Blog Post

Why I Won’t Pay For ‘The Daily’ And I Will Pay For The Digital ‘NYT’

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) 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.

13 Responses to “Why I Won’t Pay For ‘The Daily’ And I Will Pay For The Digital ‘NYT’”

  1. Just why would ANYONE pay at least $195.00 per year for:

    1) The content of a paper which was a major cheerleader for the Iraq war, and which didn’t fire Judith Miller until she became too much of an embarrassment and which STILL has Michael Gordon on its staff, though he is, mercifully, off writing another book. These two people were the major stenographers of government war propaganda who passed themselves off as “journalists.” No accountability there.

    2) The content of a newspaper whose White House reporter, Elizabeth Bumiller, famously said she was too “afraid” to confront President Bush in his last press conference before the start of the Iraq war. ANY reporter who’s afraid to confront a President SHOULD have been fired on the spot, but Bummiller STILL has a job, now shilling for the Pentagon instead of the president.

    3) The content of a newspaper which KNEW about George Bush’s illegal wire tapping program BEFORE the 2004 election but didn’t tell us — the great unwashed masses — about it until AFTER Bush was safely re-elected in 2004 because, as the paper famously put it, it didn’t want to “influence the election.” Or…it didn’t give the voters the information they needed to decide if they wanted to re-elect a president who had been engaged in a massive criminal spying operation. But, hey, why give the unwashed masses a choice of re-electing or not re-electing a criminal?

    4) The content of a newspaper which almost totally ignores its own editorial guidelines on the use of anonymous sources (which limits the granting of anonymity primarily to whistle blowers), which allows government “sources” to lie and “spin” at will ALL THE TIME under the cloak of anonymity, without ANY accountability, and lazy “reporters” to pass on their lies as “journalism,” also without ANY accountability.

    5) The content of a newspaper, despite its journalistic talent devoted to on-site reporting in Iraq and Afghanistan, whose output as a result of getting its hands on the Afghanistan and Iraq WikiLeaks documents has been truly pathetic, ESPECIALLY when one compares the NYT’s output of articles with the quantity and quality of the articles written by The Guardian and Deer Spiegel. And even now, the “headline” article for “The War Logs” is still John Burn’s sleazy hit piece on Julian Assange, as if Julian Assange was as important, or more important, as the information contained in the Wikileaks documents on Afghanistan and Iraq.

    6) The content of a newspaper whose output as a result of getting its hands on WikiLeaks’ “Cablegate ” documents has been BEYOND pathetic, ESPECIALLY when one compares the NYT’s output of articles to the articles published by the European outlets — The Guardian, Deer Spiegel, Le Monde and even El Pais —which was FAR superior in both quality and quantity to that published in the NYT as a result of the release of the “Cablegate” documents. For example, did the NYT ever write about how the Obama administration worked with Republicans during Obama’s first few months in office to protect Bush administration officials facing a criminal investigation in Spain for their involvement in establishing their torture regime? This was headline news in Spain for over a week, but in the NYT … not a single peep. And also not a single peep about how the Obama administration also strong-armed Germany to drop ITS investigations into the Bush’s torture regime.

    7) The content of a newspaper whose editor, Bill Keller. informed NYT’s readers that labeling “brutal interrogation techniques” as “torture” would just be an exercise in “tendentious political correctness.” According to Bill Keller, “torture” isn’t “torture” when it’s done by the U.S., only when it’s done by the U.S.’ enemies: Iran, China, Nazi Germany, Vietnam, North Korea, etc., etc. According to the NYT, it’s journalistically improper to call waterboarding “torture” when done by the U.S., but when one if our “enemies” does exactly the same thing, then it may be called “torture” repeatedly and without qualification. An organization which behaves this way may be called many things; “journalist” CERTAINLY isn’t one of them.

    Any newspaper which committed even ONE of the above colossal journalistic blunders, much less all of them, without any accountability whatsoever and without groveling for forgiveness from its readers — and THEN changing the way it does ‘journalism,” which in every single case noted above, the NYT has not — doesn’t deserve ANYONE’S $195.00 of hard-earned money on an annual basis.

    AND …
    “Dumb” doesn’t BEGIN to do justice in describing what a local TV reporter in SF described on air as “a VERY expensive and VERY complicated subscription plan.” That reporter then gave his viewers information on the Twitter feeds as an alternative to accessing NYT articles for free.

    On-air reporters at that same TV station also don’t label “torture” committed by the U.S. as “brutal interrogation:” they call it torture.

  2. So you like the content that the NYT has to offer… but how do you know you’re going to like its version of an iPad app? You’re willing to put money down to buy the service without even seeing it. If you’re interested in an exciting iPad experience how can you be sure that the Times will deliver this? How do you know it won’t be another dud in the “wow” department (despite what you feel is good content)?

  3. Excellent analysis — thank you. But I have to nitpick: Why do so many technology writers confuse it’s and its? (“The Daily slapped it’s readers across the face…”) What kind of example is this for the youth of today?

  4. Jim Spanfeller

    On a more holistic stage I think the entire discussion about iPad APPs is actually backward. Apps, by definition almost, are reductive experiences. Taking rich, multimedia content and making it more useful on smaller screened, slower conntected devices like cell phones. In that context they make sense. But for a device like the iPad which is first and foremost a device to make the web more…”intimate” this need is only nessessary sporatically…for those that are using their iPad as truely mobile experience.

    I actually think that the discussion should be going the other way. How do we get some of the very nice and very worthwhile navagation techniques pioneered within apps onto our media property websites…

  5. Dave, you do realize nearly half this country votes republican in any given election and values such content? Why media companies with a liberal slant would spitefully alienate half the consumers who might otherwise buy their product by insulting their intelligence is beyond me.

  6. Greg Fitzgerald

    Right on the money – and very similar comments to those I posted in my review on the app store the first week of the Daily’s availability right after I deleted it from my iPad. Slow, buggy, and shows an absolute ignorance of what people expect of a news app. For something that is supposed to replace the morning newspaper, the Daily barely had any news. It replaces news with all kinds of distracting eye candy. Regarding NYT pricing. The tree version costs me nearly $800 a year so $180 a year seems like a bargain to me for one of the most extensive news organization on the globe. If you cant afford 50 cents a day for world class news, try substituting a Tall for a Venti at Starbucks.

  7. Ask yourself this, do you really want to get your news from a Rupert Murdock company? It’s going to be laced with GOP propaganda, you can be sure of that.

  8. I found the Daily app crashed constantly and I agree with the author it took forever to load, even on wifi at home, where I have a reasonably good connection. I was quite disappointed.