Since the day he bought his first newspaper aged 22, Rupert Murdoch has shaken up the world’s press, revolutionised television and transformed the way politics is discussed from Australia and Britain to America. But one area has so far eluded his Midas touch: digital publishing. Until, he hopes, now.
With a huge roll of the dice, Murdoch on Wednesday sought to put a seal on his reputation as a visionary media tycoon by launching the Daily, a news operation created from scratch and designed specifically for the iPad. Much is riding on it, not just Murdoch’s personal legacy in the twilight of his career, but, in his own description, the future of how people produce and consume journalism.
Looking rather stiff in the leg, but showing no reduction in the scale of his ambitions, Murdoch took to the stage of a theatre in New York’s Guggenheim museum to unveil the venture, with Apple, the iPad’s creator, lending a supporting hand. If he was anxious about raising expectations for the product, he certainly didn’t show it.
‘The Daily’, he said, would herald a new journalism for new times. It would combine the “serendipity and surprise” of newspapers with the speed and versatility of new technology; it would make news-gathering “viable again”. It was his offering for what he called the digital renaissance. “Simply put, the iPad demands that we completely reimagine our craft.” Part of that reimagining, he said, was that with ‘the Daily’ there would be “no paper, no multimillion-dollar presses, no trucks”. That in turn, gave its editors the licence to experiment and innovate.
For now, ‘the Daily’ will only be available for U.S. iPad owners. News Corporation says that international markets will come online in the near future, but has no specific schedule.
To say that media watchers will be keeping a beady eye on ‘the Daily’ is an understatement. Murdoch’s record on digital publishing has so far been underwhelming, marked by the failure of the social networking site Myspace, and observers are keen to see whether the Daily will fare any better.
Some have written it off as dead on arrival, thanks to its fusion of old and new media. It will be fully digital, but published every night in time for the subscriber to read over morning coffee. “Wonderful! Slower news — and at a higher price,” wrote Scott Rosenberg of Salon before the launch.
As ever, Murdoch has dismissed the naysayers with a flick of his ample cheque book. He has sunk $30m into developing ‘the Daily’ and said it would cost $26m a year to cover its costs, including those of 100 staff. He is targeting the 50 million people expected to own an iPad by the end of next year. Analysts project that he can cover costs if 2% of them could be persuaded to subscribe to the Daily at 99 cents a week — no mean task, considering that there are already 9,000 other news apps for the iPad on the market. “It will all come down to content,” said Alan Mutter, blogger and former editor of the Chicago Daily News. “He’s going to have to make something very compelling to get people to pay.” The first edition of ‘the Daily’ had a conventional news front on Egypt under the headline “Falling Pharaoh”. It gave high billing to its gossip section, with features on Natalie Portman and Rihanna, and a column by Richard Johnson, formerly the doyen of the Page Six gossip column of the New York Post. It also showcased several digital bells and whistles, including photographs that can be scanned through 360 degrees, a “carousel” of stories that can be spun with a finger, and stories that you can listen to like a radio.
Asked by ‘the Guardian’ whether ‘the Daily’ would be more centrist in its politics than other parts of News Corporation, which, particularly in America, have been accused of being caustically rightwing, Murdoch was noncommittal, saying its editor, Jesse Angelo, would decide.
“We are patriotic,” Angelo replied. “We love America, we are going to say what we think is right for this country.” How would he measure success, Murdoch was asked. “When we are selling millions,” he replied.
Copyright: Guardian News & Media 2011