In its first editorial, The Daily bills itself as “the newspaper of the 21st Century.” In truth, News Corp.’s stab at a daily news publication produced solely for tablets looks a lot like a re-imagined digital magazine that is updated every day.
Wednesday’s launch event announced that The Daily will be free for the first two weeks, thanks to a sponsorship from Verizon, making it well worth a peek. Thereafter it’s $1 for a week, or $40 for a year — and it’s the first publication Apple will permit to sell subscriptions within the app, not through the iTunes store.
Time will tell if that’s a good model for newspapers, magazines and readers. But at first blush, The Daily looks like it may be onto something editorially, even if the economics are a challenge.
After a splash screen — accompanied by unnecessary audio — the reader is taken to a starting window that is both a dashboard and a home page. Right away, The Daily seems to have solved a Big Problem faced by publishers in print, on the web and in apps: How do you convey the totality of your content without overwhelming the reader and blurring everything?
The Daily uses the cover-flow paradigm popularized by Apple in iTunes. Lateral swipes move you swiftly through the page thumbnails, all rendered large enough for you to quickly glean what they contain. They are always in view.
Cover flow is The Daily’s front page. The flow also rolls on its own, page by page, every few seconds, which may or may not be a good thing. And there is a button which allows you to page quickly and stop at will, just in case swiping is too tedious.
But just as Apple discovered that cover flow worked great for thumbing through your music collection, this Apple-supported news publication is letting the reader thumb through its pages. It doesn’t run terribly smoothly — it’s not nearly as responsive as it should be — and the thumbs are oddly pixelized. Both of these issues are, presumably, addressable in app updates.
The real front page isn’t a newspaper page at all, but more like a magazine: A huge picture, large but not tabloid-shouting font, and a logo in the upper-left-hand corner. The Economist, anyone?
Content will make or break this app, and it’s too early to judge the quality of The Daily’s journalism — though nothing we read in the inaugural edition disqualifies it. But there’s a lot of content, thanks to the roughly 50 journalists News Corp. hired to write and edit this iPad-only publication. Maybe even enough for people to spend a buck a week, or less than that for a full-year subscription to a “real” newspaper.
That’s the rub: The Daily genuinely defies description in traditional terms. Is it a newspaper, in the sense that it updates in real time — or at least once a day? Is it a magazine, in the sense that page elements and layout are at least as important as editorial content? Today, it’s both, with a lead story about the uprising in Egypt, and a feature headlined “Woof, There It Is!” about a New York disco that caters to canines.
There’s plenty of video, of course, including a brief overview read by … a news anchor? At first, we wanted to hate this. But it is brief, calls out blessedly few articles, and the video lets you jump to the story being featured at any time. In a mix of navigation and internal-discovery metaphors, this one works just fine, too.
Pages are very readable, with plenty of negative space. But each page doesn’t contain a single story, which creates at least two problems: There is only one comment stream per page, even if there’s more than one story, so it’s not clear how or where to weigh in, if you want to leave a comment.
It’s the same with “saving” within the app to read later: Save a page with multiple stories and it saves the page, not the one clip you wanted, because there is no way to clip just one story on a multistory page.
And there is nothing one can do with a saved page. It can’t be shared, and there is no provision to print it. It doesn’t link back to the “live” page, which presumably expires at some point. You could take a screen grab with the iPad, and manipulate that copy, but who wants to do that?
But this multiple-story-per-page problem becomes really serious when it comes to sharing. The Daily says it will not be an island, living in an app universe largely isolated from the web world. So that’s one of the first things we put to the test.
The Daily may not be cut off from the web, but the bridge to and from is pretty narrow.
The first head-scratcher: There are no hyperlinks in stories. The map of related content on the greater web, at least so far, is invisible.
When you send an article to Twitter, what the app generates is this: “Check out this article from The Daily: [bit/ly shortened URL here].” No headline. And no way to insert the headline, or copy it. So if you want to customize that message, you do so off the top of your head.
With all the time and effort it took to develop this app, one of the most basic, self-promoting features should be there on Day One. This point should be enough for News Corp. to feel embarrassed about the lame Twitter integration: With the now ancient Financial Times app, it is even possible to chose and order elements to include or exclude from a tweet. There, I said it.
The good news is that The Daily URL tweet takes you to a screen grab on thedaily.com, where there are more sharing options. But there is no navigation to any other story — truly a way of limiting the web component to share with people who don’t subscribe. If you are a Daily subscriber, but discover a story from another reader on Twitter, there is nothing to take you to that item in your app.
There may be some ways to sort through these mind-bending paradoxes, but for now this is but a small step in the right direction.
There is at least one nod to the outside world in “What We’re Reading,” which is a list of links to articles on websites, displayed in an in-app browser.
WIRED: This a serious effort to figure out how to create a for-profit news experience on an very new medium from a publisher with deep pockets who sees magazines as the future of newspapers. Who can argue with that?
TIRED: Long download, lots of crashes, somewhat clunky animation. Articles tend to the short side — neither brief, nor long form. Shades of USA Today?