What Murdoch’s The Daily means for the future of media

You may not have heard of The Daily, but it’s going to change the way you consume the news.

The Daily is an online newspaper that launched last week. The creation of news baron Rupert Murdoch, it’s designed specifically to be read on the iPad, Apple’s electronic tablet.

And it’s impressive.

The Daily is intensely visual. Brimming with photos and videos, it’s mesmerizing. There’s text, to be sure, but the experience is based more on absorbing visual information than it is on reading. Pages and sections aren’t always clearly delineated, so you’re encouraged to skip around to whatever pops up next. Ads are incorporated seamlessly into the presentation, so they’re harder to avoid — a plus for advertisers.

In a way, I think The Daily’s presentation really gives new meaning to the phrase “surfing.” When the Internet was new and people talked about surfing the Web, they were talking about jumping from one website to another. But those websites were largely text-based. So you were really surfing among opportunities to read things.

In this new format, reading is diminished. It’s less like reading and more like grazing. Nutritionists tell us that grazing is the healthiest way to eat — frequent, smaller meals are better than a few heavy ones.

But I’m not sure that grazing is the best way to absorb information. It shortchanges concentration and deep understanding. Research is already being done on the way our brains are changing as we adapt to the digital revolution in communication.

But whether The Daily is a success or not, I think it marks a turning point. I believe you’re going to see this kind of format become a standard in digital communication. For the last decade, we’ve been moving away from the print-based communication that’s been the standard for 500 years, and Murdoch’s online newspaper is a milepost in that transition. If it’s not a huge hit, others that copy it will be.

Many of us grew up in a time when people read newspapers, magazines and serious books. But I don’t think these earlier generations were more virtuous. It’s simply that those avenues were the only ones open to them.

As soon as national news coverage flourished, our grandparents inhaled stories about Babe Ruth. Movie fan magazines prospered. They listened to “The Shadow” and quiz shows on the radio

Now we have vastly more choices for news and entertainment — and going forward, more of them will be like The Daily. Perhaps that means we’re becoming a shallower society, but I don’t think that’s really the case. We’re not necessarily shallower than those who came before us — we just have the means to indulge our shallowness more.

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Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Jackson Cage on 02/07/2011 - 08:46 am.

    John, I couldn’t disagree more. Maybe it’s the generation I grew up in, but I always use Watergate as kind of the benchmark for investigative reporting. You think the Daily is ever going to break a Watergate type story? Unfortunately, I’m seeing more and more grammatical and basic factual errors pop up, telling me editors no longer exist. I think we’re headed for more short, easily researched puff pieces and that’s definitely not a good sign for ther future.

  2. Submitted by Kevin Reichard on 02/07/2011 - 09:23 am.

    No links out, a closed and buggy design, and an operating budget of $500,000 a week? Man, John, no offense, but you are such an apologist for expensive digital media you’ll hail anything as the next big deal as long as you think your industry will snare some crumbs from the table. This type of daily publishing is a regression, not a progression — do you really expect a digital publication geared toward news to update only once a day? Publishing early, publish often is the new business model. And your excusing away bad and illogical design — it forces people to wander aimlessly! — is a hoot.

    I suggest you check out Flipbook or Pulse or the new Readability/Instapaper offering as truly innovative tools pushing the boundaries of digital publishing. Then again, there’s little money to be made by “digital marketing firms” with user-driven tools like those, is there?

  3. Submitted by John Reinan on 02/07/2011 - 11:23 am.

    I’m not offended, Kevin, but I’ve got no dog in this hunt. My point is that The Daily is a sophisticated piece of presentation that relies more on visuals than text. It’s absorbing and combines the essence of traditional newspapers, magazines and TV. It’s familiar enough to be non-threatening and new enough to be intriguing.

    I’n not slagging on user-driven content, but it’s still finding its niche in the media ecosystem.

    The Daily, or something like it, is more likely at this point to have a mass impact and thus generate revenue. And I have no doubt that as they go along, they’ll address some of the faults that you mention.

    And in another two to three years, it will all be obsolete, and you and I will be having this discussion about a completely different platform.

  4. Submitted by Eric Paul Jacobsen on 02/07/2011 - 02:40 pm.

    I cannot argue with the factual claims in Reimer’s article, not even when he speculates about the popularity of “The Daily” in the near future. However, like two of the other commenters, Cage and Reichard, I cannot limit myself to a value-free, objective description of “The Daily’s” new image-rich, text-poor format. I regard it as Rupert Murdoch’s newest assault in his personal war to replace detailed, well-researched news with his own brand of unexamined rumors, hostile innuendo, and baseless propaganda.

    Although “The Daily” omits the word “News” from its name, which may be no accident, it clearly purports to be a news medium. Therefore, when I learn that in “The Daily,” “[a]ds are incorporated seamlessly into the presentation, so they’re harder to avoid,” I cannot accept this with calm equanimity. This is an insidious distortion, not only “a plus for advertisers,” but also a definite minus for readers. Already, TV news shows often present paid content alongside news segments without identifying them as such. Fortunately, reputable newspapers – and MinnPost, I assume – clearly separate paid advertisements from news items. Unfortunately, the people who read “The Daily” instead of a newspaper will get the same canned factoids that they get on the TV news, and they will be poorly informed as a result.

    “Nutritionists tell us that grazing is the healthiest way to eat — frequent, smaller meals are better than a few heavy ones.” Yes, but I’ve never heard anyone claim that we inform ourselves better with frequent, small glances at text than with careful, sustained attention, particularly if this text is what Murdoch promises to deliver: a slick arrangement of deceptive images, distorted news fragments, and unidentified ads.

    The nutrition analogy is not out of place here, but Reimer has it completely backwards. Because we foolishly subsidize certain agricultural commodities, such as corn, to excess, the byproducts of these commodities, such as high-fructose corn syrup, get added to most of the processed food we eat, which therefore becomes both artificially cheap and temptingly sweet. This is probably the cause of our contemporary obesity epidemic. Similarly, a so-called news medium that serves its advertisers better than it informs its viewers will never lack funding, but it will never provide quality information, either. Attracted by its cheapness and its image-rich, content-poor, easy reading, consumers of “The Daily” will be as poorly informed as today’s consumers of Fox News, who are among the most misinformed Americans, as a study by the University of Maryland recently demonstrated.

    The results of that study can be found here: http:// http://www.worldpublicopinion.org/ pipa/ pdf/ dec10/ Misinformation_ Dec10_ rpt.pdf

    What can be done? Here, again, a nutritional analogy may help us. We can require processed food to be labeled with nutritional information. Can’t we also require paid advertisements to be identified as such, wherever they appear?

  5. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 02/08/2011 - 09:05 am.

    I’d guess Mr. Murdoch’s goal is not to inform American citizens about what is happening in our country and the world, but to influence those citizens by exposing them to Faux News presentations of right-slanted “news” as written by folks like Limbaugh and Beck.

    In the process, of course, in can influence the way in which those who merely skim the Fox view of the world might well vote in ways that benefit the Koch Brothers instead of themselves. If Murdoch weren’t the owner and his aspirations so well known, those who skim at least might not be indoctrinated in the process, but still could receive “news” that the corporate world thinks is best for us to know (global warming is a theory, not a fact, for instance).

    NOTE: Comcast buys MSNBC; controls content and delivery, plus may be your internet service provider and telephone company as well. Easy one-stop shopping for the FBI and CIA who want to know what you think and who you interact with? And now AOL is buying Huffington Post, so an influential blog/aggregator will be controlled by yet another internet service provider. In my view, it doesn’t look good for the future of independent journalism uninfluenced by corporate control.

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