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Media giant to launch city guides

Based on a network of 32 newspaper sites, Knight Ridder's "Real Cities" will be the latest in a growing pack of online city directories.

Knight-Ridder will launch a network of its 32 newspaper sites, dubbed Real Cities, to compete with other city guides such as Microsoft's Sidewalk, Yahoo, Digital City and others, the company said today.

The strategy closely resembles that of another print media giant, Cox Enterprises, which has launched a series of Web sites centered around its newspaper and television holdings across the country. Knight-Ridder's net work comes from existing Web sites.

The company's online expansion comes as many newspapers risk losing local advertising to Internet companies that are offering city guides, and featuring news, entertainment, and sports. The sites typically offer ads that are the bread-and-butter for newspapers: car buying, job openings, and real estate listings. Sidewalk, for example, has been expanding rapidly, recently launching city guides in San Francisco, Houston, and Denver, and planning new ones in San Diego, Washington, and Sydney, Australia, by yearend.

Early next year, the New York Times plans to launch a city guide dubbed "New York Today" that will offer news, entertainment, and references for people living in or visiting the Big Apple. Zip2 said that it will develop the city guide for the New York Times, bringing its newspaper partners to 133 properties. Its clients also include the Houston Chronicle, Rocky Mountain News in Denver, and Orange County (California) Register.

"There are a legion of players who claim to be offering local information on the Internet, but most of these services don't even have permanent offices in the communities they claim to serve," said Bob Ingle, president of Knight-Ridder New Media, in a statement. "We know our cities intimately, we have invested heavily in developing reporting and advertising staffs that reflect the communities."

Ingle has said before that he is "weary of Microsoft" and its move to the city guide market to capture ads that typically run in newspapers.

The city guide market is crowded, however, and many analysts expect a shakeup.

Real Cities also will include a customized news search-and-retrieval service dubbed NewsHound, an online news library, and special interest services such as Good Morning Silicon Valley and