Learning from The Daily’s demise: One of the highest-profile (and highest-dollar) digital journalism experiments of the past several years ended this week when News Corp. announced it was shutting down The Daily, the daily tablet-based publication it launched in early 2011. This, of course, gave everyone on the Internet a convenient opportunity to find in its failure confirmation of their own theories of how digital media works. (If you don’t have much time, the most interesting theories are those of Felix Salmon and Alexis Madrigal.) The Lab’s Joshua Benton crowdsourced some explanations for The Daily’s demise and broke them down into four categories — the content, the platform, the structure, and the business model.
The commentary from blogs and news sites generally fell onto the platform and the structure. Benton made a strong case for the third point — that The Daily cost way too much to produce to ever realistically be profitable — by noting that The Daily’s 100,000 paying subscribers was actually an impressive number, but not one that could come close to supporting a newsroom of 100-plus.
PandoDaily’s Sarah Lacy made the same point, contrasting The Daily’s “jumping straight to bloat” with the lean startup approach of the mobile/tablet publication The Magazine. Marco Arment, publisher of The Magazine, said it’s not fair to compare the two, but yeah, The Daily put way too much money into its operation. Likewise, John Gruber of Daring Fireball said The Daily should have thought of itself not as a daily newspaper in scale, but as a daily news app.
The other main critique centered on the viability of a tablet-only news publication. Slate’s Will Oremus asserted that going tablet-only “limits your audience far more sharply than it limits your expenses,” and Poynter’s Jeff Sonderman noted that research has shown that even tablet owners tend to consume media across a variety of devices. At TechCrunch, MG Siegler urged tablet publishers to think ground-up, not print-based. Felix Salmon of Reuters made the most compelling case against tablet publishing, arguing that everything publishing apps try to do, the web can simply do better: “The promise of the iPad was that it would usher in a rich-media world combining the versatility of the web with the high-design glossiness of magazines; the reality is that it fell short on both counts.”
Salmon’s argument got a few thoughtful rebuttals: Former New York Times developer Ben Jackson said Salmon is underestimating the iPad’s capabilities: “there’s much, much more to publishing on the iPad than just blindly reproducing antiquated print metaphors, and there are plenty of developers out there doing amazing things with the medium.” John Gruber agreed and said that The Daily actually showed that an iPad-only publication could be a success; it was just executed poorly. Likewise, the Columbia Journalism Review’s Dean Starkman said it’s fallacious to think that just because The Daily failed, all iPad publications will fail; the problem has to be at least partly about the content, not the platform.
The other main critique of The Daily was one we heard a lot when it was first announced: It just wasn’t made to be shared, which is pretty much a death sentence in today’s web environment. The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson noted this shortcoming, and his colleague, Alexis Madrigal expanded on it, arguing that “the only way to even *know* what readers might like is to allow them to read and share those pieces on the open Internet.” Former Daily writer Peter Ha also asserted that even “great content doesn’t do much good if there’s no good way to share it.”
A few other theories: Reuters’ Jack Shafer said News Corp. should have kept it running longer to experiment with different content approaches, Capital New York’s Tom McGeveran said it remained stuck in general-interest tablet culture, Rex Hammock said it didn’t have any audience to which it mattered, and both Forbes’ Jeff Bercovici and designer Mario Garcia said it felt a bit too much like its fellow News Corp. publication the New York Post.
British press agrees to more self-regulation: A week after judge Lord Justice Leveson issued his 2,000-page report calling for more regulation of the British press, the country’s major newspapers have signed on to most of his proposals — particularly, his call for a more stringent independent newspaper regulator. But, significantly, they’ve rejected one of his most sweeping proposals, to inscribe all of this regulation into British law.
In doing so, they mostly fell in line with the suggestions of Prime Minister David Cameron, who told them to get serious about self-regulation if they wanted to avoid having to deal with a press law. There’s no timetable for the actual legislation to be produced as of now. At The Evening Standard, journalism professor Roy Greenslade explained some of the disagreement among the newspaper editors about how far to go in regulating themselves.
The Leveson Report includes a proposal to write into British law a protection of freedom of the press, though Rupert Myers of The Telegraph said it’s nothing like the United States’ First Amendment. At Journalism.co.uk, journalism professor Angela Phillips said Leveson’s proposals would help, rather than hinder, legitimate investigative journalism.
An ethical debate over a chilling photo: The New York Post sparked an interesting discussion on photojournalism ethics and images of death this week with a front-page photo of a man (58-year-old Ki-Suck Han) clinging to the wall of a subway track, about to be run over and killed by a train, with the headline “DOOMED.” As Poynter chronicled well, the reaction on Twitter and among experts was swift and universally outraged.
