First impressions of The Daily: 8 perspectives on its design, interactivity and business model

We asked a group of distinguished digiterati for their first impressions of The Daily, launched Wednesday by Rupert Murdoch, with a new subscription engine from Apple. Our experts responded by sharing their reflections on its Web-print hybrid design, interactive potential, and business model.

Roger Fidler
Program Director for Digital Publishing
Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute

My first impression is very positive. Team Murdoch has done what I've always hoped newspapers would do with their tablet editions -- create an interactive hybrid of print and Web that is visually rich and enjoyable to read.

It clearly demonstrates the value of involving publication designers in the production process. Newspaper apps that fully automate the flow of content into limited sets of templates may be more efficient and cheaper to produce, but they quickly become repetitive and boring. They can't create the elements of surprise and compelling presentations that only humans have a capacity to conceive.

I will pay for a subscription to The Daily, not just because of my work, but because I look forward to reading it. I can only hope that other newspapers will learn from The Daily and produce their own tablet editions that take full advantage of the iPad.

I can hardly wait to see what creative people will come up with for the 2.0 version of the tablet newspaper.

Sara Quinn
Visual Journalism Faculty
The Poynter Institute

Reading The Daily is like swiping through pages of an animated magazine that you can interact with.

I see it as an interesting hybrid experience for the user. It has the strength of well-crafted, contextual print-like design combined with the power of interactivity and conversation.

How The Daily is like print: Most of The Daily stories are designed page-by-page. There's a finite connection between words and image. In that sense, editors can control the exact relationships between elements on the page. In contrast, publication on the Web separates the content from the presentation. The text of a story might appear in any form, anywhere and "higher design" details between words and images aren't easy to control. It's just the nature of how the Web works.

How it adds interactivity and conversation to the experience: The Daily uses video, graphics, slideshows, sharing and commenting. There are also hot spots that you push to get little bullet points and you have the ability to scroll both horizontally and vertically through content. The Daily animates some of the design elements. When you switch from one page to another, for example, a headline or graphic might "swoop in." This is adds an interesting "timing" element that highlights information in the order in which an editor wants you to see it.

About color, typography and other visual choices

The color palette is crisp and sophisticated. Photos and video are nicely integrated. The typography is well defined. Story text is mostly justified and set on a solid grid that serves to tie the publication together.

Interestingly, the text is mostly static. The user can't zoom in or make adjustments to the text size. In this way, it is very much like print: typographic choices are important -- the point size, the leading or spacing between lines of text, whether to use black type on white, white on black or what have you.

I'll be interested to learn more about how they determined the legibility of the story text on the screen and why they chose to make it static.

Another option out there, Treesaver, has technology that allows layout adjustments to dynamically fit content to the size of a screen, be it smart phone, tablet or computer. The size of the photos and the number of columns to a story design change between platforms. And, unlike with The Daily app, the user can zoom in on the text.

Of course, with print, I usually just hold the paper closer to my nose.

Regina McCombs
Faculty, Multimedia and Mobile
The Poynter Institute

When people say they spend time in daily news meetings asking "what's the best way to tell the story?" -- sometimes text, sometimes graphics, sometimes video -- my heart goes pitty-pat. It sounds simple enough, but it's an incredibly important question that moves storytelling a step away from text-dominated publications. And The Daily has done this well. They've incorporated multiple story forms: video, 360-degree video, polls, Twitter feed widgets, photo galleries, interactives and animated graphics.

The most ambitious animation, an explanation of the Steelers "shovel pass," is actually a video that includes animation. This is entirely understandable, given the complexity of creating elegant animated graphics without Flash.

There are several simpler interactive graphics that bring up more information when touched, including a timeline of the Super Bowl. It's not deep content, but it works for daily content -- essentially as info boxes on each Super Bowl, with a very magazine sensibility, simple, clean, with nice use of the touch interface. The same goes for other interactives, including the "Slice of Life."

Much of the work is lovely. The polls look great and results animate beautifully. The Twitter widget boxes look seamless and function well. One (rare) stumble is that in that asking "Dear Coquette" a question you're sent to e-mail, and out of the app.

It took a bit of time to figure out that I couldn't control the gorgeous 360-degree view of Venice in the article window, but could once I tapped it and entered full-screen mode. However, it crashed the first time, exactly as happened in the live demo. Ouch.

The video content was a tad disappointing, largely in comparison to the other multimedia. I saw a static distant shot of a marching band's performance, and a snow storm package that felt like a repackaged AP video. The "Time Well Spent" feature was a storytelling piece that felt like it was on its way somewhere, but didn't quite arrive.

There's a whole lot to like about multimedia in The Daily. It's good-looking, fun and useful. Here's hoping it's sustainable.

