April 10, 2000

ePolitics

Site Profiles

AOL.com
CNN/AllPolitics.com
GO.com
MSN.com
MSNBC.com
National Review Online
Netscape.com
NewYorkTimes.com
Pathfinder/Time.com
Salon.com
WashingtonPost.com
Yahoo.com


AOL.com

America Online has become the biggest Internet service provider in the country largely on the strength of a reputation as a friendly, easy-to-use service. Unfortunately, that attitude doesn't extend to the political news section of its web site.

AOL's politics news page is quite difficult to find. From www.aol.com, one must click on the "news" link, which is about two-thirds of the way down the page and listed with other "Web Centers." This takes the user to "My AOL.com," a news menu which features another link for "News" at the top of the page. Clicking on this link brings the user to a second news menu. Roughly a third of the way down this menu is a link to "Latest Politics (Reuters)." Scroll, click, scroll, click, scroll, click. Whew.

Once the user has found the page, he or she may wonder if the effort was worth it. The page features the headlines and first paragraphs of ten articles, all provided by Reuters. However, during the period of our study, only 4 to 7 of these stories at any given time were actually political stories. The others dealt with subjects like foreign policy or Presidential activity. As is the case with Netscape's Political News Channel, this suggests that it's simply where AOL puts stories about policy and process, as well as those about politics.

AOL offers no interactive opportunities, no links to other news sites or resource pages, and no audio/visual content. What it does offer is promotions-links to AOL's NetMail feature, to a download site for AOL Instant Messenger, and to AOL's Community Directory.

Lead Stories

The lead stories are what one might expect from a site that relies wholly on wire service copy. Reading through its coverage is a lot like reading through the political wire cue in a newsroom.

The stories are largely short-less than 20 paragraphs-and very reactive. Reading the lead political story on AOL is like getting a snapshot of that moment on the day you look. The stories are updated constantly, but they lack an overall context and depending on when the reader happens by he or she may miss news.

On February 28, the day of John McCain's Virginia Beach speech, a casual reader checking in at our times would have found nothing in the lead story on what was undoubtedly the biggest political news of the day. Instead, the pieces that appeared were stage-setters for upcoming primaries and, later in the day, coverage of Gore campaign speeches. This may have been due to the particular times we surfed by, but that is, in some ways, the point.

The news users get here is completely determined by when they choose to visit. AOL and many of the other portals we examined do little to help make the news meaningful or place it in context.

 
 


CNN/AllPolitics.com

CNN's AllPolitics page is a lot like its TV cousin: Straightforward, solid and a lot of it.

Also like its cable-TV counterpart, it has not adopted the edge and attitude of net. This is Buick, not BMW.

Still, this is one of the richer and more user friendly sites we found.

The page is easily reached by clicking the "Politics" link in the upper left-hand corner of cnn.com. It leads off with a main story followed by several other "featured" stories-it lists earlier stories further down the page.

Readers can also access selected political stories from the current issue of Time magazine. In fact, between the site's own coverage and Time's, the page never featured fewer than 20 stories during the days we studied.

CNN does one of the better jobs of providing access to other resources-links to prior coverage, delegate counts, primary results, candidate bios, and other useful information in a pull-down menu at the top of the page. The pull-down feature keeps things uncluttered, but there's a trade off . It also makes it easy to overlook the information.

The site also features a link to the CSPAN/Virage video archive, though CNN does not offer the useful and time-saving search capabilities featured on some of the other sites examined.

Lead Stories

CNN deserves credit for the way it handles lead stories. While it could use its 24-hours-a-day TV format to update just for the sake of updating, the site's producers seem to make those decisions based more on the significance of the news than on their ability to do so. Overall, the lead stories were completely new 54% of the time. CNN also seems to pick and choose its lead stories by similar judgment of what it deems best rather than what is produced in house. Its lead pieces usually were a mix of wire and staff reports combined (70%). A quarter of the stories were generated solely by CNN.

The pieces were generally quite lengthy-two thirds were more than 26 paragraphs long-and were usually framed as straight news-91 percent of the stories. The stories were also largely reactive, written in response to something a candidate said or did, but they usually included some attempt at analysis beyond the John said George said.

In general, this is a good place to get a feel for the ebb and flow of the news. Looking at CNN's site on March 6, for instance, one could see the media shift from painting Super Tuesday as a big day to the likely end to the primary season. The early stories, 9 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., were general round-ups "Crunch time for candidates as Super Tuesday looms." But by 4:30 p.m. there was a feeling of finality to the lead, "Strong 'Super Tuesday' showings by Bush, Gore could narrow the field." By 9 p.m. the headline had become "Super Tuesday sweeps by Bush, Gore could settle party contests."

