Tablet Journalism: Can Rupert Murdoch’s iPad Adventure Save the News Business?

2/4/11Follow @wroush

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repurpose or transcode anything, because News Corp built the 100-employee newsroom from the ground up to generate tablet-friendly content and array it in touchscreen-friendly ways.

What do I mean? Well, you’ll know all this if you already have the app, but The Daily is covering the astonishing social revolutions underway in Egypt and other Arab countries with an immersive combination of video reports, narrative text from a reporter on the ground, audio interviews, and dramatic full-screen photographs (some of which are so large they can be “explored” by zooming and panning). Many articles have full-page opening spreads with clever, sometimes animated illustrations. Many images are “touchable,” supplemented with pop-up graphics. There are interactive polls—I was in the minority in a poll asking whether “cutting carbon emissions” or “investing in green technology” is more important—it was 22 percent to 78 percent, respectively.

Sports fans should especially love The Daily, as the sports section is where the designers and animators seem to have lavished the most attention. The app’s Super Bowl preview yesterday included a 360-degree photo taken inside Cowboys Stadium and an interactive timeline of all 44 previous Super Bowls. For puzzle fans, there’s even an interactive crossword and a sudoku puzzle. (No comics though.)

While the actual reporting in The Daily isn’t as deep or as level-headed as what you might find in the New York Times, I find that the overall package, especially for the lead stories, is far more informative. That’s because I’m one of those people who Murdoch described at the launch event: educated and informed, but unlikely ever to pick up a print newspaper or watch a TV news show. On occasion, I’ve worried that my lack of a TV habit means I’m cut off from the big news stories—I don’t recall seeing a single video on the Gulf oil spill or the Chilean mine disaster, for example. For me, The Daily’s offerings could help fill this gap, by offering a genuinely multimedia experience on the platform I’m already using for most of my information-gathering.

All of that said, there’s plenty about The Daily that needs work. The app takes too long to load new content (even over Wi-Fi). Interactive features are often sluggish, and the app has crashed on me several times in the last two days. The writing feels a little too bloggy, the editing rushed; one article about Silicon Valley darling Quora, for example, spelled co-founder Charlie Cheever’s name two different ways. I’m not sure why I expect more from The Daily, but maybe it has something to do with the beautiful packaging. It feels like a magazine, so I expect magazine-level copyediting.

And there’s another, more complicated issue: how The Daily relates to the rest of the information universe. At the launch event, The Daily’s editors claimed that articles would include hyperlinks to outside Web content, but I’ve only found a couple. And forget rich Web-style hyperlinking from within the text itself—in that respect, at least, The Daily is like an old-fashioned magazine.

You can share an article from The Daily from within the app via Twitter, Facebook, or e-mail. If you do that, your tweet or post or message will include … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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  • rick sass

    You raise some very valid and interesting points about The Daily, and I must confess I have not seen it yet. But I have read a great deal about it (for free, online :-)), and I was in the print business for more than 25 years including more than 20 with industry leader USA Today (in circulation/distribution by the way).

    While I admire Mr. Murdoch’s efforts and spunk, let’s take a look realistically at the core issue here: can The Daily get Ipad and other tablet-device users to plunk down $.99 per week for digital content they largely can get for free elsewhere? And if they can, will they be able to grow a “circulation” base of 200k-500k daily users? USA Today at its peak hit 2.2M daily “purchasers”, more than a third of whom did not really realize they were purchasing the product. Assuming Mr. Murdoch can get “sponsors” to agree to similar “third-party” purchases, he may have a chance (although I’m not even convinced of that likelihood).

    But the bigger issue is who is likely to go the “true purchase” route, vs. who has purchased (and will continue to purchase) the Ipad and similar devices. It’s not the 50+ year-old traditional news-consumers. It’s the tech savvy gen-x and gen-y folks more interested in Itunes and cool video game apps. And let’s be honest, as compelling as The Daily’s content might be to “newsies”, that is not the crowd who live their lives through Ipads and other digital devices. I frankly don’t see the draw for younger users. And without that draw, there is no chance of success. Period.

    So can Mr. Murdoch build a base “circulation” of 200k-500k “younger” users/buyers (although I’m betting true sustainability lies north of 700k – which, by the way is larger than the circulation of every US print newspaper not named USA Today, WSJ or New York Times) and keep those numbers? I frankly don’t see it happening with a product like this one. It’s not cool enough!

    And from everything I have read about this new venture, the content simply is not that compellingly good in comparison to what is available for (drumroll please) FREE. It is the newspapers themselves, coupled with Google, Yahoo, and all of the other free online news sites that sink this venture. The one thing Mr. Murdoch has going for him is very deep pockets and a will/desire/ego to see this thing succeed.

    In my experience it rarely is the first product out of the blocks that ultimately wins the race. Unless Mr. Murdoch finds a “Willie Wonka” draw out there somewhere. And we know from experience that readers who come onboard that way will not stick unless the content is truly compelling. I wish Mr. Murdoch and his team luck, but suspect they will need a lot more than luck and spunk to succeed.

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