Citizen Gates, Publisher

Microsoft launches a Washington-based on-line publishing venture in the first of what is expected to be a network of regional news bureaus

P> Even Microsoft Corp. thinks Washington, D.C., is the Internet capital of the country. Or so suggests the giant software company's launch of a mid-Atlantic on-line publishing venture and its efforts to enlist Washington, D.C.-based editors and writers to run it.

To jump-start the latest of a slew of localized Internet projects that include Vienna, Va.-based America Online Inc.'s digital cities, PSINet's Pipeline in Herndon, Va., and the Washington Post's Digital Ink, Microsoft recruiters are coming to Washington Feb. 1 and 2 to interview potential candidates.

In a want ad published Jan. 14 in the Washington Post, Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft said it plans to establish an on-line informational resource "with a mid-Atlantic regional flair." "If you know Washington, you should get to know Microsoft a lot better," the ad said.

A Microsoft spokesperson, who did not want to be identified, said she first heard about the new venture when job-hunters started calling. Microsoft is actively recruiting journalists and other people who have expertise outside the computer industry, she said. "This is something that's clearly designed to beef up the content for the Microsoft Network."

A similar ad is running in the Chicago area, she said. The strategic placement of ads in Washington and Chicago suggests Microsoft is building a network of regional bureaus for its on-line service, much the way newspapers maintain bureaus in big cities across the country.

The two top jobs open in the Washington area are managing publisher and senior editor. The publisher would oversee content for the service, direct local editorial and marketing staff and work on regional partnerships. Microsoft said its ideal candidate would have strong connections in the editorial world. The editor would format and edit the content for "consumer audiences."

"If you've ever wanted to start your own on-line magazine, here's your chance to do just that..." teased the ad.

The regional recruitment may be the first we are hearing from Michael Kinsley, who announced in November he was leaving CNN's "Crossfire" to launch a Microsoft on-line magazine. The Washington focus, of course, would come naturally to Kinsley who has made a living for years as a Beltway insider pundit. And now that Kinsley has jumped the paper ship, other journalists might find it easier to follow.

Most Washington Internet providers -- and now competitors -- had not heard of Microsoft's plans. "It looks like they're slated to establish a D.C. presence," said Aggie Nteta, a spokeswoman for PSINet's Pipeline, which offers localized service in New York, Boston, Atlanta, Las Vegas, Dallas, and of course, Washington, D.C.

Washington is a popular place to start, she said, because it's the home of America Online and so many other big Internet players. But Nteta said she wouldn't have expected Microsoft to choose Washington over the cities in its own backyard. "I was surprised they were starting in Washington. For us, since we're here, it makes sense."

Regardless, Microsoft clearly sees the potential in building communities on the Internet -- something customers have said they want. "All the major players are doing it now," said Nteta.

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