The lead stories on Allpolitics.com seem to fit well with the CNN franchise. This makes sense for brand identification. But it is not clear how much the site will extend CNN to a new audience of younger or hipper viewers who are not already the news junkies who watch its 24-7 cable coverage.

 
 


GO.com

Go's political page is one of the best web-portal pages we looked at. Its affiliation with ABC News separated it from Yahoo! and Netscape by giving it original content and an identity that was something more than just a wire-service outlet.

At first glance, the site is a lot like other portals, with links to a number of category headings like Games, Health, Money. But on top of the homepage are two big differences-direct links to Disney's ESPN and ABC News sites. We found consistently throughout this study, sites with a true connection to a journalism company, offered a better product and a deeper use of the net than those that relied solely on another organization for their news.

Readers simply click on the ABC News Link and once there, they click on the "politics" button in the left-hand column of the page. This leads to the Political Nation Summary.

Go's politics page is one of the more story-heavy pages we studied, with 20 or more stories at all times. The bulk of these stories were original reporting by ABC News personnel. Some stories were text-based, while others were broadcast ABC stories. Supplemental stories came from a variety of newspapers, rather than from a single wire service, which indicates that there's a greater degree of editorial oversight in their selection here than at some other sites.

Other resources on the page include primary returns, candidate bios, an interactive exit poll, a link to the CSPAN/Virage video search engine, and a search of the campaign donor database. The page also links to ABC News and the New York Times' political chat.

Lead Stories

The lead stories we found were an interesting mix of straight news and analysis based apparently on some subtle attempt at branding. Though almost all were written by ABC News staff-92 %–the pieces varied greatly in tone depending on who exactly wrote the story. And recognizable ABC News personalities seemed to get more editorial leeway.

On March 6, for instance, the morning lead by staff writer Carter Yang was "Bush, McCain Fight to Finish," a piece that largely dealt with the trading of allegations between the campaigns. But the afternoon lead by ABC News's Ann Compton, "General Interest," was a look at the campaign's strategic situation. Compton explained how Super Tuesday was already old news to the campaigns and how their strategies were really concerned with November. Though the piece was not without sources, there was a lot of the author's analysis gluing it all together.

One interesting side point: Compton's piece was set apart from the rest of the material on the site. In addition to editorial leeway, Compton was given a mug shot and the rubric "On Background" on her piece. While the added flash was supposed to signify the reader was getting the inside dope on the race, apparently no one at ABC thought "On Background," which in journalistic speak means material is withheld from the reader, is a curious title to give something added appeal.

 
 


MSN.com

The best way to describe the political page of the Microsoft Network portal, MSN, is a kind of Hotline for the Internet. With a puckish tone, the page basically summarizes the biggest political stories of the day from the biggest papers and gives readers the chance to click on the summaries to read the entire pieces themselves.

MSN likes to brag that the site is "powered by" the Internet magazine Slate, and the presence of the Michael Kinsley edited online magazine does show in the page's attitude, the quality of the editorial decisions and the presence of Slate material. The page, which is easily accessible from msn.com by clicking the "Politics" link on the left-hand side, is a good cheat sheet for political reporters.

The top stories on MSN's Politics page are listed in a column down the center, with headlines and one or two descriptive sentences. This page features both original stories and links to stories by other news organizations. And while this is a somewhat common practice on the Internet-we've seen this done at sites like Salon and the New York Times-MSN/Slate is unusual in that it treats many of these externally generated stories the same way it does original pieces. Between original reporting and external stories, MSN never ran fewer than 20 pieces at any given time.

MSN also offers a number of stories and other features provided in a column paid for by Netivation's Votenet, a service that designs web sites for political campaigns. While advertising on web sites is nothing new, we thought this approach was worth noting, both for the fact that it provides substantive information and resources and because it's aimed at the people who run campaigns, not the people who vote in elections.

MSN/Slate also offers copious links to other news sites; between 16 and 20 on the days we examined the site. It also provides links to campaign calendars, the Federal Election Commission, the web sites of the major and minor political parties, and the C-SPAN/Virage video archive, as well as to its own discussion forum and several off-site message boards

The biggest strength of MSN/Slate's Politics page is its use of external sites to give users both a full picture of the day's news as reported by others, and the tools to learn more about the campaign, the candidates, and the issues. One nifty feature lets readers enter their zip code to see what their neighbors are contributing and to whom. But this is also a weakness; at times, the page feels more like a weblog than a news page.

