Day Old News

I have a confession to make.

I haven’t watched TV news since sometime back in September. Not the 24-hour talking heads channels, not the broadcast network’s evening summaries, not even 60 Minutes.

Pogo

But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been keeping up with current events, in all their crappyness.

Instead of suffering through all the faux debates and BREAKING NEWS!!, I returned to only consuming day-old news.

Some of it comes from the old fashioned paper delivered to the door every morning. Some on websites that write about events from several days or even weeks ago. Maybe a video or two when appropriate.

Information sources like the Washington Post, The Atlantic, and The Guardian (UK) whose writers and editors go beyond just relating what happened but also why it matters.

Of course, that doesn’t mean those day-old sources are 100% accurate. Even with the extra time to develop some context for events, they sometimes make mistakes. Occasionally they create misleading, even stupid, headlines. Even so, day-old is a whole lot more accurate than up-to-the-minute.

I’m not sure I’m a better informed person for this change. And the extra effort required may not be for everyone.

But I feel better.1

The Daily Loser

Preceded by plenty of breathless rumor, The Daily was released last Wednesday, promising once again to revolutionize the news business.

In case you missed the hype, this is the iPad app developed by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp at a cost of $30 million and supposedly backed by a staff of 100 creating exclusive material.

I’ve been playing with The Daily since it showed up in the app store and there’s no way I’ll be paying the 99 cents weekly charge ($39.99 annually) when the sample subscription runs out.

Beyond the version 1.0 bugs (slow, inconsistent navigation, way over-cute interface, annoying crashes, did I mention slow?), the biggest problem is the content.

First of all, there’s nothing unique about it. Several of the articles showed up in other places on the web and the rest is full of gossip and fluff pieces.

Then there’s the fact that the material is updated daily (hence the name), a concept that’s dying as fast as the paper version of the Washington Post that lands on my porch each morning (not my choice). Plus, the actual news consists of stories that show up in my aggregator as soon as I open it.

However, more than anything, I don’t want to pay for news from the megacorp that offers such crap as the New York Post and Fox News.  Just being picky I guess.

Ok, who’s next to revolutionize the newspaper industry?

Content vs Digital Destinations

When it comes to getting news, my iPad has plenty of options.

Right now I have apps from USA Today, Huffington Post, BBC, NPR, ABC, the New York Times, Bloomberg, and a few others I can’t remember.

All of them very pretty, very slick, nice examples of programming.

I almost never open any of them.

Instead when I want to know what’s going on, I use a relatively plain RSS aggregator (currently River of News) or Twitter.

I think this dichotomy is one more example of why most traditional news organizations are slowly dying.

Each creates their own specific digital destination, replicating on a mobile device the same product traditionally delivered to consumers through their paper products and media channels.

Me? I’m only interested in finding the information and don’t care to make multiple stops in the process.

It’s a matter of distinguishing between content, which is all I really want, and the delivery channel, which is irrelevant.

Of course, I’m no media business expert, only one news consumer, and trying to project my experiences onto a larger audience is speculative at best.

However, I find it hard to see how replicating the traditional subscription model on digital devices, with consumers paying for access to a one-source digital destination, is going to be successful, especially with younger generations not raised on daily newspapers, monthly magazines, and the nightly news.

What Would You Pay For That Brand of Information?

Evidentially, there’s a big fight going on at the New York Times over how much to charge for the new digital edition being prepared to launch when the iPad goes on sale next month.

The people currently in charge of the paper version want to charge $20 – $30 a month.

Why so much? Because they’re said to be afraid people will cancel the print paper if they can get the same thing on their iPad. Nevermind that iPad distribution comes with none of the paper or delivery costs associated with print, or that there’s already a free electronic edition available to subscribers who cancel.

On the other side are the folks running the Times’ online edition who are pushing a price of $10 a month, still much higher than the current web site (free), which owners plan to pull behind a pay wall in 2011 regardless of the iPad.

Realistically, anyone at the Times who believes they can persuade a meaningful number of subscribers (that is, enough to save the business) to give them $30 a month for a digital version of their paper is crazy.

I’m not sure they’ll be able to find enough readers, especially outside the New York metro area, willing to pay $10.

The bottom line is that the owners of the Times (and other distributors of data) are selling a package of not-particularly-unique information to which they attach their particular brand.

And they need to seriously consider if that package is one that consumers will pay to have delivered, digitally or otherwise, on a regular schedule.

So, what would you pay for regular access to a brand-name digital information package (aka newspapers and magazines)?

I suspect the owners of those packages have a much higher opinion of their brands than do most of the people formerly known as customers.

Now That Would Be News!

Have you heard… print media is dead?

Or at least sales of the dead tree editions of newspapers and magazine are in an downward spiral, headed to their eventual demise.

The owners of those publications are now struggling to find some way to not only survive but also make money in amounts, they hope, equal to or greater than the huge pots they earned only a few years ago.

Like before RSS, and CraigsList, and YouTube, and blogs, and all the other sites that offer right now the same information as their analog versions will deliver tomorrow morning, later this week, or next month.

And before a new generation was taught (by many of those same publications) that information presented on the web was supposed to be free.

Recently, two large publishers, Conde Nast and Time Warner have been showing off their plans for recreating their publications for the tablet devices that all the smart analysts say are coming any day now*.

Another group (including Conde Nast) has announced their intention to create a “Hulu for magazines” that would produce a “fully featured kind of immersive e-reading application”.

While that press release was very vague about what “Hulu for magazines” might look like, Time Warner’s demo version of Sports Illustrated is interesting, mixing the traditional magazine layout with video, audio and interactive elements.

I suspect that approach might work for a publication like Sports Illustrated, but I wonder if it will for more general publications like our local newspaper, the Washington Post.

Although we subscribe to the Post, more often than not I find myself scanning through my aggregator over breakfast instead of reading the paper.

That program does a better job (but certainly not perfect) of organizing the articles in which I’m interested than the traditional fixed-in-concrete format used by most general news publications.

A tablet version would need to do a better job of anticipating what I might want or need to see and pull it together, from all over the web, regardless of the source, and not just from those stories deemed worthy by the Post’s editors.

That same intelligent software would also be exactly what we would need in a digital learning device.

But please don’t call that a “textbook”, a term that implies the same old content and format as the paper-based versions we use now.

Which is the last thing we should want in any educational version of this mythical multimedia tablet.


* In my memory, Apple’s tablet has been coming every six months for at least the last five years :-)