Originally published on February 24, 2018
Not because it’s a podcast.
Not because the host is human and hems and haws vocal proof.
Not because it shows up every day, consistently good.
The Daily is showing a path forward because it leverages value in a new context.
That sounds blandly simple, I realize. A podcast from a legacy news company that covers current events? But its simplicity belies its subtlety.
Tracing back disruption
Most news media thrives on coverage, i.e. replaying and summarizing the events of the day or week in consumable chunks. Before the Internet, the value proposition here was largely distribution-based. Consumers relied on media companies because they had effective monopolies on the technologies and infrastructures to distribute information. For centuries, that included, in turn, books, newspapers, television channels, radio stations, etc.
The Internet enabled instantaneous, universal communication. Which we all know by now, right? But disruptions aren’t always immediate. Their ripples take time and their courses wind in different industries.
With Facebook and Twitter, consumers finally had the same infrastructure for communication that media companies did.
News companies have struggled to adjust, not only because of the democratizing technology, but because of the shifting value proposition that questioned their business models. Surely, they could eventually imagine the chatter of your family and friends coexisting with their news — the online version of an open newspaper across the table over breakfast — but they likely didn’t predict that you’d prefer that conversation to the news.
The scrolling news feed presents a linear path through a curated and socially approved list of content items. By definition, social media platforms present content that has social approval, either indirectly through hearts and likes or through direct shares from people you know. There’s a power to this that even the most sophisticated authority can’t outcompete. You might believe that an editor knows more about global politics than you do, but you’d likely never believe that this editor knows what, among a multitude of issues, would be most important to you.
Trust has shifted. That seems either cataclysmic — fake news! mass cynicism! — or obvious, depending on whom you ask. Either way, it shows that consumers are putting their trust in their news feeds to deliver news coverage. In an attention economy, you can’t afford the time or mental energy to pay attention to everything, so you let a combination of algorithms and social curation decide that for you and lay out your options in an easily scrollable, skimmable feed.
It makes perfect sense; there’s nothing wrong with it. There are weaknesses to this model, just as there were to previous ones. But it’s here.
So how does The Daily fit in?
The Daily adds every day
The Daily should have been a flop. Why would this hyper-connected, social media addicted population turn to daily news simply because someone is reading it into their earbuds?
Because it’s not news. It’s news plus something.
Disruption theory has shown us again and again that companies and industries can destroy themselves by overcommitting to solutions that once worked in previous paradigms. In this age, social media provides a better job of curation and discussion. Why tune into CNN to see three arguing heads when you could see millions on Twitter? Why trust the New York Times to pick the top stories of the day when there are friends willing to do the same?
This isn’t a battle that can be won by sheer strength. You can survive for a while, maybe, but not for long, and not well.
The Daily shows a different path and it’s particularly interesting because because of how non-radical it is.
The Daily doesn’t ask for some intense level of audience participation or create an immersive, VR/AR experience or customize content to ever niche-er subsegments. It just adds.
Rather than simply cover the news, it covers the news and adds value that consumers cannot replicate.
In a given episode, the host — Michael Barbaro — refers to a current event and then turns right into an interview with an expert. This interview is often spliced and spruced up with soundbites, music, and atmospheric audio. After twenty minutes, the discussion ends and the host briefly names a couple of other important events.
And that’s it.
“Added value”: a term as cliche as it is true
When I first listened to it, way after the hype, I was underwhelmed. But I found myself listening to it every day. Why?
It added value. Not by sheer force of quality but by bringing unique value to bear on daily coverage. By unique, I don’t mean absolute one-of-a-kind, but unique in its context. The Daily leverages the reporting staff and expertise of the New York Times onto current events and adds analytical perspectives that would normally be swept away by social feeds. It foregrounds these perspectives, this value, rather than its capacity to cover.
Oftentimes, the most hot button issue will at first pass them by. They only get to it when they have depth to bring. They’re committed to that added value first and foremost. Their coverage depends not on which side of the issue is most controversial or eye-catching, but on which side they can bring more value to.
The popularity of the podcast — at over 100 million downloads — shows that users don’t want to get washed away in their feeds either. Social media has its purposes but it doesn’t destroy other needs. It displaces them.
News media needs to find its place. The Daily shows that that doesn’t necessarily mean a radically different space in high technology multi-virtual media. It might mean unique value leveraged in a user-focused channel and executed with focus on that value.
We’re still in a disrupted industry. We’re still finding our footing.
For new organizations, that requires a radical reexamination of the available jobs-to-be-done that can be newly resolved with new technology and business models. For legacy organizations, this requires an evaluation of their value proposition in a shifting context. They cannot afford to stay still and are likely unable to pull up anchor and ride the new current. Instead, they need to evaluate the values they have, and see which will now be most useful.
This doesn’t require ditching the past. The Daily shifted a set of values from a newswire based on static coverage to analysis based on dynamic vulnerability, from a medium that blankets readers en masse to a medium that acts as a daily, intimate companion.
Even after disruption, people’s needs remain persistent. New business models and technologies open new ways for those needs to be resolved but the jobs-to-be-done still need fulfillment. The Daily does this not by burning it all down and starting again, but by re-mapping values in a new context.
Displacement needn’t mean destruction. It only means finding your place again. And it might be closer than you think.