"Our challenge is to take the best of traditional journalism and combine it with the best of contemporary technology," a washed-out-looking Rupert Murdoch said to a hushed crowd of about a hundred reporters and bloggers this morning in the basement auditorium at the Guggenheim. Murdoch was announcing the launch of his latest baby, The Daily, a tablet newspaper he sees as being read, eventually, by millions and millions of people. As his wife, Wendi, looked on smiling from the front row, Murdoch lamented that "educated and sophisticated" consumers aren't reading national newspapers — even if they are voraciously consuming news. "What we are losing today are the opportunities for true news discovery," he said. "We can and we must make the business of news-gathering viable again."
Rupert's target audience for The Daily is no fewer than the 14 million people who are expected to own tablets by the end of the year. (Later he admitted that for now, this just means iPad users specifically. "We believe that last year, this year, and really next year belongs to Apple." That sounds like no Android version anytime soon — an odd choice unless there's some kind of deal with Apple. Why limit your audience?)
Shortly after his opening speech, which he read from glass TelePrompTers, Murdoch turned over the stage to Daily editor Jesse Angelo, publisher Greg Clayman, and News Corp. chief digital officer Jon Miller. The three of them conducted the real heavy lifting when it came to introducing just what the Daily can and will do. They revealed a beautiful product, whose front splash page featured a story about Mubarak by a reporter in Egypt, accompanied by a set of dramatic pictures. Photos figure heavily into the appeal of the Daily: The ability to display 360-degree photography (that is, a photo you can pan around in all directions using your fingers) was mentioned by almost everyone onstage at one point or another.
Functionally, the product still works like a newspaper. It has lots and lots of pages (many stories and features are relegated to just one), which you can view either in a scrolling line across the top or a rotating wheel they call the Carousel. (Murdoch's people call the pages that drift by "tiles," and that's what they look like.) But where The Daily steps away from the straightforward experience of reading a newspaper on your iPad is in its interactivity. If you want to have a story read to you, there might be an audio version. If you'd like a pretty news anchor to tell you about the story on video, that can (sometimes) happen, too. If you want to read the Twitter feed of a celebrity that's mentioned, just flip your iPad to the side and it will appear!
The app is available for download now (free for two weeks courtesy of Verizon), and this stuff works relatively well already, with only minor delays and glitches. The full-screen ads look predictably wonderful, as do the pictures and videos, although the former are irritatingly sticky — as though they are designed to not swipe away as neatly as an article would. The content is breezy, like a more upscale, less aggressive version of the New York Post, with a couple of editorials that don't indicate particularly strong ideology. There's a "History Page," which we predict won't last — today, for no apparent reason, it features a story about the Voyager 1 mission. And there's a gossip section called "Flash," helmed by former "Page Six" editor Richard Johnson. It's got articles and short gossip items much like his old column — complete with blind items and a dose of snark.
The fashion pages are brief and colorful, and the app reviews are fun. But the fact that you can't quite tell how many (or few) pages there are in an issue doesn't muffle the sense that you're looking at something a bit like Metro or AMNY: a daily newspaper that's trying to be all things with limited staff. I counted a couple dozen pages of news, most of which were devoted to Egypt. While it's impressive that The Daily has a man on the ground there, one does get the feeling that you'd be missing something — okay, maybe a lot — if this was your only source of news.
In the presentation, Angelo and company admitted to still working on a few things. While the iPad's much-awaited subscription functionality will help The Daily sell its 99-cent-a-week or $39.99-a-year subscriptions, there is as yet no advanced archive system or internal search. Your best bet, if you want to keep track of what you've read, is to use the product's "saved articles" feature — as The Daily tries to build habitual users, this will be a key thing to improve (Apple's rep at the event, Eddy Cue, said that his company will have an announcement about subscription functionality for other publications shortly).
During the question-and-answer session, Angelo, Murdoch, Cue, and Miller addressed some of the main issues media watchers have been wondering about. Murdoch confirmed that so far, $30 million has been spent on the launch, and that it costs about $500,000 per week to put the thing out. At the start, the revenue is expected to come mostly from subscriptions, but as time goes by, Miller said he hopes that the split between paid readers and advertisers will be "50-50."
Editors will be able to drop in breaking news stories throughout the day, but in general, the paper that you wake up to in the morning is the one that will be on your iPad all day long. Links to stories in the paper will be free for distribution through e-mail and social media, but there will be no one place where they all exist together online.
For now, the sports section seems to hint most strongly at the possibilities of an iPad newspaper. It's serviced well by columns, great art, and fun animation, and it's the most interactive section: Fans can pick which teams they want to read about each day when they sign in and follow games and stats on a timeline. But you have to wonder, isn't all this stuff already available on ESPN.com and SI.com? Websites that you can access on the iPad, but also from your work computer, smartphone, and laptop?
Hopefully Rupert Murdoch has thought through such issues. But audience members did have to wonder how familiar he truly was with the capabilities and appeal of the iPad when blogger Jeff Bercovici asked what other apps he's used on the device. "I try playing some of the games," Murdoch laughed. "But my 7-year-old beats me every time."
[This post was updated from a previous version.]