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Murdoch turns page on digital newspaper

The new online newspaper for the Apple iPad called The Daily is launched by the editor Jesse Angelo (R) on February 2, 2011 at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. The new media product is owned by News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch and will be sold for 14 cents a day.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The last time somebody launched a national daily newspaper in the United States, competitors dismissed it as gaudy, shallow, and down-market. But almost three decades after USA Today's debut ushered in an irresistible wave of full-colour layouts and shorter stories, News Corp. 's The Daily, launched Wednesday at a splashy press event in Manhattan, is something of a proxy for the hopes of thousands of publishers around the world.

That's because News Corp. and its mercurial founder, Rupert Murdoch, hope to use The Daily - touted as the first daily news publication built specifically for Apple Inc. 's tablet - to prove that people will pay for a general-interest online publication containing information they could already glean free from the Internet.

"We can and we must make the business of news-gathering viable again," said Mr. Murdoch, who has spoken harshly of those who "steal" from publishers. Speaking from the stage of the Guggenheim Museum alongside Eddie Cue, Apple's vice-president of applications and Internet services, Mr. Murdoch pegged the publication's development costs at $30-million (U.S.), and said weekly costs would run about $500,000 - low for a national publisher, because there is "no paper, no multimillion dollar presses, no trucks."

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The Daily, priced at 99 cents per week or $39.99 per year, is aimed at a wide swath of the estimated 15 million Americans expected to own tablet computers by the end of 2011. It is not yet available through app stores outside of the United States.

"There's a growing segment of the population here and around the world that is educated and sophisticated but does not read national print newspapers or watch television, but they do consume media. And they expect content tailored to their specific interest to be available any time, anywhere," Mr. Murdoch said.

The Daily's format is a high-tech cross between a newsmagazine and a tabloid: It has a single cover image and a table of contents, and is divided into news, gossip, opinion, arts and life, apps and games, and sports. But it uses a variety of approaches to engage readers, including traditional text-and-photograph layouts, 360-degree panorama pictures, embedded Twitter feeds and video news reports.

"We have people with television backgrounds, we have people from newspapers, from magazines, people across the digital sphere, and they're working hand in hand with designers and developers," editor-in-chief Jesse Angelo said.

The News section in Wednesday's debut edition led with reports and a photo gallery of the turmoil in Egypt, including a report about Hosni Mubarak's son written in the excitable style of News Corp.'s U.S. flagship New York Post. As proof that Gamal Mubarak and his "trophy wife ... known for her caramel tresses and pouty lips" have fled Egypt for London, the story cited "dozens of Twitter reports from the Middle East and Britain."

Wednesday's Sports section contains a two-minute video of Super Bowl winners Michael Strahan and Jimmy Johnson sharing reminiscences of their Big Game experiences, similar to a feature on a cable sports network. Further on in the section, there's a 30-second bit of animation illustrating the Pittsburgh Steelers' shovel pass play.

Mr. Murdoch argued that news consumption has become too narrow, as people restrict themselves to specialized outlets. "The magic of newspapers - and great blogs - lies in their serendipity and surprise, and the deft touch of a good editor." In The Daily's debut issue - a short story about a Brazilian tourist lost in the Australian Outback who saved himself by donning a bright pair of pants to be more noticeable from the air - was wedged up against a feed of tweets about the turmoil in Egypt.

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Jon Miller, News Corp.'s chief digital officer, said The Daily's competition for readers' attention included newspapers, TV, and even iPad games. "You're competing with Angry Birds, at some level."

While advertisers seem eager to jump on board with the launch of The Daily - brands in the debut edition include Pepsi Max, Macy's, and Verizon - their long-term enthusiasm is unclear. Ad buyers and publishers have both chafed at Apple's unwillingness to share data on readers. "That's the holy grail," said John Nitti, managing director of ZenithOptimedia, which represents Verizon.

And though News Corp. is positioning The Daily as a revolution, it seems more like an evolution of the techniques already on display in the apps of magazines, like Sports Illustrated, and newspapers like The Wall Street Journal, which is owned by News Corp. Indeed, Mr. Murdoch said it was the Journal's app that inspired him to believe a purpose-built news app could be viable.

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About the Author
Senior Media Writer

Simon Houpt is the Globe and Mail's senior media writer, charged with covering the industry's transformation. He began his career with The Globe in 1999 as the paper's New York arts correspondent, covering the cultural life of that city through Canadian eyes. More

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