When Rupert Murdoch first announced his plans to launch an iPad-only national daily news publication, we all wondered: Can it work? Who’s their audience? How many people actually have iPads, anyway? A few months later, as the launch got closer, we asked, what kind of a news organization doesn’t even have a website? (We were wrong about that one: they do have a website, with teasers for the tablet content.) But above all, what is this thing going to look like?
Some of those questions were answered today in The Daily’s launch presentation at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. News Corp. insisted that although the app is “an immersive experience,” it is not isolated from the rest of the Web. “The Daily is not an island,” said News Corp. executive Jon Miller, explaining all the ways that Daily readers can share and recommend content to friends: on Twitter, on Facebook, or via e-mail, with either text or audio (!) comments attached.
But the iPad is where The Daily will truly come to life. “Simply put, the iPad demands that we completely re-imagine our craft,” Murdoch said this morning. Miller described The Daily as “the first all-media product.” Bells and whistles? It’s got ‘em. It’s got audio, it’s got HD video, it’s got 360-degree photographs, it’s got a TV newscast lady telling you tidbits about each story, it’s got buttons that link you to stores to buy the clothes you see in the fashion section, it’s got sports scores and celebrity Twitter feeds and the weather and Sudoku and whew!
But what’s in it? We took it for a spin at CJR to find out. In the launch presentation, Daily editor Jesse Angelo expressed wonder that iPad users spent up to thirty-five or forty minutes at a time with the New York Post app, and he said that it was his goal to make content “rich and immersive” enough in The Daily that he could hold readers’ interest for that long. So we were surprised to see that most of the stories in the first issue are so short.
The most prominent stories in the first issue are what we’d call general interest news (Egypt, snowstorms), celebrity stuff (Natalie Portman is pregnant!), arts fluff (a “doggie disco” in NYC), and sports (Super Bowl prep). A video feature on Louisiana prisoners who make toys for kids is intriguing and well-done, but incredibly brief: it feels like the trailer for a film you wouldn’t mind watching, but after two and a half minutes, it’s gone.
After playing around with The Daily today, we were also confused about its target audience. In the launch presentation this morning, Sam Gustin from Wired asked Angelo who The Daily’s audience is. “Everyone,” Angelo smirked—which, of course, is not an answer. Josh Benton at Nieman Lab nailed it earlier today when he wrote that Angelo’s “seems an approach born more out of mass media experience than the niches digital devices by their nature create. Entrepreneurs who say their target audience is ‘everybody’ typically end up reaching something closer to ‘nobody.’”
There’s no question that, with The Daily, News Corp. has pioneered a new publishing format, and that other iPad-only publications will likely use The Daily’s layout as a model. Flashy tech aside, though, no one’s going to keep coming back to The Daily (after the two-week free trial period) if the actual content isn’t any good. And—so far, at least—it’s not. If you look at the content removed from the medium, as a basic HTML page, it’s not nearly as impressive as it looks on a shiny iPad.
Maybe today’s issue is just a first taste of what The Daily will offer, but for now, that taste isn’t very appetizing. The Daily is like an issue of Newsweek that you can touch and watch and hear and flip sideways. It looks and reads like a glossy magazine, with a bunch of videos and extra things stuck in it. We know this is only the first day, but today’s launch leaves us with even more questions than we had before. We don’t know yet whether The Daily will break any news, do any original investigations, or otherwise contribute to the cultural conversation at large. It is very, very fun to touch and play with. But there’s not (yet) very much here to read.