What It Was Like Launching The Daily

By Peter Ha on at

I was the 19th employee hired by The Daily. My first day was November 1, 2010, and the plan was to launch the next month. Needless to say, I was scared shitless.

"You know you're going to go work for the devil, right?"

At that point in my career, I just wanted to get out of that hellhole on 50th St. (aka Time) and News Corp didn't seem that bad. Aside from Fox News, the company had plenty of assets that everyone loves, like football, Nat Geo TV and The Simpsons. So how bad could it be?

And in fact, the early days of The Daily were actually pretty fun. The staff was small and we were all huddled on the north side of the 26th floor overlooking West 48th. There was a sense of family. With every passing week though there were new faces and a constant shuffling of desks. I eventually got booted to the eastern wing of the office to make room for the ever-growing news desk and corps of designers. Folks came from all over the media landscape—ABC News, The New York Times, New York Post, the New Yorker and a slew of other notable magazines and newspapers. Within a month, the faces I didn't know outnumbered the ones I did. It seemed like a good team.

Rupert Murdoch—that "devil" everyone had warned me about—could be seen several times a week in the offices of my editor and the publisher. He seemed quite spritely for a person whom the rest of the media ridiculed, and investors thought needed to step down. One night early on he even brought his good buddy Bono to say hello to the staff. I remember recognising his voice before I even saw that he was there amongst us mortals. He's really short. I saw a lot of Rupert those first few months before we launched.

That first month, the Washington Post came out with this video for their iPad app launch. Apparently, the brass at News Corp had a similar idea for a launch video and tapped a celeb in the Fox stable to be in ours. We were told to dress appropriately from one of three styles: "stylish high end business, "500 Days of Summer" business, or Williamsburg/Soho sophisticated hipster design business," and that a celeb from the Fox stable would lend us his clout. We came in early on a Saturday morning, and were greeted by Gordon Ramsey's stand-in body double. The fiery British chef himself eventually showed up and could be heard screaming and throwing things for hours around the office. The actresses they'd hired to mingle in with staffers were…very busty. There acting skills were also lacking. The video was actually pretty hilarious. It's a shame they never ran it.

Back to work, then. That early December 2010 launch was pretty lofty goal, and one we ultimately weren't held to. Thank God. We started going to "print" by mid-December for an internal trial run. That first night didn't go according to plan, mostly because there was no plan. Everything, from the CMS to the app itself, was still being built and tested. I sat with my design lead for hours that night moving pixels around, chopping copy and, generally, just scratching my head wondering how the fuck we were going to finish up the three or four stories I'd slated for the following day. We eventually filed and finished everything around one that night. Other desks like news and sports were there much, much later. It was rough for all of us. Reality began to sink in. And just how big a task we'd been assigned.

Back then nearly every magazine and newspaper was trying to figure out how to take advantage of the iPad. The majority of publishers settled for the obvious: repurposing the digital files from their respective print products. Not much has changed since then; you're still mostly looking at glorified PDFs. Steve Jobs hated that; he told the editor of Sports Illustrated how stupid his interface was, point blank. The Daily—with significant backing from Apple—was supposed to change everything, to usher in the dawn of a new age of publishing. But we were still figuring out how to publish the damn thing every day.

Nobody outside of the building knew what we were doing. Not even the Post or Journal. With the haphazard office space and lack of room to accommodate everyone, it felt like a startup and we functioned as such. In those first few months, we had weekly happy hours and powwows. I terrorised the staff by flying the first-gen AR Drone above people's desks. Our first holiday party was in the office. I won the ugly sweater contest that year, beating out the publisher. We all got shitfaced together and some of us passed out at the bar.

What It Was Like Launching The Daily

We continued publishing stories for another couple of months until we launched on February 2, 2011. Everyone huddled into the west wing around a big screen TV to watch the launch. Something went afoul with the connection and a lot of us ran back to our desks to watch the livestream. The sense of pride felt by everyone who helped launch The Daily brought a few folks to tears that day. I might have shed a tear or two, myself. Many of us sacrificed family and friends to get the thing off the ground. No one can ever take that away from us.

We collectively broke a lot of stories, like the existence of Amazon lockers, Office for iPad, Xbox set-top boxes and other notable stories from the news and gossip desks. You probably read about them on various Gawker sites. Great content doesn't do much good if there's no good way to share it. The Daily was run like a newspaper from the top down, which isn't a terrible idea. It just needed to go back a few more decades to a time when newspapers published multiple editions in a day, for instance.

None of us wanted to write or publish news that would be stale and cold the next day. But the publishing platform felt like it was held together with spit and chewing gum. Were there fixes that could've improved the situation? Sure. But those don't matter anymore. The Daily had every chance of flourishing and succeeding, but operating independently of the Internet as a whole was clearly an obviously huge mistake.

I'm still proud of what I helped build and don't regret a minute of it. I ran and built a successful section: Apps and Tech. There was no writing on the wall, contrary to what a lot of folks are pointing out today or have in the past. The budgets had already been approved for the next year. I left back in April for no other reason than needing a new challenge and wanting to be present online again. The Daily was beholden to a larger corporation that needed to appease shareholders, fend off constant bad press and a restructuring, which is ultimately why The Daily is being shuttered.

Troll all you want about News Corp — 90% of which is going to be wrong anyway — but a lot of good people were given pink slips today and that's unfortunate. I imagine it's going to suck to have to publish for another 12 days. I'm pouring one out for you, homies.