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NEW YORK — Some of us count sheep, but Rupert Murdoch spends his sleepless nights dreaming up media properties.
It was late May, around 2 a.m., and Murdoch was in his New York penthouse on Fifth Avenue having a tough time falling asleep when a vision came to him: publishing a daily news report that would be exclusively made for the iPad and other tablet devices. There would be no print product.
Murdoch had done his homework, so he already knew that readers spend more time fully immersed with the iPad than they do with the Web. He believes that within a few years, tablet devices will be like cell phones or laptops — consumers will go into Wal-Mart and buy the things at reasonably cheap prices (far more diminished than the $499 for an iPad now). In his mind, in the not-too-distant future, every member of the family will have one.
The morning after his brainstorm, Murdoch dialed one of his chief lieutenants — Jesse Angelo, the managing editor of The New York Post. Come summer, Angelo left the Post and began working full-time for the budding outfit, which is named The Daily. (The folks at DC Comics weren’t very interested in handing over The Daily Planet, the first idea.)
News Corp. has spent the last three months assembling a newsroom that will soon be about 100 staffers strong. The Daily will launch in beta mode sometime around Christmas, and will be introduced to the public on the iPad and other tablet devices in early 2011. It is expected to cost 99 cents a week, or about $4.25 a month. It will come out — as the name suggests — seven days a week. The operation is currently working out of the 26th floor of the News Corp. Building on Sixth Avenue in a space that looks like a veritable construction zone. The staff’s permanent home will be on the ninth floor, and they’ll move down once it’s ready.
Assigning Angelo, a star in the News Corp. universe who’s long been seen as the heir to Col Allan’s throne at the Post, to be the editor gives a clear indication of how meaningful the project is to Murdoch. Greg Clayman, a close friend of Angelo’s from their Harvard days in the late Nineties, left his digital gig at Viacom to lead the publishing side. Richard Johnson left Page Six and will run a team of a few reporters to provide Hollywood and Los Angeles coverage. New Yorker critic Sasha Frere-Jones will run a culture section that will cover books, movies, TV, fashion, health and lifestyle.
There are three managing editors: Mike Nizza, a veteran of The New York Times, AOL News and The Atlantic; Steve Alperin, a producer at ABC News, and Pete Picton, an online editor at The Sun in the U.K. Alperin’s TV experience gives a hint to a valuable part of the newsroom: In addition to journalists, there will be plenty of people producing videos. Also, there will be lots of design staff.
The Daily will cover the nation. Writers have been told to find topics, establish beats and break stories. Johnson’s squad, currently setting up in the MySpace building, will attempt to bring a Page Six sensibility to Los Angeles. If the TMZ and Nikki Finke world is saturated, there will be intense coverage of cocktail parties, charity events, crime and politics. There will be no foreign bureaus, and there are no plans for a D.C. bureau at the moment, but it’s expected reporters from New York will take care of important political news. Daily reporters will certainly go on the campaign trail as the 2012 elections heat up.
The editorial page is expected to have sort of an optimistic, populist stance. Murdoch told the Australian Financial Review that the editorial page would have campaigns, particularly on education reform. Reihan Salam, a fellow at Economics 21, will be a columnist there.
Those familiar with the project have said Angelo wants a tabloid sensibility with a broadsheet intelligence. Editors want it to be a fun read, the way the Post is a fun read, but there probably won’t be any mistaking the two newsrooms. Think of the project as The New York Post Goes to College, as The Daily is staffing up with a lot of bright, young twentysomething journalistic talent working at media properties throughout the city.
The ambitious project is yet another Murdoch experiment to get people to pay for the news they read as newspapers transition to the digital era. And he already has at least one major fan. Several sources said Apple chief Steve Jobs and Murdoch have been in conversations about the project for a while. When the project is announced, don’t be surprised if you see Steve Jobs onstage with Rupert Murdoch, welcoming The Daily to the app world.