Migration — Reading The Beast

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I have been trying for the past few weeks to view Tina Brown’s new site The Daily Beast. The first couple of times all I saw was a blank screen. Deciding that the traffic was too heavy, I gave up since the computer was otherwise behaving itself.
A few more tries, a few more blank screens. This morning the site upgraded, or downgraded, to “page load error” on the first try but success!!! on the second. Once on the site, I couldn’t view Tina’s post “Sarah Palin’s Bright Future.” After about 30 seconds, it loaded, a long time for plain text and one thumbnail.
So before the Beast disappears into tech hell again, here are my impressions of the beta version. As noted by the lawyers involved, the logo does resemble the Philadelphia Daily News, but I don’t think anyone will mistake the content. Tina’s lead story wafted among “Palin’s Wild Shopping Spree,” “What Does Oprah Want?” and “Oscar Talk.”
Today’s Daily News featured a lead-in to a story about a successful elementary school in a poor, black Philly neighborhood. Ears directed readers to a column on choosing a high definition television; an advance on Saturday’s football game between Penn State and Ohio State; and an excellent column about this country’s obsession with race that began with a tale of two interracial weddings and ended with an analysis of the role of race in the presidential election. The sports cover was a photo of the Atlanta Falcons’ quarterback.
Aside from the highly derivative mast, the design of the Beast violates the first rule of layout because the eye doesn’t know where to fall as the lead stories morph from one to the next. Does one read the top 10 items on the Cheat Sheet or watch the video version next to it? Or read Tina’s blog above the mast (if it will open)?
Just as the design is amorphous, the content lacks focus. The Beast’s stated purpose is to link to news and features from newspapers, magazines, web and video sites around the world, supplemented with some original blogs. (“Hollywood Brokers Mideast Peace” and “The Man Who Helped Drive Powell Away From His Party” took too long to load. Maybe it was those tortured sentences from Palin about Joe The Plumber.) The Beast properly contains much political news – five of the ten cheat sheet stories are about the presidential election, as are three of the top five video cheats – if you count a clip about Palin’s hair.
Just for some variety I picked the “high brow” link to a story from the Guardian that the British Library will release CDs of interviews with writers from Britain and the United States. The story was certainly worth the Beast’s notice, but it looked a bit odd pinned between “Steal This Election” and “Dow Jones Down.” So does the video clip “Cruise Steals Katie’s Limelight,” (which I couldn’t find on the TMZ web site), arranged between Palin’s hair and “Bizarre Ad Attacks Shumer.” A little organizing tool – politics section, arts section, pop culture section would help with the navigation. Cross-over stories can go in each relevant category, making it look like there’s more content.
I’ll give Tina’s Beast another couple of weeks and then revisit, but in the meantime, I’ll stick to Slate.

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