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If any company had the local and regional footprints to build a local editorial network, it would probably be Gannett, with its 85 newspapers. If Gannett were to go that route, I always thought the conduit would be USA Today.

USA Today, however, has traditionally steered clear of integration with the local papers. It has waded in a little, with classifieds and regional news clips, etc. But clearly, it wasn’t going to be Gannett’s connector service.

Now Gannett has gotten much bolder with the development of ContentOne. The new service, which debuts next week with coverage of the presidential inauguration, uses USA Today as a foundation for vertical and horizontal content, but not as the body of the service itself. All the ContentOne material will be branded with the logos (and ads) of the local papers.

ContentOne incorporates content from Gannett’s local vertical properties such as MomsLikeMe and the Metromix entertainment guide. It also adds Mogulus, the live video feed provider in which Gannett invested $10 million last summer.

The service also has the ability to add special features on a customized basis. For the inauguration, it will feature student essays, and news-related advertising and items for sales, such as Inauguration Day coffee mugs with various Gannett front pages on them.

By serving both national and local users, Gannett thinks it has a national/local network that may reach 50 million unique users, which would be quite a threshold. As Jim Hopkins at Gannett Blog points out, it would be double Gannett’s current take of 25.4 million.  Hopkins provides a lot of additional information in his piece.

Gannett itself is in an interesting situation as the only major newspaper company with lots of cash right now. To date, it has used its money to shore up its PointRoll agency, buy out its partners in ShopLocal and buy a larger piece of CareerBuilder. And as noted above, it has also developed Tribune’s Metromix for its own markets, and launched a number of vertical sites, such as MomsLikeMe, plus and a high school sports site. It’s also a partner with Tribune Co., Hearst and The New York Times Co. in the QuadrantOne national ad network.

The company’s efforts, under digital chief Chris Saridakis, have boosted online revenues 6 percent in the past year, while other newspaper companies are seeing flat results. But for all that, Gannett still only gets 4.5 percent of its revenues from online (if I read the online statements correctly). That’s considerably less than many other companies, which are typically getting 7 percent to 8 percent from online.

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