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Review: Murdoch’s ‘Daily’ for iPad — Elegant, Fluffy, Addictive

Rupert Murdoch’s national news publication for the iPad is a game-changer

I'm a Mac obsessive. My iPhone goes everywhere I do, I'm typing this on a MacBook Air, and, full disclosure, I even have some stock in the company. But I never got the iPad, or had the slightest interest in owning one.

But I get it now. Thanks to The Daily.

Rupert Murdoch's "national news publication for the iPad that we have created from scratch," as he called it at Wednesday's unveiling, feels game-changing. The layout is beautiful, the interaction between video, photos and websites is for the most part flawless, and the presentation is easy to follow. It could easily become a best friend to commuters, airline travelers, even people out for a stroll.

Also read: Criticism of 'Lefties' Already Creeping Into The Daily

As I cabbed, then walked, from The Daily's unveiling, an Apple iPad loaner in hand, I found myself flipping through pages and playing videos even while walking over icy sidewalks. Maybe The Daily will be a chiropractor's best friend, too.

This being a Rupert Murdoch enterprise, skeptics will study the iPad-only publication — which launched in Apple's App Store Wednesday morning — for evidence of raw politicking and tawdry tabloidism. And they'll find a little of both, though presented with nuance.

There are many, many photos of runway models, trophy wives and starlets. An article about insurers using astrological signs to track who has the most traffic accidents would seem fluffy if it weren't also true — and fascinating.

There will likely be many years of internal push-pull over such issues, as there are everywhere. But no one should debate The Daily's sheer elegance of appearance and function. Its touch-screen interactivity combines all the advantages of video, print and photojournalism to make you feel in the center of the news — sometimes literally.

The 360-degree news photos, which make you feel like you're in the middle of the action, will quickly become a calling card. They have to be seen. The better word might be experienced.

Also read: Murdoch Launches His iPad-Only Newspaper

One chaos-in-the-streets photo of Egypt — the kind Newsweek and Time have to splash across two paper pages — actually made me dizzy as I swept across it while riding in a cab. The shot didn't even cover a full 360, but it felt exactly like looking down at the demonstrations from atop a tall building. I can't remember another news photograph that made me feel so enveloped in a story.

The Daily also makes excellent use of video. An otherwise straightforward weather story was brilliantly illustrated by video of a car careening on ice, as the camera seemed to follow closely behind it. It was the kind of adrenaline-pumping view you usually only get when you're about to get in a very ugly accident — not while reading the news.

Other thrills feel cheaper. If you've been wondering what former Page Six editor Richard Johnson is up too, here's your answer: He's filling pages and pages of Daily gossip, including blind items, a lengthy look at Natalie Portman's pregnancy, and a story about Rihanna playing for Palm Beach socialites who've never heard of her, complete with a box to display Rihanna's Twitter feed. (Though it didn't, at least for me — an exceedingly rare technological misfire.)

Again, this being a Murdoch enterprise, conservative sentiment pops up out of nowhere — and some users will give themselves fits trying to guess who inserted it.

The site flip-flopped repeatedly Wednesday between two versions of a gossip item about documentary filmmaker Nick Broomfield interviewing Sarah Palin's critics.

The first version, with the lead, "The demonization of Sarah Palin continues," referred to Broomfield interviewing her "enemies" and ended with this anonymous opinion:

"It's amazing, really, the way lefties have elevated Palin by fixating on her so," noted one observer. "They've turned her into a major figure and into their most effective critic."

The second, softer version began with the lead, "The legend of Sarah Palin grows and grows." (Note no mention of "demonization.") It ended with the italicized section above replaced with this:

The film is not expected to be flattering. Democrats might be better served if Palin were ignored. "Her enemies have turned her into a major figure and into their most effective critic," said one non-Alaskan.

The quick, repeated edits suggest someone at The Daily is paying close (and laudable) attention to subtleties. And then, maybe, changing his or her mind? Being overruled? There was no explanation for the repeated flip-flops between the original version and the softer one on Wednesday, and The Daily did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Murdoch said at The Daily's launch Wednesday that The Daily's "editorial position will be in the hands of the editor," referring to Jesse Angelo.

"We are patriotic, we love America," Angelo said. "I think people will  be interested in what we have to say, and perhaps suprised."

Whatever they say about The Daily's politics, the changes suggest it will be updated frequently, taking full advantage of the Internet instead of just functioning as a very pretty daily iPadified magazine.

The fact that The Daily costs 99 cents a week raises questions about how well it will play with the rest of the Internet. But the first edition, at least, contained a few outward bound links — and no, they weren't all to Murdoch-owned properties. A feature called "What We're Reading" directed users to a democratic mix of stories by The New Yorker, ProPublica and Frontline, and thehairpin. (The latter site isn't especially well known, but the article — about plastic surgery in Thailand — was linked far and wide Monday.)

And the ads. The Daily has lots of them, enough to make any new publication jealous, and they're lavishly presented. For the first time in a long time, in any medium, it's fun to see what they'll do. Ads appear fairly inobtrusively as you flip from page to page — if you don't want to see them, keep flipping — but invite more interactivity.

One, for Verizon's 4G LTE, invites you to "Turn to Feel the Power." It takes dummies like myself a second to realize this means, "turn the iPad." But when you do, you're presented more links about the network and a video you have the option of watching or skipping.

Major questions remain, including about how often The Daily will update. The app says new editions download daily, so it's unclear how it will handle breaking news. In the two hours between the time of its launch and the completion of this review, I haven't seen a new story: But I haven't had time to read all the ones already posted, like "Supercuts: Battle for NFL's best hair." 

I did, though, watch the video about maximum security prisoners making kids' toys, read about a disco for dogs, and shake my head, again and again, at the sweep of that Egypt shot.

And, OK, I might have guessed at a couple of those blind items.