Larry Kramer, the author of C-Scape: Navigating the Rapidly Changing Worlds of Media and Business, is the founder and former CEO of CBS (NYSE: CBS) Marketwatch.com and was the first president of CBS Digital. He also served on the board of paidContent parent ContentNext Media.
I wanted to love The Daily, the first news source from a mainstream media company designed purely for the IPad, a platform I love. I couldn’t wait for it to get launched. I told everyone I knew in the business that the launch of News Corp.’s dramatic bet, The Daily, despite being the first of its kind – which is always a dangerous place to be in technology development – was going to change the game.
After all, this was the first mobile platform where storytellers could truly converge the use of words, text, video, still photography, audio, art, interactive graphics or anything else you could think of that would enhance the storytelling process.
This would truly be a significant moment in the history of journalism, simultaneously demonstrating that a traditional media company could confirm to new platforms and proving that this new medium could be everything it promises to be.
And then The Daily was launched, and reality hit me like a icy blast of cold air when you open the door in the winter.
It wasn’t just that it really didn’t work. It was light years worse than apps created by existing newspapers or new sources…some from the very same company, News Corp (NSDQ: NWS). In my humble opinion it actually represented a retreat in development to that point. It not only didn’t advance the effective use of the available technology, it also didn’t adapt the journalist experience to the new medium. It created a combination of a personality-challenged newspaper and added in some nice photography and a limited amount of video as it almost prove that the use of those element could still be inadequate, even on this platform.
The Daily even managed to add a few negatives for the tablet platform. One great advantage of the IPad is that it turns on instantly and its reader/viewer is able to start going through content and services instantly. No more waiting for boot up time.
The Daily slapped its readers across the face, yelled “snap out of it” and paralyzed them as the watched a blue maze of words, frozen on the screen, for a seemingly endless period of time while the product was presumably loading. So then imagine our surprise when that screen finally exploded off the screen (in slow motion, of course) to reveal a page that said: (I would put the exact words in right now but I’ve been waiting for an endless period of time.) wait, there it is:
“Today’s issue of The Daily is being delivered.”
What the heck has been happening up to now!
Now I have a cover photo on a “wheel of pages.” Sometimes that cover has come up with an attractive anchor (News Corp, also owner of the Fox News Channel, does have a talent for attractive blond anchors), who is describing a story for me as if she is a news anchor. But I’m a digital guy, and the usual way to pull me into a story, even one with great video, is words. Sometimes those words can say something like, “Watch this dramatic video of…” and I will watch. But I don’t start my interactive experience with an unrequested video roll because I don’t know how long it’s asking me to watch, or why.
This time, I just got a photo cover of a basketball player with the word “Madness” over the player, who is layered over The Daily logo. There is a subhead and there are two “Teasers” at the bottom. While I was focusing on one, called “Bare Naked Clubs” with an enticing photo of Scarlett Johansson in a tight and bright red dress, the page went blank again and up came the words:
“Today’s issue of The Daily is being delivered.”
I guess the paperboy circled the block on his bike and came back with the rest of the paper. Turns out I was reading an OLD front page…just didn’t know it.
This time a talking head did pop up on a screen briefly, but I had my sound off. So by the time I got it on she was gone and now I was looking at a new front page, with President Obama looking extremely determined in a photo with Moammar Gadhafi, and a headline “Face-Off”. Again, there were two other subheads, “Hoopsteria” and “Panda Sutra”.
I tapped on the cover page and it came up and filled the screen. Then, I went back to the wheel to see what else was there and I noticed something. The wheel started turning, revealing new pages, in a methodical progression. I couldn’t help but notice that they turned whether I asked them to or not, or whether I was watching or not. Well, that’s one way to count a lot of page view.
I won’t take you through any more of the publication. I know it will get better. I can see some of the content already getting better after a month. And I know it takes time to develop a personality around any new media product.
But the Daily did little to advance the cause of journalism and less to take advantage of a dramatic new medium that will allow for fantastic new ways to tell stories. Instead, it took the newspaper publication cycle and redisplayed it, with a little video that seemed to appear solely to prove you could use video, not to particularly advance a story or make it more dramatic. Several existing newspapers, especially the New York Post, do a better, more efficient job, of putting their newspaper content on the web.
What this exercise may have proven, for now, is that even on the IPad a view is better off using a browser-based news website to get news. The apps environment may not yet be conducive to news. While it might offer richer experiences for magazine or video producers, news operations that must update both content and display continuously may not yet be well served by apps, especially when you can get browser-based experiences on the same device.
This brings me to the second half of “realization week”. The launch of the New York Times pay wall has finally occurred, even if just in Canada for the moment. And while it looked to me like they went to extraordinary lengths to give as many people as possible the opportunity to read the Times, they have begun the process of asking people who are power users to starting paying for the privilege of getting the NY Times content.
I am a frequent reader of the NY Times and I, like many others, frequently forward NY Times content to other via email or social media. I want my NY Times information frequently and easily and I will do what it takes, including paying for it, to make sure I get full access to everything produced by the 1100 journalists who work there. It is content that matters to me now, and I believe will matter to me on virtually any platform I can imagine them using to deliver that content: Phones, iPads, Computers, etc. And I don’t want to have to kluge a way to get to a story once I’ve decided to read it or pass it along.
In the case of the Times, the content has already proven its value to me over the many years I have consumed it, in print and on line. I know I want it and I know I need it. I may have loved getting it for free online over the years, but I also know how good it is and that it has value to me.
Contrast that with The Daily, which still needed to prove the value of its content to me. Even though it had a rich environment to do so – my IPad, and therefore had many more tools to use in the storytelling process. While I was excited about seeing how The Daily could capture me with creative use of a new storytelling medium, it didn’t do that. Nor did it give me content that would have made it an important part of my day regardless of the medium. Its stories were not markedly better than those available to me from other sources, its video was not better or more efficiently delivered than other video available to me, its interactive graphics or storytelling did not break new ground and was slower and less effective than others that were available to me already on browser-based news sites.
In the end, it’s still about the content. I will, because I am excited about what the new platforms will bring in the way of advanced storytelling, still pull for News Corp. to get its act together either with the Daily or any of its existing news operations and launch some exciting digital products. I will also watch with baited breath the creation of many new digitally-native news products.