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The Daily: A good morning paper

The new iPad-only newspaper, The Daily, is a strong online news journal, well worth the reasonable subscription fee.

The first iPad-only newspaper hit the stands this morning: Rupert Murdoch's The Daily is now available in the App Store (download). It's a fascinating experiment in publishing, blending old journalism standards and new media. A spin with The Daily shows Murdoch's fondness for the old form, but in subtle ways. While this "paper" isn't anything like a traditional print daily--it's got video, audio, interactive games, and a can-can carousel view of stories--reading it does evoke the old experience of settling down with a printed broadsheet, in ways that the online versions of existing newspapers don't quite capture. Most importantly, The Daily isn't a repackager of existing online news. The Daily is a genuine, new newspaper, with its own staff and the big budget (minus the expenses of printing and distributing) that running a newsroom entails.

The Daily provides a good mix of national and global news. Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET

So this ain't no free ride. After an initial two-week free period (now on), The Daily will cost readers 99 cents a week, or $39.99 a year, payable via the new App Store subscription service. It is a fair price to pay for real journalism, much less of a blocker than paying, for example, the $100+ that another Murdoch paper, the Wall Street Journal, costs for an online-only subscription. On the other hand, the New York Times iPad app is currently free (electronic-only subscription fees have not yet been announced, or, we believe, settled on). USA Today and other media outlets such as ABC, CNN, and CBS also have free apps.

What the user gets for 14 cents an issue is--as far as we can tell from the first issue--good but not consistently great print journalism. There's a comprehensive collection of national and global news, a rich sports section, and decent commentary. There's a substantial "Gossip" section, which reinforces The Daily's tabloid aesthetic, but the section has a different design language than News, so people (like me) who don't care about this content can easily and almost subconsciously skip over it. News writing varies from impressively strong and clear (the cover story, on Egypt), to serviceable. There is a lot of content in The Daily, however there's no local news. We don't yet know if future editions of The Daily will get better and more consistent, or if writing and story selection will suffer now that the staff has only 24 hours to turn out an issue, instead of the months they had to gear up for issue one.

Turn the iPad to landscape mode for a photo essay, and back to portrait for the text story that goes with it. Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET

The issue's news photography--from the Egyptian revolution to the American snowstorm--is all impressive and a pleasure to view on the iPad. The "360-degree" surround photos are gimmicky but do a good job of giving the reader a sense of place. The audio and video news hits are less stellar; they seem wooden compared to the text. The Daily staff does have its video chops, though. A video vignette on prison inmates making kids toys is lushly filmed and tightly edited, and leaves you wanting more.

You also get a Sudoku and a crossword each day, which you can fill out in the app. That alone may be worth the price of admission for many.

Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET
Animation is used in appropriate places, such as this sports illustration.

The Daily flows smoothly between media types. The experience of consuming The Daily while sitting down over coffee or a sandwich is superior to using other apps for reading news, including dedicated newspaper apps and services like Zinio and PressReader that repurpose printed journals into iPad-viewable issues. There's clearly a strong editorial hand that appreciates the art of pacing in a periodical. It's a discipline discussed at magazine design meetings but rarely at daily papers or at online publications, because creating good pacing for an electronic, hyperlinked multimedia publication is nearly impossible. The Daily doesn't have embedded links, though, it just has pages--some with pictures, some with video, some with embedded polls or Twitter feeds--and going from one to another, between stories, feels natural and enjoyable. Again, it will be a challenge to make each issue as consumable as the premier issue, but if The Daily's staff is able to do so, I'd say this publication will be well worth its cost, solely as a morning breakfast-table or commute train read.

Unfortunately, The Daily lacks, for now, a unified way to experience its content on the Web or on another device, like the iPhone or an Android device, although there will be support for "additional tablets over the coming months," a press pack said. But without your tablet, you can't get online updates or see other readers' discussions on stories you're interested in, unless you take your iPad with you everywhere. The stories are hidden online, though, and you can share Web versions of stories (unfortunately without reader commentary) by e-mailing links to friends or posting the links to Facebook or Twitter, all of which are features built into The Daily's iPad app.

The Daily is not the savior of the newspaper industry, but it is a good read and it's worth the reasonable subscription fee. It's professionally produced, well-written, and edited by people who know and care about the craft. It's what a publication should be--on the iPad or anywhere.