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Newspaper publishers in talks about national network for online advertising

NEW YORK - The three largest newspaper publishers in the country are in talks to create a national network to sell online advertising, hoping to claw back some of the ad dollars that have been migrating to the Internet.

The network's founding members would be Gannett Co., publisher of USA Today and the largest U.S. newspaper company; Tribune Co., and McClatchy Co., but the network would be open to others as well, Gannett spokeswoman Tara Connell said. The story was reported in Wednesday editions of The Wall Street Journal.

Connell said the talks on the network were continuing, and declined to comment further on the details. Tribune spokesman Gary Weitman also confirmed that the talks were under way and said they were in the ''formative stages.'' McClatchy declined to comment.

The new network, if it winds up being created, would stand apart from a separate effort being pursued by a group of other newspaper publishers to sell help-wanted advertising online in conjunction with Yahoo Inc.

That group, which includes Hearst Corp., MediaNews Group Inc. and several other publishers, is also in discussions with Yahoo about expanding their cooperation into other areas. The group working with Yahoo has also said it is open to others joining.

The stocks of publicly held newspaper publishers have languished recently as advertising dollars move to the Internet and as newspaper circulation continues a long-term decline. Newspapers' revenues from online advertising have been rising rapidly, but not enough to compensate for the sluggishness in print advertising, which still makes up most of their business.

Advertising at newspaper Web sites rose 23 percent in the third quarter of last year compared with the same period a year earlier but print advertising declined 2.6 percent, resulting in an overall decline of 1.5 percent, according to the Newspaper Association of America, an industry group.

Gannett, Tribune and McClatchy already cooperate in several other areas, including an online and print help-wanted advertising venture called CareerBuilder, which has grown rapidly and competes against Monster Worldwide Inc.

The Journal reported that the new online advertising network would target national advertisers, an area that newspapers have tried to coordinate in the past but with limited success. Gannett's CEO Craig Dubow referred to discussions about an online advertising network to investors in December.