How to Fix The Daily

When it comes to what to do with The Daily, News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch could learn a few things from Spider-Man. After all that was a similarly overhyped, elaborate production that was initially panned for so-so quality, high costs and technical snafus. Rather than solidier on — or worse, throw in the towel — Spider-Man’s producers are back this week with a retooled version that’s getting good buzz. Murdoch should take the same approach with The Daily.
The Daily app is undoubtedly better than when it launched in February. The technology, when it’s not buggy, is very impressive. Photographs render beautifully, as do full-page ads. At times The Daily’s use of interactive timelines and other graphical, touch-friendly presentations feel like the future of publishing. It’s generally fun to flip through The Daily. And ex-Page Six editor Richard Johnson is still on his game — even breaking the news last week that Alec Baldwin might run for mayor of New York.
However, The Daily’s content is just eh. It offers very little compelling reason to visit the app. There are still too many AP stories, considering how big The Daily’s staff is. While at times fun, it still lacks a personality or clear voice. Surprisingly, it’s often boring.
As Brian Hecht, publisher and svp premium services of put it at Digiday’s DPAC event last Thursday, “It’s nothing that different than the Metro you pick up on the subway. [I wonder] what [Murdoch’s] plans are to distinguish The Daily from being a novelty item … What do you do when there’s 150 of these [on the iPad].”
Here are some concrete steps to get there:
Change leadership. It’s time to dump editor-in-chief Jesse Angelo. At times, The Daily feels like the New York Post national edition — with 50 percent less verve. Angelo seems undecided on just how tabloidly he wants to be. Based on the most recent editorials, it seems clear that The Daily leans conservative. It may be best off leaning harder into that inclination. He’s a Murdoch favorite, but the publication needs an edge. Why not replace Angelo with someone from Fox News (not that the network has been a huge Web success), and really hammer away at Obama and company? Or better yet, isn’t there someone from one of Murdoch’s U.K. or Australian tabloids itching to take their act to the States?
Get an attitude. The Daily often feels handcuffed, even chicken in its writing. For example, the app recently featured a decent story about a deadbeat mayor. A story about a Philadelphia teacher accused of sending nude photos to her students is treated limply (and buried way too far in the app). Oh, what the New York Post would have done with that! Give us fire-breathing columnists screaming for Anthony Weiner’s head. Call Obama a socialist. At least that’d be interesting.  Murdoch might want to take a page from his London rival The Daily Mail, which has scored rare international success with its smart mix of scandal, celebrity and juicy accounts of real Britons or real Americans doing weird things and awesomely embarrassing things.
Fix the dumb tech stuff. It’s crazy that each time you leave the app, you have to start from page one. And the fact that you can’t read back issues — ones you paid for — makes no sense. And, according to many users, it still crashes. I didn’t experience as many complete shutdowns, but often pages did not fully render or photographs were MIA. Sometimes flipping through the app landed me on completely blank pages with no place to go. It’s also exceedingly difficult to find The Daily in a Google search.
Make it social. The Daily is a daily — I get that — but it’s got to be updated more and it’s got to become more social. It was jarring during a recent Wednesday visit to read about a press conference from that Tuesday morning. At least last Sunday’s addition was updated to report on Rafael Nadal’s victory that morning (albeit in Paris). Did you know that the Daily reported recently that Hilary Clinton was unhappy with Obama’s leadership on Egypt and Libya? It certainly wasn’t on the Huffington Post’s homepage or big on Twitter for that matter. Also, it’s terrific that Daily stories feature video, such as Rep. Weiner’s train-wreck press conference. But shouldn’t there be original videos?
The jury is still very much out as to whether the United States wants a true national newspaper, particularly one only available on a single type of tablet computer. For all of its success, USA Today still lives and dies off of the business traveler marker. Indeed some might wonder whether Murdoch simply didn’t take The New York Post and launch that paper using the Daily’s app design. There might have been an opportunity to shift the newspaper into the next century while also propelling it to a national following.
The Daily is a new brand, a new concept. Many would argue that it deserves more time. But as Spidey’s Uncle Ben reminds us, with great power comes great responsibility.

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