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Newspaper network gears up

The New Century Network of metro daily newspapers on the Web gears up to sell national advertising on behalf of affiliates online and link news stories.

The New Century Network of metro daily newspapers on the Web is gearing up for prime time.

Since its founding last year, the company has kept a low profile even as its membership has swelled from founding media giants such as Cox Newspapers, Gannett, and Knight-Ridder to 75 members. The roster is expected to double by midyear.

The goals: to sell national advertising on behalf of affiliates online and link news stories. The battle is heating up as companies such as Microsoft, Yahoo, and phone companies such as Pacific Bell and US West are fighting for ad dollars with online sites. Classified ads especially have long been the staple of most major metro dailies, which largely operate in monopoly markets.

The television industry is jumping into the fray as well. As previously reported by CNET, Warner Bros. this month launched CityWeb, which is aimed at selling online ads to affiliates of network broadcasters--much the same model as New Century Network's.

"All of this has been a wake-up call," NCN chief executive Lee deBoer told CNET today during an interview in San Francisco. deBoer was on a road show to win over papers that hadn't signed up, such as The San Francisco Chronicle.

Newspapers account for only three percent of the national ad pie and have largely let the "train run by"; the money goes to TV and magazines instead, deBoer said. NCN members pay an annual fee and receive a share of the online advertising.

Now the industry is fighting back. The company this month began selling ads through its affiliates online, deBoer said. For example, BellSouth placed ads in affiliate newspapers in the southeast.

The network also is planning to ramp up its own Web site in April, deBoer added. The site will be relaunched with a feature that allows users to customize their pages to create "one-stop shops" for receiving news from local and out-of-town papers. That might include a political report from the Washington Post or a write-up on the Miami Dolphins from the Miami Herald.

The company also is talking to "all the likely suspects" about a deal to have the news sent automatically to consumers using push technology. That is expected to include PointCast, Marimba, and BackWeb.

Newspapers are feeling the heat, however. As reported, two California newspapers--the San Jose Mercury News and Los Angeles Times--recently refused to run ads for Pac Bell's AtHand. The telco was told by one of the papers that its ads were rejected because AtHand competes directly with the paper's own Web site.