i-Pads, “The Daily” and Journalism

I am no Luddite, so when Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. launched its long-awaited i-Pad-based newspaper, “The Daily” Wednesday I was intrigued.

By the way, a Luddite, according to Wikipedia, comes from a social movement of British textile artisans in the 19th Century who were opposed to and often destroyed mechanized looms. They were led by a man named Ned Ludd. So there you have a little trivia for today.

Far be it for me to oppose mechanized looms or new ways of delivering the news. Any time the public reads–be it a real paper newspaper or an electronic version I am a happy camper. For one thing it has been proven over and over again that when you read something as opposed to viewing it on a TV screen or listening to it on the radio, you retain more of the content correctly and longer.

So as a journalist I am happy to see journalism embrace new technologies for gathering and delivering the news.
My only concern has to do with the quality of that journalism.

Will News Corp., for example, expend the resources necessary to practice superior journalism and thus produce accurate and trustworthy news via The Daily? Or will it simply harvest information from other sources (what we used to call wire service “rip and read” in the days of the telex machine) and pass it along to unsuspecting “news consumers?”

Let’s not forget that those who buy news products are consumers, after all. And the Daily will cost subscribers who download it to their i-Pads 99 cents a week or $39.99 a year–which they can charge to the their iTunes accounts. That is actually not a bad deal. Right now I pay $212 a year for my subscription to USA Today–which does include an e-version of the paper that I can read on my computer.

In that respect, I guess I am a bit of a Luddite. I simply hate reading news on a computer screen. I grew up reading a newspaper. My parents took two of them and we used to spread them out all over the living room floor on Sundays. It was the way life was back in the pre-App Stone Age.

The Daily will apparently provide news from bureaus in New York and Los Angeles as well as via a network of freelance stringers (that’s journalese for “contributors”). It’s that latter part that I worry about.

Freelancers are fine when they supplement a paid staff of professionals. But when they provide 80 or 90 percent of the news along with wire services, etc. then what you essentially have is a neat low-overhead money-making scheme.

As a former foreign correspondent, national correspondent and editor for the Chicago Tribune I can tell you it costs a lot of money to cover a community, a state and the world. We are talking millions of dollars to pay the salaries of skilled and experienced reporters, editors, producers, writers, etc. And the operative words here are “skilled” and “experienced.”

There is no substitute for skillful reporting by journalists who have accumulated the kind of professional savvy necessary to produce an accurate and reliable news product day after day. Even then, errors are made–often because the crush of time in a 24-hour news cycle makes in depth investigation difficult if not impossible.

As The Daily was being launched Editor-in-Chief Jesse Angelo declined to say how much of a commitment the publication will make to investigative journalism.

“Read the product every day, and you’ll find out,” he said at a press conference in New York.

That is hardly reassuring.

More revealing is what Rupert Murdoch had to say. Ever the consummate news tycoon, he said that the costs associated with The Daily are “very low,” which will allow it to become profitable very quickly.

Somehow those statements don’t augur for the kind of in-depth, expensive journalism often provided by traditional news organizations. But then perhaps that is not the kind of journalism the 15 million people who currently tote i-Pads care about.

At Wednesday’s launch it was explained that The Daily will publish up to 100 pages of news, gossip, sports, and celebrity opinion (whatever that is). Just what I need: another Hollywood starlet or star spouting off about the conflict in the Middle East or the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

If that is what The Daily considers good journalism, then leave me out. If it plans to produce a portable version of television’s “The View” with its insufferable ensemble of ill-informed magpies pontificating about the day’s events then I will opt out, thank you.

If, however, The Daily actually decides to produce original content provided by knowledgeable, professional reporters then I will be the first to spring for an i-Pad and a subscription.

“The i-Pad demands that we completely re-imagine our craft,” Murdoch said at Wednesday’s launch.

Re-imagining is fine–as long as the content is truthful, accurate and reliable and doesn’t come from someone’s imagination. Frankly, I hope it succeeds. Journalism is changing, adopting and adapting new delivery platforms almost constantly. In that respect, change is good.

What must remain constant and consistent, however, are the classic fundamentals of good journalism. No matter what technology is employed in delivering the news, there is no substitute for responsible, accurate, fair and unbiased information.

So for now, I am in a holding pattern regarding The Daily. And I am not holding my breath.