You know the one. So what’s it like?
According to the press release, The Daily “gives readers everywhere the engaging experience of a magazine combined with the need-to-know content of a newspaper and the immediacy of the internet.”
NB Everywhere is defined at time of writing as “everywhere that people use the US iTunes store”.
A team of 100 or more apparently, including “top journalists, thought leaders and opinion makers”.
There’s certainly a breadth of experience: the Editor in Chief and Gossip Editor both came from the New York Post, the news editor from AOL via The New York Times news blog, the Sports ed from a New Jersey paper, the Opinions editor from Forbes via The Wall Street Journal, the Lifestyle/culture Ed from the New Yorker, the Tech Editor from Time magazine, and the Creative Director came from AOL Media.
The app itself has no masthead, but the top names are listed here.
Rupert Murdoch’s email to UK senior staff (none of whom can currently buy it if they don’t have a US credit card) says “audiences everywhere”. At the launch event, the editor in chief said it was a newspaper for “everyone”.
The app opens with a short animation, a seven-note Intel-esque melody, then this loading screen. I’m not sure if they updated during the day, or there was a bug, but it reloaded today’s edition three times for me. Each time, you only get the spinning wheel, so you don’t know how long you’ll have to wait.
Once it loads (and every time it loads, regardless of if you were halfway through an article and switched briefly to another app), you see a “carousel” (aka cover flow) of the front pages of each feature. The images on the carousel are low-res jpegs that often look a bit sketchy. You get the category of the article, but that’s all – so you have to rely on the headlines to guess what each one is about. It also marks which features you have read.
There is also a table of contents, but it only lists a few select articles, and feels like an afterthought to accompany the entirely unnecessary “how to use” directions.
There are six topics – News, Gossip, Opinion, ARts&Life, Apps&Games, Sports – and they appear in that order. There’s no customization options to change the order, or to open each day with your favourite section.
The bottom line of Carousel buttons, which you tap to reveal and then slides out of view automatically after a few seconds, offers: a video short of “today’s highlights”, an audio version of the same thing that also animates the coverflow, a “fast forward” button to run through the coverflow images while pausing for a couple of seconds on each, a “skip to a random article you haven’t read yet” option, “my saved pages” (more on that below) and “settings”, which are options to customize local weather, your horoscope, breaking news alerts, and your account information. Can’t imagine why anyone would want to use the linear/static video or audio summaries – I’d expect them to be phased out within few months.
There’s also a top menu that is always visible, providing shortcuts to the front pages of each section, and a “scrubber” – when you touch it, mini versions of the pages appear, for you to tap and jump to a piece. It highlights in blue pieces you haven’t read yet, but otherwise the thumbnails are too small to be anything other than memory aids.
Longer articles are two-column in a serifed font, and most pages are image heavy except for the Opinion section. Pages are images, so you can’t copy/paste, change the type size or search for terms, and zooming has been disabled. Quote marks, by the way, alternate between straight and curly – deep inside my soul, a tiny subeditor is weeping.
There’s a sense of indecision regarding orientation – most pages can be viewed both in portrait or landscape, except in news articles where landscape is used for slideshows, and portrait for text. Even more confusingly, if you open an article that tells you to rotate for a photo slideshow, then flick through that slideshow, and finally return back to portrait, the app places you in the middle of the article, rather than back at the beginning. A bug, presumably – and not the only one in there.
There’s a similar confusion attached to the reading method. Most are on multiple pages (between one and three), with no up/down swiping to read on. Except for one article in the Apps&Games section, one in the Sports, and the table of contents containing How to Use instructions, where you are told to swipe vertically to read on. Odd.
Sometimes, exclusively branded videos are included in place of still images, and these can be full-screened without much fuss. Some are genuine exclusives, others made up of wire footage. There are a few interactive “push button to read caption” elements, very few web links, and some stories also feature Twitter feeds on topics or, in one instance, a celebrity’s own Twitter feed.
Each page (not article – so multi-page articles have different, unconnected comments pages) can be commented on in-app via text or by recording an audio comment (a neat option), or via email, Facebook or Twitter (though twice trying to login to Twitter on the app made it freeze each time). Only registered users can comment in the app itself, and it uses a “Report abuse” function to police the commentaries. No sign as yet of Daily editors engaging with the discussions.
Facebook/Twitter/emailing a page created a bit.ly link to web editions of the pages, sometimes as text, sometimes as an image. Not sure why the difference – it might be a news deadlines vs other sections issue. The one time I tried it out, though, it sent a link to the wrong page.
Crash total during review period: five, plus one freeze.
There’s 113 pages total, and I counted 11 ads. They’re mostly video-based, loading dynamically. Fox products feature heavily, requiring the user to rotate to landscape to watch trailers, plus Verizon, Pepsi, Macy’s, a neat Land Rover interactive ad, and Virgin Atlantic (their interactive ad from Project fits neatly here). Ads are not labelled as such anywhere, which could get problematic.
