By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

The Daily was on the Internet — but not of the Internet

dailyRupert Murdoch this week killed off The Daily, the tablet-centric electronic newspaper that he unveiled nearly two years ago to great fanfare and even greater skepticism.

It’s no exaggeration to say this was one experiment that was dead on arrival. Very few observers believed there was a market for a middlebrow paid digital news product aimed at a general audience. And those few were proved wrong.

It so happens that The Daily died just as I was reading “Post-Industrial Journalism,” a new report by Columbia’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism. The authors, C.W. Anderson, Emily Bell and Clay Shirky, argue that digital technology has ended the industrial model of journalism — an approach to news built around the industrial processes (printing plants, fleets of trucks and the like) needed to produce and distribute it. They credit the phrase “post-industrial journalism” to the redoubtable Doc Searls, who in 2001 defined it as “journalism no longer organized around the norms of proximity to the machinery of production.”

The problem with The Daily — or, at least, one of the problems — was that Murdoch followed the industrial model of news despite his reliance on post-industrial technology. The Daily was a centralized operation built around a daily cycle when it should have taken advantage of not being tied down to a print edition. It was essentially an electronic version of a print newspaper that offered none of the advantages of either format.

The Daily was not part of the broader Web. Social sharing was difficult if not impossible. The Daily was, well, a daily — it came out once a day, you downloaded it and that was that. No updating until the next day’s edition. At first, you could only read it on an iPad, although it eventually migrated to other tablets and to the iPhone.

With print, people are willing to put up with some of these shortcomings because of the convenience and aesthetics of ink on paper, which still haven’t lost their appeal. An online news source simply has to offer more. The Daily was on the Internet, but it wasn’t of the Internet. Its demise was inevitable.

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  1. Matt Kelly

    >>“journalism no longer organized around the norms of proximity to the machinery of production.”

    Not precisely, I think– better to describe it as “journalism no longer organized around the norms of a corporate structure.” That is, the structure of production and presses and unions, to be sure, but also the structures of sales departments and accounts payable and a publishing executive and corporate owners. Those are huge expenses to carry, and you could do that when newspapers and TV stations were local monopolies, but you can’t carry them and remain competitive against two or three savvy upstarts who know how to code and have a flair for headlines.

  2. Patricia Bennett

    Excuse me if I’m off topic, but I read this morning that the Daily Beast may go under a paywall and I’m curious what your thoughts are on that. Do you think paywalls decrease readership but proves successful in the end, i.e., less readership but at least making some money of it where none was made before?

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Patricia: When I read your comment, I thought you must be mistaken — I knew that Newsweek would be a paid site within the Beast, but I had never imagined that the Beast itself might go paid. As it turns out, you are correct.

      I think smart, flexible paywalls can work for news organizations that provide great value, such as the New York Times, the Washington Post and, locally, the Boston Globe. But the Beast? Not a bad site, but is there anything they do that’s so unique that people would be willing to pay for it? I can’t imagine.

  3. Mike Benedict

    The name alone — the Daily Beast — is trite and juvenile. It may attract the under-30 crowd, but grownups don’t want to get their news from the same place their kids do.

    • L.K. Collins

      While I agree with you Mikie on the triteness and juvenality of the name, I don’t think we nail their coffin shut quite yet.

      Remember, the text message a few years ago was a novelty; today is is embedded in the culture of the generation.

      As The Daily Beast’s audience ages, they may well follow along thinking that TDB is far from trite and juvenile.

      My problem with them is their journalism. It is far from being as robust as The Daily Caller’s, Not that the DC is particularly unbiased, but they are aggressive in developing and publishing stories to a degree that TDB cannot match. TDB is coming to be more of an aggregator and opionion blog than being an arm of a news organization.

      • Mike Benedict

        So you’re saying the kids will pay for what they can get for free on The Daily Show?

        Good luck, L.E.

      • L.K. Collins

        They buy the latest iProduct without blinking an eye and buy iApps by the millions.

        Seems to be part of their pattern.

      • Mike Benedict

        That’s for entertainment, L. And so is the Daily Show — a mix of news and comedy. You’re proving my point.

  4. Joe Keohane

    “Daily Beast” is a reference to the sensationalist newspaper in Evelyn Waugh’s great satire on journalism, “Scoop.” Not sure how it’s trite and juvenile. Unless the kids love half-forgotten comic novels from the 1930s.

    • Mike Benedict

      Joe, no offense, but the fact that you know/Googled that shows how out of touch you are.

      • Dan Kennedy

        Call me old-fashioned, but I think knowing stuff is a good thing.

      • Mike Benedict

        You’re confusing knowledge with trivia. It’s trivia, no more or less important than knowing how many HP a Pokemon character has.

        I’m sure you’ve seen the Daily Beast page. It’s a British tabloid. It’s jarring and headache inducing. No adult would bother when there’s much more civilized options. And kids get their news from Yahoo trending lists and Jon Stewart. The DB is in no man’s land.

  5. I thought that USA Today has a superior format at no cost to what THE DAILY was doing. There is a niche for a generalist national publication. It is being filled by CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONTOR and USA Today. THE DAILY just could not compete.

  6. Srinivasan Sethuraman

    Dan, is your e-mail da.kennedy or dan.kennedy (with the afterwards)?

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Srinivasan: da.kennedy

      • Srinivasan Sethuraman

        Thanks, Dan. I wasn’t sure if the lack of an “n” was a typo or not.

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