Ken Doctor
Media Business Analyst

Can a wizened 78-year-old entrepreneur be the new, hot, young thing of 2011? Rupert Murdoch's tab tests three big questions of 2011 for the news industry.
  1. Will readers pay for digital general news? We know they'll pay for the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times, but will they pay for general news, topics (if not bylines) generally available elsewhere? The Daily is a one-of-a-kind right now, the combo of three factors -- tablet-only, substantial original news reporting, a paid product with little free access. But it is also the first, big test of whether readers will indeed pay for digital news.
  2. Is 99-cent fast food news the pay wave that will catch on, or will it be subscriptions? In picking the iTunes-like 99-cent price point, atop the easy to charge Apple "buy now" button, News Corp. is testing the psychology of buying. Other newspaper companies are readying tests of 99 cents a day, or a week, so The Daily's 99-cents-a-week model will test that proposition. For those who do opt to pay, what percentage of them are the 99-cents-at-a-time snackers and what percentage are subscribers, best annual (the industry hopes) or least monthly? The data, as far as we know it, will help shape the dozens of Journalism Online-powered and other pay models as they roll out throughout the year.
  3. How does The Daily perform as an ad vehicle? This is a huge question, and one overshadowed by the obsession with getting  readers to pay up. Early tablet advertising was big-buck, as sponsorships were sold on a fashion base -- if you had a top-drawer brand, you had to be there. That's waning. The tablet is a good display ad medium, but needs to be a great one, if print readers find tablet news-reading so attractive that they abandon print -- with its ads -- more quickly. In addition, tablet technology must marry up with behavioral targeting and pay-for-performance models, both of which are the biggest future of digital marketing.

Rick Edmonds
Media Business Analyst
The Poynter Institute

Newsosaur Alan Mutter nailed the two business problems
with The Daily earlier this week
. It fills a need not all that many people have -- adding another national newspaper to their reading diet.

Money-burners of yore -- like the well-executed The National sports daily in the early '90s -- foundered after 18 months for just that reason.

It also narrows the potential readership that it is designed specifically for the iPad, and presumably of no use and only a little interest to the majority of us who have not yet bought the device.

I just read a ComScore report from last fall that 97 percent of newspaper online reading takes place on traditional computers, 2 percent on smart phones and less than 1 percent on the iPad.

Even assuming an explosive rate of growth in iPad purchases over the next year or two, that won’t add up to an important market or revenue source for a while.

But I hope I’m wrong. Cheers to Rupert Murdoch and company for trying something bold and putting real money behind it.

Clyde Bentley
Associate Professor, Print & Digital News
Missouri School of Journalism

I’m intrigued by the idea of a news product tailored for a single platform. Technology marketers have long matched their models to particular demographics. So why not use a product niche as an audience community?

A Blackberry-only financial publication makes sense, but consider the possibilities when sub-$100 tablets hit the market. You could have a tablet tabloid for which Walmart was not only the single advertiser, but the hardware vendor and subscription clerk.

Murdoch may not have this one right, but at least he took that terrifying first step in a new direction. That should encourage those of us with less fortitude and smaller pocketbooks to at least stick our toes out of the doorway.

(Bentley studied the use of mobile technologies in journalism as a 2009 - 2010 fellow at the Reynolds Journalism Institute.)

Staci Kramer
Editor and Executive Vice President
ContentNext Media

The Daily has already had an impact by hiring a staff of more than 100, including a number of journalists who had strong voices on other publications. How it uses that power will have a lot to do with its impact on daily journalism -- will it break news? Innovate in a way others want to follow? Maybe. Will it set off the same kind of seismic changes as USA Today? Doubtful.

What people are really are watching The Daily for is to see whether a new publication built on a large scale for a limited-distribution device can create enough subscription demand to be viable.

But even if it works, it may wind up as a singular sensation. Few other news orgs are able or willing to match the nearly half-million dollars Rupert Murdoch says they are spending a week to produce a 100-page news product every day, let alone the investment in development. It's also almost impossible to replicate the marketing help from Apple.

(Kramer also shared her first impressions of the app at First Look: The Daily’s Ups And Downs At Launch)

Damon Kiesow
Digital Media Fellow
The Poynter Institute

I was interested to see some people dismiss The Daily in the instant commentary on the Web. The complaints reminded me of the reaction in 1982 to the new, colorful paper called USA Today, which was derided as "McPaper."

That might be an apt comparison. Much like USA Today, The Daily is well designed, the interface is not overly complex and the content seems engaging, if a bit general. And News Corp. appears to be targeting a broad audience, not journalists or avid news consumers.

The audience for The Daily is the 50 million people who will own a tablet by the end of this year rather than the 15 million who own iPads today. It took USA Today five years to reach profitability, and by his comments on Wednesday, Rupert Murdoch seems prepared to see The Daily through to those consumers and to profitability.


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