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Print to try packaging with NewsWorks

The nation's nine largest newspapers put the final touches on a Web site that will officially launch June 30 and aggregate their best news and information.

The nation's nine largest newspaper companies, including the New York Times, Times Mirror, and the Tribune Company, are putting the final touches on a Web site that will aggregate their best news and information, dubbed NewsWorks, which will officially launch June 30, the company announced today.

As reported June 10 by CNET's NEWS.COM, a beta version of the product--albeit less elaborate than NewsWorks--already is posted on the Web. A spokesman declined to discuss details then but many points were discussed thoroughly on the beta version, including an aggressive pitch to lure advertisers.

According to the site, NewsWorks is a service of New Century Network, a group of traditional media giants that has banded together to generate advertising from the Web. Earlier this year, New Century Network chief executive Lee deBoer discussed the company's online strategy generally but didn't elaborate on specific issues.

Today, deBoer touted the site in a statement: "The site combines the power of a high-quality search engine, a talented editorial staff, and the unrivaled quality of content on our affiliates' sites."

John Papanek, NCN's senior vice president of content and editor in chief, expounded on deBoer's remarks: "Imagine having a personal news assistant who reads every word published every day in more than 125 newspapers...and then gives you exactly the news and information you need and want. That's what NewsWorks does."

The launch of the new service comes as Internet companies such as Yahoo, CitySearch, and Digital City are unveiling their own news, entertainment, and sports Web sites and cutting into newspapers' revenue. Even software giants such as Microsoft and phone companies such as Pacific Bell are getting into the act.

In addition, the Neoglyphics Media Corporation and the Sun-Times Company today announced the launch of the Chicago Newspaper Network Online, which includes content from 70 newspapers in Chicago and its suburbs, such as the Chicago Sun-Times, the Daily Southtown, Pioneer Press, and Star Newspapers.

The print media have been criticized for their sleepy response to online advertising, but the NewsWorks site is clearly one of its most aggressive efforts. Its launch is likely to further heat up the space.

"NewsWorks is a national network on the World Wide Web consisting of dozens of affiliated Web sites operated by major newspaper and media companies," the beta site read. "The network sells national advertising on behalf of the affiliates, creates unique Web sites that direct readers to content on affiliate sites, and provides syndicated content and technology tools to the affiliates."

The less elaborate prototype shows a daily national news service built from stories submitted by newspaper Web sites from throughout the country. The prototype also tests linking and promotion of local sites.

A beta version of the site today showed a package dubbed "Dissing Disney," which included stories about the vote by the leadership of Southern Baptists to boycott Disney because of its allegedly "pro-gay" company policies. The stories came from papers such as the Dallas Morning News, Miami Herald, Newsday, and Macon Telegraph.

There also is a spotlight on specialty sites from the newspapers, such as Hollywood Online, as well as stories in categories such as Money, Lifestyles, Entertainment, Science/Technology, and Kids' Stuff.

NewsWorks is being put together by a large team of editors in New York. More than 125 papers are affiliates; that number is expected to jump to 120 by year's end, according to the site. Besides the New York Times, Times Mirror, and the Tribune, the sites' owners are Advance Publications, Cox Newspapers, Gannett, Hearst Corporation, Knight-Ridder, and the Washington Post.

The pitch to lure advertisers gets right to the point: "Here is a network of the strongest local media brands in the country. And with the Web's largest editorial team--more than 25,000 journalists--it's no surprise that a recent survey by the NPD Group, a market research firm, found newspapers to be among the most popular sites on the Internet. Their words reach 25 million households every day."

The service lets advertisers target specific countries, regions, or cities. Ads also can be linked to the news of the day or corresponding editorial sections. Advertisers also can sponsor contests, games, online focus groups, and surveys.

What the sales pitch fails to mention--at least the prototype pitch--is that the news stories are not posted as they break; they are aggregated from the regular daily newspaper cycle. That may make them too stale for some Netizens' appetites.

Yet Papanek sees NCN's strength in packaging news, as it did today with Disney. "Each package will explore a topic by combining the best local reporting, expertise from the world's leading journalists, and views and commentary from around the nation," he added.

The company is also expecting to launch other products and event-based content this year, as well as personalization and other interactive features, according to Papanek.