Newspapers are the business Rupert Murdoch loves most—and now he’s betting their future on an app. Early next year, he will launch The Daily, the first newspaper produced exclusively for the iPad. So far, we’ve heard a lot about one specific aspect of that bet: the talent Murdoch has recruited to produce it, which includes New Yorker pop critic Sasha Frere-Jones as culture editor and “Page Six” ’s Richard Johnson is overseeing entertainment coverage. There’s also been a lot of discussion of the business plan by media reporters and bloggers wondering whether The Daily will sell enough of its $.99-per-week subscriptions, and ads, to cover News Corp.’s investment. But a third, potentially more significant aspect has gone largely unexplored, and that’s The Daily’s politics.
With The Daily, Murdoch is doing something rare in his long career: building a media property from the ground up rather than reinventing an existing paper, as he did with the New York Post and The Wall Street Journal. He’s using the opportunity to try to craft a major new editorial voice for the marketplace. In stark contrast to those of Murdoch’s existing American papers, The Daily’s politics will be centrist and pragmatic—Bloobergian, if you prefer—according to people close to the project. It’s a worldview embodied by its editor, Jesse Angelo, say people close to him. “He’s a freethinker, not locked in a dogma,” one source says. The opinion section will feature a range of both conservative and liberal pundits, and there are plans to wage “campaigns” on issues like immigration, education reform, and climate change. To oversee op-ed, The Daily has hired Elisabeth Eaves, a 39-year-old former Forbes editor and columnist who wrote a well-received book about stripping, which she spent some time doing. (Also, Eaves is Canadian, which means she was basically born reasonable.) The star columnist hire so far is Reihan Salam, who brings a telling pedigree. A co-author of Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream, the affable 30-year-old is the liberal commentariat’s favorite young conservative pundit and friendly with the New Republic set. The Daily is reportedly in talks with ascendant left-leaning writers who would serve as his counterpart.
On the news pages, The Daily has no mandate other than to appeal to young, tech-savvy readers. One of its 100 staffers will be a reporter assigned to covering other iPad apps, but you shouldn’t expect trumped-up stories on President Obama’s “$200 million–a–day” trip to India. Says another source, by way of defining The Daily: “None of the staff would have come to work for Fox News.” (Conveniently, all this meshes nicely with the views of Murdoch’s son James, the heir apparent, who’s friends both with Angelo and business-side head Greg Clayman, a former Viacom executive.)
In chasing the iPad audience, Murdoch is making the calculation that there’s space for a product that doesn’t take a side in the predictable left-right cage match. These readers, in this thinking, demand a new brand of journalism, and Murdoch wants to be the guy who supplies it. “This isn’t a red-state device,” one person involved in the project explained. Indeed, recall that Apple’s rollout of the iPad showcased what Murdoch’s hated New York Times would look like on the tablet. Murdoch, ever the operator, is positioning The Daily to have a sensibility that can also claim some of that Apple mojo while providing a spicier alternative to the Times.
If you know his record, it’s not surprising that Murdoch would be this ideologically pliant. Throughout his career, he has moved to align his media interests with the shifting winds; in the U.K., for example, his papers took a favorable view of Margaret Thatcher, then pivoted to do the same for Tony Blair. Yes, this is the same Rupert Murdoch who gave $1 million to the Republican Governors Association and has Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck on the payroll. But he’s sinking at least $30 million into The Daily, and he’s a businessman first.