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Once Again Into the Breach: Rupert Murdoch Dreams of a Digital Newspaper

08/16/2010 03:48 pm 15:48:44 | Updated May 25, 2011

First, the really big news in the LA Times story about Rupert Murdoch's plan to start an all new national newspaper for the iPad and mobile devices: The picture shows that he's not dyeing his hair anymore. The orange (or sometimes aubergine) is gone. One of the things Murdoch is said to have most disliked in my book about him is that I made fun of his terrible dye jobs. Now his hair is all white and cut short, just like... well, mine.

Then, a central point that should not be forgotten when Murdoch talks about newspapers and his vision for them in America: He's never had a paper here that's worked. Never. Not one. He may be the world's most successful newspaper man, with a history of outsized reach and profits (though, now, fading) in Australia and the UK, but here, in the US newspaper business, he's only ever been a dud.

His longest and most cherished effort, the New York Post, has, by some estimates, lost more money than any media enterprise ever--into the billions. It's a vanity project on a grand and often petulant scale (I can do it if I want to, and nobody can stop me). But even his more grounded efforts, in Boston, Chicago, and Texas, have produced, at best, anemic results. He just didn't connect. His tabloid didn't work here--just too old-fashioned, working class, barroom. Now his up-market talents, as it were, are being tried at the Wall Street Journal, a paper that seems headed in the direction of the Post: a product divorced from financial reality, on target to absorb historic losses.

It should be noted, too (I have noted it many times before), that Murdoch, now pronouncing the iPad the savior of the news business, has never succeeded in any digital venture he's managed. Never. Not once. From Delphi to iGuide to his son James' dotcom investments to MySpace--all for naught. Perhaps his most relevant venture, with regard to his national digital newspaper dream, is his roll-out a few years ago of a Page Six-brand web business to compete with the gossip sites eating the space Page Six once controlled: total flop, closed weeks after it launched.

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