 3 million audience. Then again, the value of tablet advertising is supposed to be high and advertisers like the experience. I also wonder whether the ads will also go through Apple and it will again take a share of a quarter to a third. There are so many variables in advertising–unique users per day; time spend and pages and ads views; avails per page; measurement of ROI (is there click-through?)–that it’s nigh until impossible for me to guess at the revenue.”

MacWorld‘s Mathis writes:

“As a piece of technology, then, The Daily is promising. As a journalistic endeavour, though, it’s confusing. Who is the intended audience? News junkies? Unlikely. New Yorkers? There’s a Big Apple feel to the content, but the coverage is everywhere and nowhere all at once. Commuters? Why would they shell out a dollar a week for this when they can pick up a similar product, for free, off the rack in a subway kiosk?

“This is kind of shocking, given the stable of smart and talented journalists recruited to launch The Daily. As it stands, though, there’s only one clear reason that this iPad newspaper exists, and that’s to put money in Rupert Murdoch’s pocket. There are probably worse goals imaginable, but it’s hardly compelling for news consumers.”