It’s a strange mix of content, and it doesn’t really hang together as a single entity, either in its writing or its design.
Each section has its own section front page, highlighting one or more stories.
The News section – 29 pages of the 113 – is very light, similar to the kind of thing you might read in Metro – one or two correspondents, but mostly a lot of wire rewrites. The videos are embedded in the pieces, and rather than enhance the stories, they just repeat the information in each article, in a cable-newsy way. It’s very irritating. Still, at least they don’t start up automatically.
For a brave new force in journalism, its coverage is incredibly limited. Issue one’s news totals, in order of presentation:
* two main stories (Egypt and American snowstorms) with ten pages and one video, and three pages and one video devoted to them respectively
* one non-time-sensitive, non-revealing, wonkish interview with Obama’s former budget director
* two “bizarre/frivolous short stories” pages
* a completely non-news fluff story, with a New York Post-ish headline, that occupies two pages, talking about a disco in New York that admits dogs
* a page with two stories: “Arizona places high tax on medical marijuana” and a two-paragraph story on “American woman pleads guilty to conspiracy to recruit terrorists”
* a very short story with a huge 360 panorama image on a proposed one-euro tourist tax in Venice
* a page with “the number of illegal immigrants in the USA has stabilized, but is still three times larger than in 1990″ and “Anna Chapman, sexy spy, trademarks her name”
* An image of a Japanese volcano spewing smoke
* a page containing “Putin turned on by brave pinups” (including photo of Russian girl in lingerie), a very short story about how American-made products were smuggled into Iran to build missiles, and a one paragraph story that opens with the line “Pump some iron, Gramps – you’ll live longer if you do”.
* A Daily exclusive short video in what seems to be a series labelled “Americana”, about how prisoners in a Louisiana jail make children’s toys. The 2:20 film is the visual equivalent of repeating that sentence over and over. It has no narrative structure, and tries to squeeze in far too many characters. It ends up saying nothing more than its opening statement.
* Biz Digest – Copper’s up, the trader Steve Cohen lost $23m, BP reported profits, and people are using smartphones a lot.
* The Daily reports that Allstate apologized for a report that ranked road users by their star signs. And then reprints the entire study with fancy (non-interactive) infographics anyway.
* Horoscopes and location-based weather.
So, no foreign news that doesn’t involve pretty pictures, and no depth or links on a couple of fascinating stories – “American companies caught smuggling to Iran” and “American woman tries to recruit radical Islamists to kill Swedish cartoonist”. Strange, all round.
Gossip gets seven pages, and leads with the unstory that quotes unnamed sources to reveal that “Natalie Portman has been talking to her friends about her pregnancy”, followed by typical Page Six-style shorts, a photo gallery of press shots that you have no option but to swipe through in order to get to the next page, a shock story that “Palm Beach socialites have never heard of Rhianna”, and then… an apparently exclusive story about how former Haitian dictator Baby Doc Duvalier has been hiding a chic Parisian apartment, with lover in tow, from his people.
Pardon? An investigative exclusive about a former dictator who is currently in the news, dropped in at the end of the Gossip section? Its placement suggests either a stunning lack of news judgement, or more likely, that each section head is fiercely protective of their own turf, and the editor doesn’t overrule to reassign stories to where they belong. Worrying.
Opinion‘s eleven pages open with a predictable “We are the world, We are The Daily, new times demand new journalism” piece that quotes American exceptionalism as the foundation of its foreign coverage (at least they’re up front about it) and claims no other particular political leanings. The news stories are so short and superficial, I certainly couldn’t contradict that claim.
This essay is followed by a remarkably intelligent, indepth, wordy piece about the connection between Bollywood and the rise in moderate Islamism. Yeah, you heard me.
Just as you continue to reel from the shock of your brain being forced into gear again, it pulls out a tech think piece about the rise in “ephemeralization”, then a quick piece on the situation in Egypt in Numbers (again, why not in the news section?), and a History page about the greater significance behind the launch of Voyager 1 (no links to the ace Voyager2 probe Twitter feed though). I spent more time reading these than the other sections put together. It feels like it belongs in a different publication.
Arts&Life gets 14 pages, in which it tells us to choose stripes, and shows catwalk shots to prove it, includes a few pages of style-related gossip (erm.. isn’t there a Gossip section elsewhere?), gives us love and male fashion advice, includes a Straight-Up taken for some reason in Mexico, and then suddenly leaps to intelligent movie summaries, including a three-page in-depth look at hipster spoof Portlandia. Strange to see Arts have so much style/fashion – it would probably go better with the gossip section.