Lead Stories

While the leads were often not from Slate-about 50 percent of the time they came from another news organization-they were almost always significant. And in some ways gathering the lead stories by combing the web for political information showed more editorial thought than simply putting a Slate story on top.

Many people correctly attack the Internet for not having original content and some might say MSN is being lazy by simply posting other organization's stories on the top of their site. But by singling out what its editors believed was the most interesting or important piece of political news–regardless of the byline-MSN/Slate is doing users a service. This is both a smart portal and news site in one.

MSN's mischievous nature-Slate also was the news organization that broke an embargo on exit poll data-sometimes rears its head in the stories the site selects. On March 6, for example, the two early times we visited the site, 9 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., the lead was a piece from the Washington Post's site about none other than how Slate had broken the exit poll embargo. But at 4:30 p.m. and 9 p.m., the lead was a link to the Weekly Standard's pieces about Bush and Catholics.

The original reporting from Slate itself is also worth noting. For one thing the pieces are usually shorter than a lot of others, which is frankly refreshing. They were by and large also interesting. But they were generally think pieces with little or no reporting-and occasionally more attitude than thinking. Here we found the net that some people have come to imagine.

Nonetheless, this is among the strongest political web sites we found, especially for the political class.

 
 


MSNBC.com

This site is not to be confused with MSN.com. MSNBC.com is the official online presence of the television networks MSNBC and NBC News. MSN, in contrast, is run by Microsoft and its subsidiaries, and its political page is produced by Slate.

You can tell the difference. This site doesn't reach beyond its newsroom and has some of the weaknesses of MSNBC cable and not enough of the experience and synthesis of NBC News.

Anyone who's watched more than ten minutes of MSNBC has heard anchors and reporters refer viewers to msnbc.com for more information. Anyone looking for political news will have to do a fair-to-middling amount of digging to get it.

Going to www.msnbc.com takes the user to the site's "cover" page. Clicking the "news" button atop the menu in the left-hand column leads to a page that asks the user if he or she wants to download the MSNBC News Menu. Don't say yes or you will have to sit through a lengthy download that isn't what you're looking for. Clicking "no" leads to the MSNBC's news index page. About halfway down this page is a link to the Politics Section.

The page leads off with a bold red headline and four featured stories above a menu of webcast reports, interactive elements, and election information links. MSNBC tended to have a high number of stories, never fewer than 20, and these tended to be a mix of original pieces and stories from NBC's new partners, the Washington Post or Newsweek. In this regard, MSN/Slate drew from a larger universe of journalism.

In addition to an interactive bulletin board, the page also added interactive elements to its candidate profiles and issues pages. One nice feature was something called "candidate matchmaker," which allowed users to compare their opinions on issues to those of the Presidential candidates. MSNBC deserves credit for bringing some interactivity to these fairly common features.

Perhaps surprisingly, the MSNBC Politics section features no links to unfiltered audio/visual material. The few video elements available on the site tend to be webcasts of NBC and MSNBC stories, but not full audio/video of speeches, debates and the like.

Lead Stories

The site wants you to know that it is "up to date" and that means its lead stories are updated -sometimes ad nauseam-throughout the day. And while updating may be the heart and soul of journalism, MSNBC's updates sometimes offer little more than an additional paragraph from a wire story.

The effects of this practice are three-fold. First the majority of pieces (67%) are written jointly by staff and wire services. Second, the pieces are quite long-more than 8 in ten were more than 26 paragraphs. And third, by the end of the day the pieces are sometimes like giant balls of lint-there's a little of everything, but not a lot of coherence. There seems to be no distinction between updating a story to provide more information, clarification, or perspective and updating for the sake of updating.

Still, the news here is comprehensive, though we sometimes wondered why the stories couldn't have had a little more NBC and little less MS. They don't really tap the potential of NBC News here that much. As an example, more full video of speeches and other events would have been a welcomed addition to simply seeing the short TV pieces about these events.

On the day of McCain's Virginia Beach speech, for instance, the site did include audio clips of some of the speech-short ones. But its video link was more self-promotional, a network report on Bush's apology for his Bob Jones speech.

While not a bad site, one is left wondering whether the push toward soft news and prime time magazine infotainment stories at NBC News are coming home to roost in the unrealized potential of this web site.

 
 


National Review Online

This is not your father's National Review. NRO tries to be the hipper offspring of its paper-bound namesake. How much hipper? Would William F. Buckley ever have headlined a story, "How McCain Bitch-Slapped Pete King," the way NRO did on February 24?

While that's not exactly standard Buckley phrasing-unless we missed the "Firing Line" Puffy Combs interview-the piece was an interesting look at how, even after a short-lived but rather nasty public feud, Long Island Rep. Peter King came to endorse John McCain. The piece read like a lot of the material on this site-interesting and provocative.

