Sunday, March 27, 2011

Exhibit A

Interruption in usual programming: The following is an assignment for a class called New Media, which I'm taking to complete my minor in Communications Studies.  I am required to post my writing on a blog, and seeing as I handily have this one, I might as well post it here.  The topic doesn't entirely depart from the theme of everyday illusions: it's about The Daily, Rupert Murdoch's iPad newspaper and the ways in which it is (or isn't, as I will try to show) new media.  In the end this is really meant for the eyes of my professor and teaching assistant, but if you're interested, by all means, read on.  Otherwise, we'll return to regular programming in no time.

On February 2, 2011, News Corporation launched the first ‘newspaper’ written exclusively for tablets, or more specifically for Apple’s iPad, called The Daily.  The outlet is subscription-based, like a print newspaper or magazine, meaning that unlike most online news sources users must pay for the content.  News Corp, which is run by newspaper tycoon, Chairman, and CEO Rupert Murdoch, counts The Wall Street Journal, 20th Century Fox, and countless other media outlets as its own—in fact, the company is the third largest media conglomerate in the world after Disney and Time Warner.  It is important to note News Corp’s specific investment in print media, as it may allow for some insight into conceptions of The Daily.  This essay will posit that although The Daily is partaking in the ‘newness’ of the iPad, it is not new media in itself, and instead tries to transfer the properties of old media (namely print publications) into a new media formula.
            The Daily is an interesting app—this is essentially what it is: an app meant for the iPad that one buys through an account with Apple and possesses, virtually, on the tablet.  What is so interesting about it is the fact that The Daily is very much a newspaper or magazine.  It’s medium is undeniably ‘new’: the iPad has become a necessity for anyone who wants to participate in new technology as it has the same capabilities of a computer (most notably, the internet), plus millions of ‘apps’ that can do anything from finding the perfect hamburger joint in your neighborhood, to playing any number of addictive games, to echoing back your words in the ‘voice’ of a hamster.  And the advancements, progress, and inevitable obsolescence keep coming what with the recent release of the iPad 2 (Stern 21).  Yet, The Daily is, for all intensive purposes, a magazine that, for the most part depends on the medium, on the iPad, for any ‘new’ properties.    
            In Lev Manovich’s essay “Principles of New Media,” he lists a number of ways in which new media differs and separates itself from old.  “Old media,” writes Manovich, “involved a human creator who manually assembled textual, visual and/or audio elements into a particular composition or a sequence” (Manovich 56).  Whereas old media traditionally yields reproduced “copies,” new media “gives rise to many different versions.  And rather than being created by a human author, these versions are often in part automatically assembled by a computer” (56).  Let us return again to the fact that News Corp, which also owns many print publications, owns The Daily.  This app is attempting to do something that the publishing industry has been struggling with for years: make readers pay for digital content.  Murdoch himself has said that “new times demand new journalism,” and he is aware “that a growing number of news consumers no longer read print or even watch TV” (Schonfeld).  Yet with The Daily, old media principles are re-activated in new media form: the articles are written specifically for the ‘publication’ by “human authors” and each issue is a copy, no matter the user, with no variability or customization in content.  What is more is that the app is mimicking an old media form (a print publication) and expects to circulate it in a similar way (subscription).
            The release of The Daily has come with the maxim that the app is meant to “combine ‘the magic of great newspapers’ with the magic of technology” (Schonfeld), and perhaps this is its most accurate description.  The Daily is quite simply a newspaper on an iPad and in this, it goes against Manovich’s principles that new media is partly defined by “variability” (Manovich 56).  Rather, every day a new issue of the ‘newspaper’ becomes available (automatically if you are a subscriber) and one may read the articles as one reads a magazine.  Despite the fact that the medium (the iPad) provides the capability for the page to change through automation (53), the app stays relatively static other than the daily addition of completely new articles and content.  The “magic of technology” here is supposedly interactive—there are some videos that accompany the articles, interactive maps, games (the traditional newspaper games, Sudoku and crossword puzzles), and 360 degree photographs. 
