The Great Murdoch iPad Debate

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The Daily is doomed. A horrible venture from a horrible man.

On the sleek iPad, it is indescribably magical to touch the news.

Apple is a fascist censor with onerous terms.

News Corp. is paying journalists, and paying them well!

You can’t cover the nation with 100 people.

It came to Rupert Murdoch in a dream.

It is a nightmare.


WHAT’S BEHIND THE schizophrenic anticipation for News Corp.’s iPad-only newspaper, the Daily? Why is half the city rooting for its demise, and the other half greeting its arrival like the second coming?

Much of the negativity is tribal. The project is digital–so print-minded people are bothered. But it’s an app, walled off from the open Internet–so Web people are bothered, too. And it’s a Rupert Murdoch idea–so pretty much everyone is bothered just on principle.

On the other side of the animosity, though, is the fact that this is a news product built specifically for an Apple device. The Steve Jobs association brings with it an almost unbounded counterforce of hype and hope, the arrival of–or return to–a model in which consumers pay for news.

Oh, and there’s also the slightly-less-mystical factor that the thing is top secret and is drenched in money and people can’t wait to get their hands on it.

About the only people who have seen the Daily are staffers, who in recent days have been allowed to play around with a demo of the app. While they have a vested interest in liking and promoting their own project, they fawn over its bells and whistles convincingly. Staffers described to The Observer a snappy, striking interface that’s just … different than any newspaper or Web site or TV show or combination thereof. “It’s pretty mind-blowing what you can do,” said one.

Early magazine apps on the iPad were laid out filmstrip-style. When Wired arrived, it popularized the practice of swiping horizontally to move between stories, and swiping vertically to read deeper into any one piece. The Daily expands on the latter idea. It will have newspapery sections–news, culture (including health and lifestyle), opinion, sports. Weather looks bananas. Remember scrambling for the comics pages as a kid? The Daily will have addictive little games.

Slideshows, looked down upon as cheap page-view bait on the Web, may turn out to be a killer function on Apple’s device. “The photography is otherworldly,” said an insider.

And 3-D–the staff is rapturous about the 3-D. “It’s like describing a smell or something,” a Daily source told The Observer. “It is not quite possible to wrap your mind around the concept until you experience it. It’s a bit as though you were standing in a space with the ability to slowly spin around and see everything in hi-def.”

Movie reviews can contain video movie trailers and, since the iPad knows where on the planet it is located, find nearby theaters; album reviews can include audio clips as well as a link to purchase the album directly from iTunes. These are the technical, omigod-this-can-do-that details that get Daily-boosters juiced up and talking about paradigms.

But the Daily’s DNA is in newspapers, and that’s how the staff thinks of itself, so it will always be a text-first outlet.

The Daily won’t have a home page on the Web per se, but each story will still go online. Writers can tweet out those perma-links and share them on Facebook. The company won’t promote these pages, or even try to advertise against the content: To do so would draw attention away from the app, and the brand’s message is that the app is a thing that you simply must load every morning at the breakfast table.

Most of the content will be published overnight. But the app can receive continuous updates throughout the day, especially when there’s breaking news. They’re still figuring a lot of this out. The app doesn’t quite exist yet; the closely guarded demo is meant more to show what the new operation is capable of. “There’s some sort of insane technological revelation every day,” said a Daily source, “some new capability that emerges from the developers and makes everyone googly-eyed.”

SLIDESHOW: Media Critics Take Sides Over Murdoch’s Daily

The Great Murdoch iPad Debate