News is front and center–not buried–on this site. All of its current content is listed on its front page. This makes it easier for a visitor to find political news, but probably has more to do with the fact that The National Review is a political magazine, as opposed to a more general-interest news source. Updates to the site during the period of our study were frequent; on big news days (primaries, McCain's Virginia Beach speech), it was not unusual for the site to be updated several times a day. Stories are easy to find thanks to clear headings at the top.

NRO includes news pieces focused on specific issues (McCain speeches, primary results, etc.) with an editorial bent, more general opinion columns by contributors, Q&As, and links to selected articles from the print edition of the National Review. Interactive elements include a "question of the day" feature called Vox Populi and two reader forums.

Like its parent magazine, NRO makes no bones about its ideological stance. That acknowledgment makes the site appealing to those who share its philosophy and serves as fair notice to those who don't.

Lead Stories

The choice of lead stories show this site is not suffering from an identity crisis like so many of the other old-media entrants on the net. The pieces were always written by staff and were updated daily, except for weekends when stories sometimes lingered. But NRO largely avoided covering breaking news and stuck to its franchise: conservative think pieces that dealt with the news of the day, but didn't necessarily react to it.

The site also didn't skimp on the bylines of its featured web pieces. The stories were not written by interns or some kid in the office who just happens to know html. Contributors include William F. Buckley, National Review Editor Rich Lowry and magazine regular Kate O'Beirne. And while none of the pieces was an epic treatise-nearly all were less then ten paragraphs–clearly the site is meant to be a supplement to the hard-copy magazine, not a mirror of it or a replacement for it.

Still, as the bitch-slapping episode points out, the web does offer a chance for the magazine to push some boundaries-and, when necessary, sometimes pull them back. By 4:30, after a good lunch and perhaps an e-mail from the boss, the headline on the piece in question was changed to "How McCain Ripped Pete King."

 
 


Netscape.com

Netscape may be the most popular portal on the web and the darling of the anti-Microsoft camp, but its political news page was perhaps the most anemic one we examined. Even in the weak field of web portals, it offered remarkably little. The site featured no original reporting, no interactive elements, and offers little in the way of additional resources. It really looks like it exists only because a portal has to have news of some sort.

Even finding political news on Netscape can be a bit of a chore. First, the user must click on one of the "Latest News" headlines on Netscape's home page. This takes the user to that story and a menu of news topics. Clicking the "Political News" link in that menu will finally bring the user to news about politics.

Once the user has finally found it, Netscape's Political News page usually offers links to only a modest number of stories, between five and ten. Moreover, these stories can be summarized in three words: Reuters wire copy. All the stories came directly from the foreign-based Reuters wire service. Another problem is the stories are listed by headline alone, without the aid of any summary or lead paragraph. This often makes the headlines seem to blur together.

And many of the stories listed at any given time had little to do with politics, but were rather about foreign policy development, congressional votes, presidential appointments, and other governmental events. It may be true that there's often a fuzzy line between politics and policy, but the inclusion of articles about former CIA chief John Deutch's potential security breaches with his home computer or the presence of a U.S. envoy in Eritrea suggests that there is little editorial oversight of the page. It may be used as a home for governmental stories that don't fit into the other news categories on the Netscape site.

The Netscape Political News page has no interactive features or external news or voter links; what links are present take the user to other Netscape directory pages.

Lead Stories

As for its lead stories Netscape can take some pride in the fact that the pieces were changed regularly, even over the weekends. In all, more than 80% of the time its lead story was different at every four-hour interval.

These stories, not surprisingly, were also very reactive and were primarily focused on breaking news. The stories are on top of what is immediately happening, but they generally lack the perspective of the campaign stories that appear in the morning newspaper or on a nightly broadcast because the news is incomplete.

The day after the McCain's Michigan primary win, for instance, the page's lead stories marked the individual turns of American politics for the day. At 9 a.m. the political page led with "Bush Finds Silver Lining in Loss, Turns to Calif." By 12:30 p.m., the page had switched to a completely different story, "McCain Back in Race After Mich Victory." Four hours later the page was warning of how "Key Senators Say China Deal in Jeopardy." By 9 p.m., the page had jumped to the New Jersey Senate race with "Florio Crushing Corzine in Senate Race-N.J. Poll."

A reader's idea of the day's most important political story, in other words, would be completely contingent upon when the reader happened to surf by, and not upon what an editorial staff has determined based on what's happening in the world. More difficult, some of the top stories from early in the day were entirely missing from the site a few hours later.