            Jonathan Sterne identifies two kinds of ‘new’ media: “(1) the ‘newness’ of a medium with respect to other media, and (2) the so-called state of the art design and function within a given medium” (Stern 18).  The Daily fits, in some respects, under the second definition: the app is meant to be visually stimulating, and is has been marketed in a way that suggests an aesthetically pleasing user experience.  Of course, as Stern notes, this is entirely the point of new computerization: “‘New technology conjures up well-lit images of sleekly designed computers and monitors; bright colours, spotless, smooth surfaces, clear screens, and quick applications” (21).  The Daily actually mobilizes two totally different and yet well-established media; in itself it is not a new medium.  The first is the newspaper; a medium that developed out of moveable type and mechanization, and that arguably became the first ‘mass medium.’  The second is the widely lauded iPad—a technology that supports the latest in digitalization and virtual reality.  The Daily is attempting to combine the two, while simultaneously activating the consumption patterns of both—a difficult proposition when the combination is one of the oldest forms of modern media with one of the newest, polemics that print media has been grappling with since the advent of digitized news and entertainment.
            For the most part, however, The Daily sticks to what it proverbially knows, or rather, that which its parent company knows: that being print and newspapers.  As Clay Shirky said during his TED Talk in Cannes last June, “We like to create and we like to share” (Shirky).  Shirky demonstrated this in his discussion of new media tools that allow users to contribute and participate at unprecedented levels.  He compares new media to the mass media of the 20th-century, which “taught us to consume,” heralding new media as participatory culture in that users can create and share in both communal and civic terms.  The Daily, however, seems to fit into Shirky’s 20th-century model: it allows for none of the participation and user contribution that new (online) media so uniquely possesses.  Rather than utilizing iPad’s many connective capabilities, The Daily is positioned as a newspaper on a pretty screen with content you can share, but cannot actually create, change, comment on, or customize.  In this sense, the app removes itself from the online culture it is seeking to become a part of.
            The creation of The Daily is based upon the fear that the print publishing industry is dying and that online and other digital media is becoming dominant.  The problem is that, for the most part, online journalistic endeavors, though increasingly popular, have yet to become profitable in the same ways as their print counterparts.  By ‘publishing’ quality journalism that cannot be found elsewhere and charging an access fee, The Daily aims at creating a digital version of its older print forms.  Along with this, News Corp will charge more for advertising, as the company believes that with paying readers, advertisers pay more per thousand users (Schonfeld).  Therefore, “in a technological remake of the Oedipal complex, a son murders his father” (Manovich 48) as the only medium that The Daily can really claim to obsolesce is print, which is essentially the medium it is simultaneously attempting to save.  In order to maintain paid quality journalism, perhaps it is necessary to break with the old media model and gain new users through the possibilities that new (participatory, creative, virtual) media provides. 

--Emily Ramshaw
March 27, 2011
Video introduction of The Daily:

Video demo of The Daily on the day of its launch by Erick Schonfeld of TechCrunch:

Sites of interest:
The Daily - The Daily's online platform and marketing campaign
The Daily Blog - A blog, updated everyday, with the current issue's headlines
WatchTheDaily - The Daily's YouTube channel, which includes many of the videos that are available in the iPad edition
TechCrunch: "Rupert Murdoch: 'New Times, Demand New Journalism'" - Murdoch addresses reasons for establishing The Daily
TechCrunch: The Daily Event Liveblog - A liveblog from the launch of The Daily

Works Cited

Manovich, Lev. “Principles of New Media.” The Language of New Media. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2002. 49-65.

Schonfeld, Erick. “Rupert Murdoch: ‘New Times, Demand New Journalism.’” TechCrunch. (Feb 2, 2011).

Shirky, Clay. “How Cognitive Surplus Will Change the World.” TED. (June 2010).

Sterne, Jonathan. “Out with the Trash: On the Future of New Media.” Residual Media. Ed. C. Acland. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007. 16-31.

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