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News Ltd gets ready for The Punch

News Ltd is set to launch The Punch, its biggest digital venture since it created news.com.au, within the next few weeks, Mumbrella can reveal.  

The Punch will be loosely modelled on the US-based Huffington Post. Although the name of the site may yet prove to be a working title only, the domain name thepunch.com.au has been registered by News Ltd.

Mumbrella’s source says that the project – being led by former Daily Telegraph editor David Penberthy – has been pencilled in for an August launch, although a News Digital Media source this morning denied this. Blogger and commentator Stilgherrian has predicted a launch for The Punch as early as next month.

Campbell Reid, News Ltd’s editorial director is also heavily involved in The Punch, as is digital editor Paul Colgan.

The scale of News Ltd’s ambitions for The Punch are large, with plans for a roster of high profile politicians and sports stars writing regular blogs, with a total team of up to 250 contributors.

One of the potentially controversial aspects of The Punch is that many of those writing for it are said to potentially be student journalists, being asked to write for free, and edited by a small team of more senior executives. Mumbrella understands that journalism schools have already been sounded out. Again, a News Digital source today denied this.

In the US, the Huffington Post – launched by socialite Arianna Huffington four years ago – has a vast monthly audience of more than 10 million unique visitors drawn to its mixture of left-leaning news and aggregated blog content. The site has a large stable of writers, who contribute with varying frequency.

Penberthy – know widely in the industry as Penbo – left the Daily Telegraph last November, with News Ltd saying only he was to head up a new national online, print and television venture.

When he was first appointed as the Daily Telegraph’s editor in 2005, Crikey presciently described him as “a member of the generation that does not read newspapers. The implications for The Telegraph – and Australian print in general – will be fascinating.”

In recent weeks, News has been working on building up Penberthy’s profile, giving a double page spread to his weekly column in the Daily Telegraph.

Another key member of the launch team, on the technical side, is News Digital Media project director AdamMcWhinney, who has been involved in the creation of News Ltd’s food website taste.com.au, and its whereilive project, designed to deliver personalised, localised news

Meanwhile, Christopher Warren, chairman of journalists’ union the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance, told Mumbrella that although he had not yet heard of the plans, it would be of concern if journalism students formed a major part of the project.

He said: “While there is always scope for everybody to write online, if you are holding something out to be a professional website, you need professionals writing for it who are being paid appropriately.

“There’s always the question of whether you’d be requiring students to do something they are not yet trained to do.”

However, The Punch is not the only media product of that name, as well as the now defunct British satirical title Punch, The Punch is a popular Nigerian online publication.

Update: News has now conceded that “a few” journalism students will be invited to write. But it insists that this will be “most definitely not a lot or anything like a significant percentage of the posts”.

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