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By JOE BEL BRUNO Staff Reporter

The local news wars have found a new battle front the Internet.

Two Los Angeles stations are preparing to launch their own on-line editions within the next month. Both KCBS-TV Channel 2 and KABC-TV Channel 7 plan to provide news, weather, sports and other features for those who might miss their regular broadcasts.

The ventures come at a time when broadcast companies throughout Los Angeles and the nation are jockeying for space on the web. Locally, KFWB-AM 980, KNX-AM 1070, KNBC-TV Channel 4, and KTLA-TV Channel 5 are among the media outlets with on-line services.

All are following last July’s launch of MSNBC the cable and on-line station born of a Microsoft Corp. and NBC marriage. The other major networks are following close behind in offering national news, with tie-ins to local affiliates.

ABC last week announced it would launch an on-line product to compete with MSNBC. CBS and Fox are also exploring the idea of providing news in both mediums.

“It’s not just a new frontier,” said Sherrie Mazingo, chair of the broadcast journalism department at the University of Southern California. “This is also a new battlefield, and broadcast companies will all be jumping onto the net almost simultaneously.”

That appears to be the case with KABC and KCBS. Both stations expect to be competing for news-hungry computer users within the next four weeks. And each station vows that its website will be more comprehensive than the other.

KCBS general manager John Culliton said the new service will give the station “an ability to have more depth than we have.”

Users will log on to see headlines for some of the top stories of the day, along with myriad other choices including up-to-the-minute traffic and weather information. By clicking their cursor on a headline, users can then view photos and text, and find out when the story will be broadcast on the air.

At some point, Culliton envisions the ability for users to watch videos that go along with each story.

Culliton was instrumental in launching a similar service for Minneapolis’ WCCO-TV, the local CBS affiliate.

He said the service was launched last January with nearly a half-million visitors each day beating out the 15,000 who visit a website jointly operated by the Twin Cities’ two daily newspapers.

At KCBS, he said the service will rely on other media to participate. Buzz Magazine has already agreed to provide listings and stories for the website. Meanwhile, the classic rock station KCBS-FM 93.1 will offer music news and concert information.

Other links under consideration include the Dodgers, Kings and Lakers.

Also part of the project are AT & T; WorldNet, which will provide network support, and Internet Broadcasting System, a three-year-old Internet consulting service in Minneapolis.

One aspect of the KCBS site which still does not have a web address is that it will have its own staff of news gatherers, designers, technicians and sales and marketing representatives.

“We’re doing this to accommodate the schedule of our viewers whose schedules won’t permit them to catch the news,” Culliton said. “I picture a person who will log on to see what’s on our newscasts, then watch the news, then go back on the web to get more information. It is all at the user’s convenience.”

The same applies at KABC, said Bill Burton, the station’s director of creative services. He said their website is a direct challenger to MSNBC, but will compete on a more local level.

The website will offer about 20 local and national text stories for users to choose from. Some of the stories will be produced locally, while others will be linked to ABC’s upcoming cyberspace network.

“There will be seamless integration,” Burton said about KABC’s net service and “abcnews.com.”

“You’ll be able to switch back and forth between the network and the local station to get all kinds of information.”

KABC also plans to offer partnerships with other companies to provide more information, similar to KCBS, though the station will not release details.

Burton, who says he’s been increasing his Internet usage lately, believes there is enough room on cyberspace for all four networks.

“There are seven TV stations in this market that all cover similar news stories, but people still make choices on their favorites that fit their lifestyles and what they prefer,” he said. “The Internet will provide the same. Your inclination will be to go where you know, and won’t be much different than the TV audience.”

“I don’t think we’ll reach a saturation point this is truly a dogfight of the highest order between TV news, newspapers, radio stations and other services providing on-line news,” said USC’s Mazingo. “The numbers are all in, and they say this is, or soon will be, very profitable.”

An estimated 15 million people use the Internet, a jump from 6 million last year, Mazingo said.

Internet subscribers that access news on line rose from 38 percent in 1995 to 48 percent in 1996, according to the Radio Television News Directors Foundation Survey.

“The Internet is going to become a mainstream medium, and it may over time out perform traditional established media in this regard,” Mazingo said. “We may very well see a day in which more people will access cyberspace news than bare hard and fast newspapers, and even in television.”

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