Murdoch’s “The Daily” – What Works And What Doesn’t

I’ve had “The Daily” app on my IPad since the day it was launched. I couldn’t wait to get it because of my unwavering belief that the Tablet format will quickly become a significant platform for news and other timely information. I still believe that, but it’s despite The Daily and not because of it. Ironically its the apps from Rupert Murdoch’s own NY Post and other traditional publishers that still give me hope that this medium will grow quickly.

I am thrilled that Murdoch launched “The Daily.” I strongly believe success in this medium requires the creation of dedicated content products, products that are made for the tablet medium, not adapted from earlier platforms, whether print, digital or video. And I truly understand the need, at this stage, to experiment with presentation, content and format. Everything will, and should, get better.

I was particularly cheered to read about the memo Daily Editor Jesse Angelo sent out after a tough week. “We need to get out there and start finding more compelling stories from around the country– not just scraping the web and the wires, but getting out on the ground and reporting.” The news brands of the future need to provide a mix of original reporting, curation of outside voices and community. All are important, and the many new players in the news and information space are unable to create first rate original reporting because they don’t realise how hard it is to do.

So let’s assume The Daily is produced by people who do understand journalism, and Angelo’s missive is a good indication that we have that piece in place. The problem right now lies in the vision behind the art of storytelling on this new medium, and the ability to executive whatever that vision is.

What I’ve seen is very little indication that the designers are thinking about the best use of the new platform medium. The advantages of the platform are obvious:

1) It is both fast and beautiful.
2) It is interactive
3) It is real time via either wifi or 3G/4G
4) Advertising stands out
5) It can use all forms of media: text, video, audio, photography, graphics AND interactivity

But in my first few weeks of using “The Daily” I have been particularly disappointed in its design, functionality and performance. It’s been a series of crashes, bad user interface and clunky design.

More than half the time I touch the Icon to start up “The Daily”, nothing happens. Another 25% of the time, if I wait long enough, I get the intro music and the graphic shows me it’s launch sequence. Then the screen goes blank. Sometimes, after that, the new edition of the daily comes up in it’s “wheel” format, with a video opening that resembles the top of a TV news broadcast by teasing the top three or four stories. Other times, after about 15 seconds, my screen just returns to the IPad Icons and I have to start over.

Combining the slow, frequently faulty, launch sequence with the fact that when and if it does launch it brings me to a television like lead-in, followed by a visual magazine-format cover, a major frustration is how long it takes me to learn about ANYTHING going on. Nothing feels urgent or timely. It’s much more like a magazine or TV news magazine, than a newspaper, daily or otherwise. This is made worse by the fact that the content of The Daily appears to be updated only once-a-day, an odd choice for a 24/7 medium.

Perhaps this is by design. Perhaps the goal is to take advantage of how beautiful graphics and advertising are in this medium, but using a magazine model as the first foray into the newest real-time medium. And it is also certainly true that no where is it written that the tablet version of news has to resemble a newspaper. But if it is going to make the best use of this new medium, it needs to embrace the zeitgeist of the device. It needs to be fast and to give it’s users the ability to get what they want quickly and in a timely way.

Instead, this app sacrifices speed and usability for beauty. There are no real shortcuts to sections, only to the “cover” story of each section, creating the need for multiple clicks to get to anywhere. Indexing is weak, albeit non existent. These and other shortcomings seem to indicate an inability to understand why and how users use this device.

A dozen times or so I’ve been teased with an ad to designate my favourite sports teams on the App, which presumably would result in a customised page with news from the teams I selected. But despite the fact that I have tried to set this page several times, I’ve never succeeded. As soon as I finish, I try to store the page and my settings and it’s gone — never to be seen again. I tried again today, found the ad, and this time tapped it 20 times before I realised it’s not taking me anywhere to do anything.

If I step out of the room for a few minutes and come back, the app has booted me out and put me back on my home screen. I don’t know how to change that setting, and there is no way to find out.

In the end I have to say that while this is a “pretty” product its much closer to a magazine, with little or no sense of urgency and a shocking inability to address user behaviour on a new medium. Shocking because even some of Murdoch’s newspapers are doing a better job on the IPad, particularly the New York Post, which at least provides a touch and feel that allows the reader to find anything that was in the paper and in the news.

I’m still pulling for the ultimate success of The Daily, and I give Murdoch huge credit for spending the money to test the tablet.

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