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02.09.11

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On the Daily

Can Rupert Murdoch's iPad news experiment succeed?

By Daedalus Howell


For a media magnate whose empire first began to bubble in vats of newspaper ink, one might think launching the first-of-its-kind, iPad-only newspaper app would not be in his best interest. Unless, of course, the magnate is Rupert Murdoch of News Corp., whose vats runneth over—and now with ones and zeroes.

Led by veteran newspaperman and editor-in-chief Jesse Angelo (late of the News Corp.owned New York Post), The Daily is being billed in-house as "a category first: a tablet-native national news brand built from the ground up to publish original content exclusively for the iPad."

This one can glean from the new app's website (even apps have websites apparently), but that's essentially where the new venture's relationship with the web ends. The Daily is meant to be consumed entirely within the sleek interface of Apple's tablet phenom as a discrete standalone experience forged from words, images, video, informatics and animations baked fresh daily and delivered piping hot direct to your iPad.

Sentimentalists wax fondly that "newspapers are a daily miracle" (or, in some cases, a weekly miracle), however, The Daily, for all its journalistic aspirations, serves more to remind how miraculous the iPad is. If ever there was a proof that there exists a unified field theory of media delivery—supplanting television, radio, print, cinema and daily newspapers in its wake—this is it. That said, Murdoch's quotidian quota of bleeding leads and the sundry other tropes squeezed from ye olde printing press is quite impressive, not least of which for sinking $30 million in development (and $500,000 in weekly expenses) into what amounts to a video game with news.

"My first impression is very positive," says Roger Fidler, program director for digital publishing at the Reynolds Journalism Institute. Fidler also oversees the Digital Publishing Alliance, which brings together media industry leaders and innovators, including the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal. "Team Murdoch has done what I've always hoped newspapers would do with their tablet editions: create an interactive hybrid of print and web that is visually rich and enjoyable to read. It clearly demonstrates the value of involving publication designers in the production process."

For Fidler, The Daily has been a long time coming. Internationally recognized as a new media pioneer, Fidler first envisioned tablets and digital newspapers back in the 1980s. Now that they've arrived bundled as The Daily for a mere 99 cents a week, or $39.99 a year, they might just save newspapers.

"The app has a lot of advantages, one I think is simplicity for people, more of a feeling of being a curated package of information with a beginning and an end," observed Fidler.

Or perhaps The Daily is a so-called killer app that will actually destroy newspapers but in so doing free their spirits to live in the Digital Age. Sure, the app might not save all newspapers, but it will certainly help Murdoch's newspaper holdings eventually transition into the light.

"I think newspapers have to realize that the publications being developed for the iPad may, in fact, become the dominant forum for reading news content in the not too distant future," said Fidler. "We clearly are seeing a steady trend of declining readership of printed newspapers and of steady migration to digital."

"Digital" is an abstract concept, and the iPad is $600 of cold, hard cash in the midst of a recession. At that price point, will Murdoch's new format find the ubiquity of the traditional media upon which his empire has previously relied?

"You know, people felt the same way about television when it first emerged in the 1940s and '50s, that only rich people would have it," said Fidler. "Now they have people with television sets in almost every room of their house, and it's become the common medium. My sense is that the tablet will evolve into a common reading device and media device for education, for business, for a host of applications, and that reading newspapers on it will be just one other important use for that device."


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