It’s no secret newspapers are dying. Most are struggling to transition to a new digital environment. And let’s face it. Most newspaper web sites are pretty awful. Many are stuck in legacy platforms, saddled with expenses and without the resources necessary to bring their sites up to 2.0 snuff. (Sound familiar brokers?)

And since craigslist has already gutted their real estate advertising revenue, it seems many papers seem to be abandoning the space altogether. Leaving it as someone else’s problem.

Zillow.com announced today its plans to launch co-branded real estate Web sites with 180 newspapers across the US.

The Tampa Tribune and 100 other newspapers published by Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc. are amongst the first to take up the Zillow brand. For example, Homeseeker on TBO.com now just redirects all property searches to a cobranded Zillow page.

This is great news for Zillow who get all the SEO benefit of those inbound links, fantastic name brand awareness in each of these communities they go live in and tons more traffic to prop up their advertising CPMs.

And presumably, the newspapers get a cut on any ads sold in their Zillow space.

Of course, all of this isn’t particularly revolutionary, it builds on Trulia’s existing Publisher Platform and the granddaddy in the space, Classified Ventures’ Homefinder.

But it’s interesting to see the degree to which the newspapers don’t seem to care about monetizing real estate traffic on the ‘net. I’m not sure if its just not profitable (no advertisers) or they don’t have the capacity (or capability) to monetize it successfully and so are just willing to hand it off whole to a third party.

In any case, it seems a little short sighted.

A couple years ago I spoke to a group of newspaper advertising executives about what to do to save their real estate sections. I suggested that they look beyond banners and classifieds and build out a whole platform to support real estate agents and brokers taking their marketing messages to the web; a listing syndication engine, a blogging solution, an advertising platform, a video hosting tool.

The vision? Rather than simply preying on advertising dollars from the industry – build out the tools that the industry so desperately needs. Become a trusted service provider and build a bridge between the professionals and the community the paper serves. One that ultimately in fact could be leveraged by all verticals.

In today’s climate, that may be too ambitious, and too late. And it all hinges on whether the local newspaper brands are still even relevant in a few years. I’m not even sure about that anymore.

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