WASHINGTON - After months of top secret development, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. appears poised to take the wraps off a digital newspaper for the iPad called "The Daily."
News Corp. has been tight-lipped about the project but the Australian-born media mogul acknowledged its existence for the first time in an interview last week with his Fox Business Network.
Asked what "exciting projects" his sprawling media and entertainment company was working on, the 79-year-old Murdoch cited The Daily but offered no further information about the tabloid for Apple's touchscreen tablet computer.
Details about the project have been dribbling out in the US media for weeks, however, and The New York Times, citing two employees who requested anonymity, said News Corp. intends to launch The Daily before the end of the year.
The Times said Sasha Frere-Jones, music critic at The New Yorker magazine, would become its culture editor. Others reported to be involved include Jesse Angelo, executive editor of Murdoch's New York Post, Richard Johnson, former editor of the Post's gossip page, and Greg Clayman, the former head of Viacom's digital division, who has been tapped to head business operations at The Daily.
Forbes magazine put the total staff on the project at around 150 and said News Corp. has budgeted 30 million dollars for the first year of the launch.
The Daily brings together three of Murdoch's passions - newspapers, the iPad and finding a way to charge readers for content online in an era of shrinking newspaper circulation and eroding print advertising revenue.
Murdoch began his career with a single newspaper in his native Australia and while he has expanded into television, movies and book publishing, the News Corp. chairman has always been clear that newspapers are his obsession.
At the same time, Murdoch has a serious crush on the iPad, calling it a "game-changer" and potential savior of the struggling newspaper industry.
In an interview in April with The Kalb Report, Murdoch called the iPad a "glimpse of the future."
"There's going to be tens of millions of these things sold all over the world," he said. "It may be the saving of newspapers because you don't have the costs of paper, ink, printing, trucks.
"I'm old, I like the tactile experience of the newspaper," Murdoch admitted, but "if you have less newspapers and more of these that's OK."
"It doesn't destroy the traditional newspaper, it just comes in a different form," he said.
Whether Murdoch plans to charge readers a subscription fee for The Daily is not yet known but the News Corp. chief has made making consumers pay for news online his personal crusade.
The Wall Street Journal requires a subscription for full access to WSJ.com and Britain's The Times and The Sunday Times, two other News Corp. newspapers, recently erected pay walls around their websites.
Murdoch has vowed to begin charging for online access to all of his titles and said in August that he believed most US newspapers would eventually end up doing the same.
"You'll find, I think, most newspapers in this country are going to be putting up a pay wall," he said, dismissing arguments that readers used to getting news on the internet for free would be reluctant to pay.
News Corp. chief digital officer Jon Miller told top technology and media executives at a gathering in Aspen, Colorado, in July that the iPad may allow the news industry to start charging for content online after years of giving it away for free.
"I think we're seeing a fundamental shift in where content is consumed and it's on to these kinds of devices," he said. "These tablets are heavy media consumption devices, much more than the Web by itself and even smartphones."
He said the iPad and other tablets being developed offer "very media rich experiences that I think do allow a re-set, perhaps a do-over for the media industry, a chance to get it right."