Knight-Ridder, publisher of the San Jose Mercury News, bought the company that publishes the San Mateo Daily News, and four other free papers in Burlingame, Redwood City, Palo Alto, and Los Gatos. This is a significant media shift, both in the Bay Area and nationwide.

The big monopoly metro dailies are facing death from a thousand paper cuts, from the Internet as well as from free dailies and weeklies. The NY Times just bought into a free paper that competes with its own Boston Globe. The SF Examiner has launched a new edition in Washington, DC. This probably marks the beginning of the end of big papers’ strategy of using zoned editions to compete in suburban markets.

In the corporate press release, Hilary Schneider, senior vice president/operations for Knight Ridder, said, “These newspapers are widely embraced by the communities they serve. They provide the kind of ‘micro-local’ coverage that larger metro dailies often do not, but that many consumers and small advertisers clearly seek.”

Significantly, the newly-acquired company will report to Hilary Schneider at the corporate home office and not the San Jose Mercury News. I expect to see KR provide the capital to expand this mini-chain throughout the Bay Area, both deepening their coverage in Santa Clara County, the Mercury News’ home market, and broadening it in San Mateo County, where the Chron and ANG (SM County Times, Pacifica Tribune) are dominant.

In northern California, KR also owns the Contra Costa Times and the Monterey Herald. I worked for the Mercury News in the mid-nineties, as one of the architects of their Web site.