A Month With The Daily -- Is It Actually Worth Paying for?

Our Media Guy Has Some Unsolicited Advice for News Corp.

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Simon Dumenco
Simon Dumenco

While plenty of critics piled on iPad newspaper The Daily within hours of its launch on Feb. 2, I held off because I wanted to give it a fair shot by really living with it for a while. Now, with more than a month of daily Daily reading behind me, I've got some unsolicited advice for the team behind News Corp.'s experiment in tablet publishing:

In trying to be all brisk and app-y, The Daily often goes short -- too short. On Ronald Reagan's centenary birthday, for instance, it offered a full-page shot of him headlined "100 FOR THE GIPPER" followed by a three-sentence (total) "article" about the "bipartisan hero" (hmmm). A full-page shot of a bowl of shark-fin soup ("A FIN MESS" -- groan) topped a four-sentence (total) "article" about a proposed California ban. Elsewhere, page-hogging infographics aren't much different from what USA Today pioneered back in 1982, while gratuitously deployed video demonstrates that sometimes pictures can be worth way less than 1,000 words.

The other day during a Daily reading session at my neighborhood McDonald's (Dollar Menu coffee plus free Wi-Fi), the manager stopped by my table to tell me how much he loves his iPad. Turns out he's a Daily reader, so I asked his take on it. "A lot of times," he told me, "I'll read something in The Daily that I already read about the day before, but The Daily version I'll read and go, 'Hey, they're missing a lot of the story here.'" He's still in his free trial period, and says he's unlikely to pay for it. Why? "It's just really not that good," he said, laughing. This from a guy who peddles crap food!

Want to see a tabloid newspaper iPad edition that just works? Check out the New York Post's. Yeah, it's largely just the paper edition repurposed (with the occasional embedded video), but it feels eerily perfect for the iPad, in that it gets all kinds of things right that The Daily simply doesn't -- including flow, pacing, packaging and, most importantly, the high-low juggling act.

The Daily offers a decent amount of earnest foreign reporting, but often aims (poorly) for misplaced Post-y wit in its presentation (e.g., a recent cover that blared "GAS HOLE: Oil hits $100 a barrel after Gadhafi threatens to kill supply"). It'll generally slam President Obama's budget, but also serve up an op-ed from a Catholic priest titled "What Would Jesus Cut?" that counsels against drastic reductions in social services. It'll tease a full-page photo of supermodel Gisele Bundchen with the cringe-inducing headline "I'D TAP THAT" (an invitation to tap on an icon to load a nothing-sandwich gossip item about her), while elsewhere offering up a sober meditation on gender/identity politics in a "History Page" piece titled "America's First Public Transsexual." In other words, it's the perfect newspaper for Tea Party socialists and enlightened pigs. In trying to be a big-tent national newspaper for everybody, it feels like it's for nobody in particular.

Right now, the paper is just so erratic and unfocused that reading it is like witnessing a new identity crisis every day. In fact, when it suddenly crashes (at least once every couple of days, in what seems like a cry for help -- the app version of crawling into the fetal position), I sometimes suspect that what The Daily really needs, besides cleaned-up code, is a nice long session on a therapist's couch.

Simon Dumenco is the "Media Guy" media columnist for Advertising Age. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.
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