As Peter Kafka reported this afternoon, and Daily EIC Jesse Angelo later confirmed, the iPad-only newspaper is shedding roughly a third of its 170 employees in an effort to “streamline its production, focus resources on its most popular features, and reflect the changing business environment for news and media.”
These layoffs were presaged in a staff memo earlier this month, and The Daily’s downfall has been anticipated, sometimes gleefully, by countless in the media since its inception. But from the inside, a staffer who left before the layoffs says, it never quite seemed that way. “I never really thought it was fucked,” says the ex-employee.
Part of the problem, the ex-staffer says, was a lopsided staff. “The design and production teams were bloated for no rhyme or reason.” Today’s cuts will hit the design and production team hard, which might rein in costs but will likely make remaining staffers’ lives harder — since the beginning, there have been rumblings that The Daily’s ambitious design was nightmarishly labor-intensive to sustain, and that a complicated, unusual CMS left editors frustrated and drove designers to hack together tools just to ease basic production. (As part of today’s restructuring, The Daily is simplifying its design, limiting pages to portrait view — something many iPad magazines have done from the start.)
The Daily’s main problem, however, remains the same: it’s not clear who it’s for. By cordoning itself off from the rest of the internet, it effectively held itself up as a tablet-centric alternative to the internet, which is an unbelievably tall order for a publication that, our source says, was already short of editorial manpower. “If anything, edit was understaffed, except for the arts and life desk.” For a publication that Rupert Murdoch once claimed would be “the model for how stories are told and consumed,” that’s a serious problem.
Another insider confirms that the layoffs are “All across the board”: sports and opinion are gone, as well as a large part of the design team, as announced. But so are half the members of the video team and a number of core news and features reporters.
Despite 18 months of persistently discouraging news, the app’s readership has never stopped growing (update: well, maybe it has plateaued), and the app has accumulated 100,000 subscribers. And the assertion that tablets are an important part of the future of the media contains more truth now than it did when The Daily launched. With a thinner staff, simplified design and narrowed editorial mission, maybe The Daily is just one step closer to becoming what it should have been in the first place: a tablet-ready website.