Why The Daily is straight out of 1994

I haven’t had a chance to play with The Daily yet. If I’m really, really good, maybe Mrs. Media Nation will let me borrow her iPad so I can have a look. In terms of the business model and the approach, though, the mutant spawn of Rupert Murdoch and Steve Jobs looks remarkably like the early-’90s Knight Ridder newspaper of the future come to life.

I was first introduced to the digital newspaper at a conference at Columbia University in 1993. Among the speakers were retired Boston Globe editor Jack Driscoll, a true visionary, and Knight Ridder futurist Roger Fidler.

Fidler presented an idea: a newspaper that you would download onto a digital tablet of some sort. Fidler was so far ahead of his time that his tablet still hasn’t been created. The iPad is a step along the way, but Fidler’s notion was that it had to be light and flexible, with the same image resolution as a quality magazine and so cheap that newspapers would give them away.

Take a look at the 1994 video above, in which Fidler introduces his tablet, and consider all the stuff he and his colleagues had already figured out: an easy navigation system (he envisioned a stylus rather than your finger); embedded videos; interactive advertising.

The problem was that he missed the two developments that did the most to undermine the newspaper business: the Web, which made the kind of closed media ecosystem he envisioned obsolete; and the demise of “branded content” as a selling point. News has become a commodity in ways we couldn’t have imagined nearly two decades ago. So it’s fascinating that Murdoch and Jobs have attempted to resuscitate those two moribund notions.

First, you’ll only be able to get The Daily through a closed system. For Fidler, it was your cable television box and, if you were on the move, digital kiosks of some sort. For Murdoch and Jobs, it’s the iTunes Store.

As for branded content, that’s what The Daily is all about. It’s on but not of the Internet, so you won’t be able to search for individual stories or find links to Daily content on aggregators like Google News or the Huffington Post. It’s a discrete, branded product, and you will either buy it (for 99 cents a week) or you won’t.

Will it work? As I told Chris Lefkow of Agence France-Presse, it will probably enjoy some modest success, but I can’t see it truly taking off. There’s nothing you can get from The Daily that you can’t get somewhere else for free.

A lot of news organizations are experimenting with paid-content models right now, but all of them envision remaining more or less open to the great conversation that the Internet has fostered. The Daily, by contrast, is straight out of 1994.

Interestingly enough, Fidler tells the Poynter Institute that he loves The Daily:

My first impression is very positive. Team Murdoch has done what I’ve always hoped newspapers would do with their tablet editions — create an interactive hybrid of print and Web that is visually rich and enjoyable to read.

So does Slate’s Jack Shafer, with reservations.

Personally, I would love a high-quality (which is to say, non-Murdoch) digital news service that looked like The Daily but that wasn’t cut off from the Web. If that’s where, say, the New York Times is eventually going with its tablet apps, then that is something I’d truly find exciting.

The Daily? I wish Rupe and Steve well, but I’m I don’t plan on becoming a customer.