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IQ News: After Divorce, Online Newspapers Regroup

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Nine of the nation's largest newspaper chains are suddenly reinventing their online images following the breakup of the New Century Network and its megasite. While some have elected to go it alone, at least one--Knight Ridder--is forming a new consortium aimed at taking on Microsoft and America Online in local markets.
Knight Ridder New Media, San Jose, Calif., and Real Media, a New York Web network, have teamed up to expand Knight Ridder's Real Cities network into the top 20 markets with many of the former NCN partners as members.
The three-year-old New Century Network, a consortium of papers that included Knight Ridder, Gannett, Advance Publications and the Washington Post Co., shut down last week. Collectively, the companies spent $27 million to develop NCN and its Internet presence at www.newsworks.com; the network sold national advertising and provided marketing services for some 140 newspaper Web sites.
Despite the strong local brands of newspapers, experts predict it will be difficult for even large chains to compete with the multicity approaches of CitySearch, Microsoft's Sidewalk and the AOL-Tribune Co. project Digital City.
"If you're Knight Ridder selling to IBM maybe there's an interest in Philadelphia, Miami and Detroit, but they may also want Atlanta, Houston and Los Angeles," said Randy Bennett, vice president of electronic media for the Newspaper Association of America. "IBM will want one solution; they won't want to go to Knight Ridder, Cox and Times Mirror separately."
Individually, the companies have been more interested in focusing on individual business ventures rather than on a network strategy. Some NCN members even operated networks themselves. "They started testing different directives for the industry," said Dave Morgan, president of Real Media. "When they ended up with an ad network the interests started diverging."
Knight Ridder first launched Real Cities last October. "Since NCN word got out on Monday, the phone has been ringing here non-stop from other newspapers that want to participate in Real Cities," said Bob Ingle, president of Knight Ridder New Media.
One key to the success, Ingle stressed, is in distribution with partners such as Yahoo or Excite: "None of us can afford the price tag for distribution on a stand-alone basis," he said.