Many of the criticisms took the same tack — people didn’t fault the photographer himself for taking the photo, as it seems as though he couldn’t have done anything to save the man, but they considered the Post’s decision to run the photo to be irresponsible at best and unconscionable at worst. That was the overwhelming opinion of the photojournalism experts in a Gawker post and a Daily Beast article, the Society of Professional Journalists’ Ethics Committee, and Poynter faculty member Kenny Irby. Forbes’ Jeff Bercovici noted that the “to help or shoot” is not simply a foregone conclusion, but remains a topic of much debate among photojournalists. (PandoDaily’s Bryan Goldberg vehemently disagreed, though, that it should be an ethical question at all.)
The two most thoughtful posts on the subject came from The New York Times’ David Carr and Reuters’ Jack Shafer, who both probed deeper into why the photo was so disturbing. “We are all implicated by this photo, not just the man who took it,” Carr wrote. “That train is coming for all of us, one way or another.” Shafer, for his part, concluded that “the deadliest image, it turns out, is the one in which the victim is still alive.” Slate’s J. Bryan Lowder made a similar point to both Carr and Shafer, pointing out that a photo like this forces us to put ourselves in the dying man’s position and taps into our darkest fears.
Tom McGeveran of Capital New York argued that it’s actually us, the public, who bears some responsibility for this type of image on the Post’s front page, because we buy papers like this and feed the tabloid’s sensationalist mentality. Anonymous tabloid photographers defended the photo (and, in part, the Post’s decision to publish it) to McGeveran’s colleague Joe Pompeo.
Instagram takes a jab at Twitter: The Facebook-owned Instagram fired a pretty definitive shot against Twitter in the battle over photo sharing turned off integration with Twitter Cards, which Twitter uses to make sure photos show up properly within tweets. That means Instagram photos will look pretty bad on Twitter right now, and according to Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom, the company plans to eventually disable Twitter embedding eventually.
Instagram has been improving its own website, and Systrom said he wants its photos to be viewed on its website, while All Things D’s Mike Isaac noted that Twitter is also doing some arms-racing of its own, working on its photo-filter service. Isaac also chastised the two companies for the passive-aggressive way they’re going after each other, and PandoDaily’s Sarah Lacy looked at the complicated relationship between Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, as Instagram remains an independent company owned by Facebook.
Wired’s Mat Honan lamented that users are “being treated like chess pieces in a proxy war between Facebook and Twitter,” and TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington made a similar point much more emotionally. Meanwhile, GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram wondered if more companies will now think again about their relationship with Twitter, and David Thier of Forbes noted that this opens a door for another company to do what Instagram did in integrating across platforms.
Reading roundup: A few other items of note in the media and tech worlds this week:
— News Corp. announced a load of other changes along with its shutdown of The Daily: As the company splits into news and entertainment divisions, top Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones editor Robert Thomson will head up the news side, which will keep the name News Corp. (The entertainment side will be called Fox Group.) Mike Darcey, an executive of the satellite broadcaster BSkyB, will head up the British newspaper division News International, succeeding Tom Mockridge, who is resigning. In a couple of posts, Ken Doctor provided some sharp analysis of the moves, and The Guardian’s Michael Wolff wrote about how News Corp. and Rupert Murdoch are thriving in the wake of the Leveson Report.
— The Washington Post, the last major newspaper holding out on a paywall, is reported to be planning to launch one next year. Meanwhile, the Neverending Paywall Debate, well, didn’t end this week: Columbia Journalism Review’s Ryan Chittum fired a broadside at paywall critics, and Digital First’s Steve Buttry gave a rebuttal, while paywall opponent GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram proposed a sort of truce. Open government activist David Eaves explained how metered paywalls are helping him save time as a reader, and UNC PR strategist John Zhu wrote a smart piece about the relationship between paywalls and innovation.
— The Columbia Journalism School report last week on “Post-Industrial Journalism” continues to elicit smart conversation. Craig Kanalley of The Huffington Post pulled together 10 key sections from the report, and journalism professor Matt Carlson appreciated its acknowledgement of the news environment’s increasing heterogeneity, while media analyst Alan Mutter highlighted the legacy-media inertia that is damaging the industry. Media strategist Terry Heaton, meanwhile, critiqued the report for not including enough about culture and focusing too much on existing institutions.
— Finally, four thoughtful pieces to give some time over the weekend: Former newspaper editor John L. Robinson wrote about what he wishes he would have done differently, former New York Times editor Bill Keller opined on the decline of foreign correspondents, the Berkman Center’s Doc Searls gave his vision of journalism as outlining, and Poynter’s Matt Thompson explained why journalists should get involved on the business side, too.