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Newspapers to launch S.F. Bay Area Web guide this week

The Knight Ridder chain this week will launch an Internet site dubbed Bayarea.com, the latest example of newspapers creating a regional Web portal.

The San Jose Mercury News and Contra Costa Newspapers this week will launch a Web site dubbed Bayarea.com, meant to provide news, e-commerce, and local resources to the San Francisco Bay Area, according to sources.

For the first month, the site will be in a so-called beta stage to work out production bugs and test the product. It is the latest example of newspapers' efforts to increase their presence on the Internet. Both newspapers are owned by the Knight Ridder newspaper chain.

The official launch is not slated until year's end, according to Douglas Edwards, online brand group manager at the San Jose Mercury News. But that "depends on the feedback we get during beta," he added.

Sources familiar with the plan said the site's e-commerce offering already can be accessed online at "Marketplace." It also will include news, free email, a directory of links, and community publishing, which lets local organizations build their own Web sites, they added.

The site is part of Knight Ridder's "Real Cities" plan. The newspaper chain intends to create a national network of regional hub sites, including sites for cities where it does not publish newspapers. The network is meant to compete with local guides such as AOL's Digital Cities and CitySearch, which have posed a big threat to newspapers in that they stand to grab crucial classified advertising dollars.

Bayarea.com, for example, will include news about San Francisco, where Knight Ridder does not publish a newspaper. The market has undergone a shake-up recently, with the sale of the San Francisco Chronicle to the Hearst Corporation, publisher of the San Francisco Examiner.

As reported, the Mercury News bought the domain name "Bayarea.com" from Santa Clara, California-based Internet service provider Bay Area Internet Solutions to launch the regional Web guide.