NEWSPAPERS FORM UNIQUE ON-LINE ASSOCIATION

One group taking a systematic approach to delivering detailed community and subject information is the New Century Network (NCN). Made up of the New York Times, Washington Post, Gannett, the Tribune Company, Knight-Ridder, the Times Mirror Company, Hearst, Cox, and Advance, the network has chosen the Internet as its venue.

Within the next two years, the association hopes to get at least 75 papers running on the Internet in their local markets using NCN-developed standards. These standards would cover security, billing, and usage tracking. In addition, NCN is developing Web-browsing software for members.

As NCN's standards take root and the number of affiliates grows, says interim president Peter Winter, readers of one paper's Web edition will be able to move seamlessly to others within the network. From there, he says, the group hopes to "spawn hundreds of ad hoc content-development projects." For example, he says, "It is unlikely that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution can develop a best-of-the-breed skiing application. But affiliates in Boulder and Denver could set up a premium site."

Mr. Winter refuses to speculate on the impact the alliance may have in drawing existing electronic editions from commercial on-line services. Yet, he notes, the day after NCN announced its formation and goals, "Prodigy announced that it would develop Internet services in compliance with NCN standards."

Under NCN's scenario, subscribers would still sign up for their local papers' electronic editions. But through those local connections, subscribers could turn to specialty Web sites built around small groups of papers with recognized expertise covering particular subjects.

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