Apps&Games gets 11 pages, and opens with “Last Minute Travel Apps” including iTunes store links, a non-critical blurb about the game Oregon Trail on Facebook (including a trailer and “tips”), a three-page interview with the founders of Quora (but no link to it), very well-programmed Sudoku and crossword puzzles that link to the Game Center (but no indications of difficulty), a one-page “What I have on my iPad” yawn, and one-paragraph shorts under the title “System_Update”.
Sports is perhaps the most content-intense section. It gets 26 pages in this issue, in which it covers American Football, basketball and ice hockey. There’s no way to skip to your favourite sport, so you have to go through it page by page.
It understandably goes big on the Super Bowl (though it’s still four days away), with videos about the atmosphere, columnists, plenty of in-line polls, some wacky shorts, and plenty of videos. Seems disappointing that the animated plays are only videos, not interactives. There is a tappable timeline about previous Superbowls, but the information is very brief and superficial.
Articles are brief, but expertly look at different aspects of their theme. Headlines appear on a black background, caps only, and the whole thing has a ESPNish feel to it. There’s also a “learn the tricks” basketball video, and a scrolling ticker of college basketball results on one page – though it looks as though that’s not actually live updated, just a gimmicky way to display the previous day’s scores.
There’s no single “results” page in the sports section, though there is an odds page for forthcoming games at the end. At least, I think that’s what “today’s line” means.
The Daily is very strange.
Firstly, the structure, and the design, feel very much like print. It is intended to be flicked through, every page of it, and the design and typesetting are as print as you can get without digging up a zombie Gutenberg.
The only non-printness of it all is its use of video, Twitter feed boxes (more than half of which are entirely superfluous, placed there because they can, not because they should), the occasional “tap here to read the caption” feature, a local weather display telling you what’s happening outside your window RIGHT NOW, and the limited ability to comment in/share pages – but these are added layers to what is clearly essentially a print product with bells on. There is no live reporting, no updated feeds from their correspondents, no new stories throughout the day. Nothing to make it feel “live” and digital.
This first issue feels like the product of competing personalities – half of it reads like an American-style Daily Mail in its approach (not its politics though), being deliberately and stereotypically female friendly in its gossip and fashion coverage.
It covers news lightly, without much insight or investigation, often leading with an image rather than a gripping story. This matches the formula of the designed-to-be-throwaway Metro, the Daily Mail, and the New York Post – all of which have far higher female readership percentages than the average newspaper.
And then there are the Opinion and Sports sections, which are densely packed with huge amounts of content, much of it on themes that are more traditionally male oriented. Men get depth, women get fluff, except of course for the “hot Russian spies/students in their lingerie” news stories. Is this really what journalism has come to?
The content and outlook of the six different sections suggest that The Daily is aiming to be a generalist news roundup-in-very-brief, for people of both sexes who somehow don’t get to read the news elsewhere. A breakfast read, let’s say, for those who want short, fast snippets to talk about at work. Almost like cable news, in fact, except that cable news already exists, and does it better.
Is the iPad market even mature enough yet to provide enough paying users who aren’t very connected to current affairs, in order to make money? As Joshua Benton at the Nieman Lab perceptively asks, Who is it trying to reach? What problem is it trying to solve? The Kindle, perhaps, might at a push have enough of an older demographic who want short summaries to support this venture. Does the iPad? Will the iPad?
And then there’s this: on the Bizarre/Frivolous News pages, four articles are linked to under the heading “What we’re reading”. The four stories are a video on BoingBoing coherently explaining Senate filibusters, an inside story from someone who went to Thailand for breast enhancement surgery, a fascinating and damning ProPublica investigation into nationwide coroner mismanagement, a long and interesting New Yorker profile of Guillermo del Toro, and a new study that shows how traffic cameras save lives. So, smart analysis, clever infographics, indepth reporting, a detailed arts profile… you’re reading it, but even with $30m at your disposal, you’re still not writing it.
At least, not yet. This is their much-delayed launch issue. Making a daily product is not easy, especially when your deadlines are shortened by the need to convert each page to be iPad ready. No launch issue is perfect, though it surprises me that they didn’t have a zinger of an exclusive to pull out, either in interactive graphics or investigative reporting, to showcase what can be done and to get their name out there even more. Maybe they’re saving it, to pull people in again post-launch. But right now, there’s not much exclusive or even interesting anywhere in this “pioneering digital venture.”
I’m going to follow its progress, and will absolutely post a revised review if it merits it in the future, when it’s had some time to bed in. As has been widely reported, there’s a lot of money behind The Daily, and Uncles Rupert M and Steve J have put the considerable weight of their names behind it, so they definitely won’t want it to fail.
But right now, it feels like it’s trying so hard to be all things to all men and women, frothy yet serious, fashionable and sporty – without having enough of any of the above to satisfy anyone. And most damning of all – its weakest section by far is the news.