One News Corp. property that has flown under the radar throughout the company’s recent melodramas is The Daily—the tablet newspaper launched to great fanfare in the basement of the Guggenheim in February.
Nobody thinks the staff at the iPad app is doing any phone-hacking. They haven’t broken enough scoops to raise that kind of suspicion.
But Jesse Angelo, editor of The Daily, might as well be part of the Murdoch family. Having grown up in the newsrooms of The Sun, The Daily Telegraph, and New York Post, he was best man at James Murdoch’s wedding and in March signed the papers on an Upper East Side townhouse believed to be intended for James, who before the scandal was planning a move to New York.
Now, with James under the spotlight and The Daily’s top patron, Rupert Murdoch, looking increasingly vulnerable, one wonders just what will become of the tablet paper, which has already cost News Corp. some $10 million without yet making a dent in the national conversation.
Though employees describe a sense of drift and uncertainty, Mr. Angelo from the beginning has displayed a decisiveness characteristic of the News Corp. ethos.
“Jesse said it was important to make clear decisions early, otherwise reporters wouldn’t know what direction to take,” former Daily managing editor Jim Gaines told The Observer. “It was O.K. if it came back different, but they need to start someplace.”
The same could be said for The Daily’s place within The News Corp. portfolio.
In addition to being the youngest News Corp. property, The Daily is said to be of considerable personal interest to Mr. Murdoch. This was not just another acquisition; it had come to him in a dream, which was then backed with the promise of $30 million for the first year.
Company executives defended the expenditures as forward-thinking. “It’s a work in progress,” News Corp. president—and now rumored Rupert successor—Chase Carey told PaidContent.org. “We’re proving the technology, refining the content. The tablet market is still in its infancy.”
Better to plant the flag on the moon than to build the perfect spaceship.
DURING THE DAILY’S massive hiring spree in New York, young reporters who’d been offered jobs called one another to speculate: Were they going over to the Dark Side?
Such fears were allayed somewhat by the content, which steered for the middle of the road, and the regular presence in the newsroom of cuddly Emperor Palpatine himself. Pre-launch, Mr. Murdoch dropped by regularly to look over shoulders or ask after Mr. Angelo. The resultant sense of urgency, combined with the secrecy surrounding the project—the floors above and below the offices were reportedly “quarantined”—lent the operation an air of start-up excitement.
But once the grind of daily publication set in, the day was governed by 10:30 and 2:30 meetings, and the office hierarchy calcified.
Peter Picton, the well-liked online editor for The Sun who’d been called to New York to help with the launch, went back to England, opening a gap between section editors and Mr. Angelo. (Mr. Picton has since left News Corp. entirely, for London rival The Daily Mail. He did not return The Observer’s calls for comment.)
Mr. Murdoch visited less frequently, but his presence was still felt.
“He’s reading it every day,” reporters were told as they churned out dummy issues. Mr. Angelo stepped out of meetings to take his calls.
Mr. Picton was replaced by Jim Gaines, formerly of Time Inc. “Jesse Angelo had a very clear vision for The Daily,” Mr. Gaines said. “Jesse’s very clear about what he wants to do, and he’s very good at doing it.”
But what Mr. Gaines saw as brains and managerial competence, other employees perceived as “distance” or “imperiousness.” A handful of reporters quickly left for jobs in more traditional media. Mr. Gaines left too.
“He was really looking for an enactor of that vision rather than a partner in trying to create a new one,” said Mr. Gaines.
A COUPLE OF MONTHS after its launch, The Daily’s offices moved downstairs in the News Corp. building to the 9th floor, which they share with the Post. This put them in the same elevator bank as Mr. Murdoch.
If they had once been the journalists of the future, tinkering in secret on the remote 26th floor, they were now in the pocket of News Corp. management, side-by-side with more old-school properties. Upstairs, Mr. Angelo had an office adjacent to the news desks. Now he sat on the other end of the floor. Although he maintained a desk in the newsroom where he would work from time to time, one former employee thought he seemed less an editor than a News Corp. operative.
Even while being editor in chief of The Daily, Mr. Angelo retains his role as executive editor of The New York Post. He is of the same age and pedigree as the once-promising News Corp. next generation—James Murdoch, Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson.
As such, Mr. Angelo is responsible for more than simply overseeing what’s printed every day. He has to coordinate The Daily’s revolutionary design and high-tech advertising.
But the sleekness of The Daily’s presentation belies a “devilish” production routine for those inside, according to one source. Attempts to perfect the content management system were abandoned in order to launch closer to the announced date. After copy is filed, coders work a night shift to build the pages, each of which must be laid out both vertically and horizontally. Those familiar with the operations report long, frustrating nights.
In May, The Daily’s art director, the multimedia wunderkind Gabriel Dance, left the company.
The iPad offers advertisers unprecedented opportunities to “engage” readers, but at the cost of additional work for News Corp. The Daily partnered with rich media production shop Medialets to help advertisers—who were, initially, approached by Mr. Murdoch himself—build advertisements with the necessary specs for placement in the app.
When Land Rover, one of The Daily’s launch partners, wanted to use the newspaper’s touted 360-degree camera to introduce a new model of car, publisher Greg Clayman sent a film crew to the North American Auto Show with press passes, according to Keith Rhodes, group director at digital marketing agency Wunderman.
Initially, the data-heavy advertisements took too long to load, allowing readers to breeze past them as they would an old-world, less expensive, print advertisement, prompting The Daily to tweak the back end.
“There were load time issues we worked to resolve,” Mr. Rhodes said, noting, “The number of impressions exceeded our objective.”
High-end advertisers have jumped at the chance to partner with the novelty newspaper, but there is no promise that the appeal will remain once all publications move to the tablet.
“There will come a time when it’s just a tabloid, and we’ll have to re-evaluate if that’s right for a Land Rover consumer,” Mr. Rhodes said.
Which raises the question: Who exactly is the intended audience of The Daily?
Former Daily employees say they were told they were writing for Middle America—“populism” is among Mr. Murdoch’s credos—as opposed to the New York media elite.
But Mr. Murdoch’s other newspapers thrived precisely because they were competing within urban media ecosystems. The non-compete agreements employees signed suggest The Daily sees everyone from The New York Times to People as its competition.
For readers, the effect is dilution. The Daily does publish exclusive stories. But with the exception of the gossip and sports sections, the subjects of the exclusives are usually on the fringe of the national discussion—quirky national defense programs, counterintuitive health studies, portraits of small towns affected by inclement weather, photogenic animals. In effect, they’re the “oldest dog in America” stories requested by Mr. Angelo in a now-infamous memo to his staff.
For outside observers and staffers alike, it can be hard to picture The Daily’s ideal reader—the person for whom the contents the paper constitute the most satisfying view of the world.
What The Daily does offer, one imagines, is some insight into the mind of Rupert Murdoch. He is the only person we know who reads it every day.