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Web sites to limit ads on Sept. 11

Even as Web publishers increase coverage of last year's terror attacks, some are promising to forgo or cut back on advertising to avoid the appearance of profiting on tragedy.

Even as major Web publishers increase extensive coverage of last year's Sept. 11 terror attacks, some are promising to forgo or cut back on advertising to avoid the appearance of profiting on the anniversary of the tragedy.

The plans underscore a delicate balancing act for media outlets, which saw ratings spike in the wake of suicide hijackings that brought down the World Trade Center and damaged the Pentagon last year, killing thousands of unsuspecting civilians in the worst foreign attack on the United States in history.

Emotion has run high as the anniversary approaches, and companies have taken steps to avoid any sign that they might cash in on what is shaping up as a national day of mourning. Already, major ad buyers such as Coca-Cola, General Motors and Pepsico have said they will suspend all advertising on Sept. 11, and some media companies have followed suit with similar, if less sweeping, plans.

"We just want to be sensitive to our readership, and it's also an advertiser request," MSNBC spokesman Peter Dorogoff said. "Advertisers don't want to be misperceived as selling goods and taking advantage of the day."

Web publishers are adopting a variety of Sept. 11 observance policies, with few planning to drop advertising completely.

At America Online, the world's largest Internet company, plans are under way to replace many of its commercial advertising banners with commemorative messages. The changes, which affect the AOL flagship service, CompuServe and Netscape.com, will also affect pop-up advertisements, which will be suspended that day.

Yahoo, one of the most highly visited Web sites in the world, will alter the look and feel of its home page by rendering it black and white throughout the day. No commercial advertisements will be served on the home page or its personalized My Yahoo pages. Commercial ads will be served in other areas along with public service ads that link to news and discussion on the site.

A Yahoo representative said its plans stemmed from a desire to recognize the anniversary but denied that an advertiser pullback influenced its decision.

Microsoft's MSN Web portal will not be pulling advertisements but instead will change the appearance of its home page while linking to news headlines and other public service resources.

The restraint comes at a difficult time for online publishers, which are weathering a severe advertising downturn, marked by excess inventory and depressed prices. On Monday, AOL Time Warner warned that weak ad sales in its America Online unit could reduce advertising and e-commerce revenue to as low as $1.7 billion for the year--well off its previous lowball estimate of $1.8 billion.

"It's not that online advertising is being ignored by the advertiser," said Rudy Grahn, an analyst at Jupiter Research. "The downward pressure in pricing for online advertising is hitting an extreme that we haven't seen before."