 
 

NewYorkTimes.com

The Times' online presence is as close to a digital replica of the paper as one can get. There is little visual flash. Even on the Politics page, the color scheme is black and white, with the Old English masthead off to the side. In many ways, the site reflects its parent paper in content as well: it's thorough, it's sober, and it's rich in useful information.

The Politics page's main attraction is its listing of the political stories from that day's newspaper, with usually five to ten featured stories and 16 to 20 stories overall. These original stories are supplemented by a column of political and campaign stories from the Associated Press wire service. These AP stories were updated throughout the day during our study. The politics page, which is easily accessed by clicking the "politics" link in the menu in the upper left-hand of nytimes.com, also offers links to selected election-related columns from the newspaper.

Along with political stories from the paper, the site also links to pages it has created about specific candidates, a delegate count by the AP, a campaign calendar, photo galleries, and a link to the C-SPAN/Virage video search engine. For those looking to get more interactive there is Times' political discussion forums and an interactive poll. The site also features a countdown of the number of days left until the election. The New York Times' Politics page is corner of the Times' front page.

Lead Stories

The lead story on the Times Political page is an interesting mix. The stories were overwhelmingly written by staff-83 percent of the time-and the morning political lead on the web was without exception the same as the paper's. But the site did not just sit on its hard copy content. When situation warranted, the paper changed its lead accordingly. The key phrase here being "when situation warranted."

Often Internet sites seem to update stories simply because they can, but like the Post's web site, the Times showed prudent restraint. It turned to that old-school idea of editorial judgement to help it decide when and how to update its stories. A good example is how the page handled the news on February 28, the day McCain gave his Virginia Beach speech.

At 9 a.m., the page led with a piece by Todd Purdum about the GOP's struggles to unite the party in California. By 12:30, the site had changed the lead to reflect McCain's speech. And even though the Times story was not yet ready to go, the site posted an Associated Press account to keep readers informed-along with the text of the speech. At the time of our next check, 4:30 p.m., the page still led with the McCain story, by now it had been written by staff, David Barstow. The story remained up for our 9 p.m. check as well.

The Times web stories, like those in the newspaper tended to be lengthy-usually more than 26 paragraphs-and the pieces were heavy on analysis.

In short, nytimes.com has carried over many of its better old-media habits to the new media without losing site of some of the web's capabilities. While it may lack some of the bells and whistles of washingtonpost.com, it still has New York Times quality judgment.

 
 

Pathfinder/Time.com

The good news is that Time magazine's political page features the same serious, insightful reporting that the magazine is famous for-at least, some wags might say, before it started running cover stories on Ricky Martin and Leonardo DiCaprio.

The page features long stories that put the week's events in some kind of perspective and are a change of pace from the shorter, more deadline-driven pieces elsewhere on the web.

The bad news is that what the page does is very limited. It runs only a handful of stories and does not change them for an entire week. In fact, CNN's Allpolitics page generally features more political articles from the current issue of Time than does Time's own page.

Time's political page is fairly easily reached by clicking the "Newsfiles" link near the top of the left-hand column of the time.com site. Once at the Newsfiles page, the Campaign 2000 page is at the top.

The page features links to one or two stories from each week's edition of Time, plus links to earlier articles, as well. The site, however, is relatively rich in other materials. There is a link to a list of the top donors to each party (though it is too general), and photo essays about some of the candidates. There are also biographical pages, and these include links to previous Time articles, to official campaign sites, and to profiles by the Center for Responsive Politics.

The page also does a fair job of providing links to many external resources, such as the FEC and the Democratic and Republican Congressional Campaign Committees. It features an interactive poll and links to time.com's message boards. The main drawback here is that the page is only updated once a week.

Lead Stories

The lead story made us feel this site is an old-media presence unsure of its place in the new media world. It basically offers the reader a chance to go through Time's lead political story of the week without plunking down $3.50 at the newsstand or getting a subscription. Thus it uses the Internet as marketing for its magazine, rather than a separate entity. This may explain why the site provides such a limited taste of what the magazine is offering for a price.

And while the web site can feel good about giving the reader the context often missing on some of the portal sites, its commitment to "repurposing" content (read: not changing the magazine stories it posts) often made it seem irrelevant. With McCain and Bush trading seesaw victories every Tuesday, all the newsweeklies were caught this year with cover stories that often seemed a week behind.

In the end, this makes the site feel more like a library of old magazines than part of an instantaneous new medium. The most interesting aspect is seeing how the primary race has changed since the magazine went to print.

 
 


Salon.com

Salon is probably best known in this election cycle for being the home of the reporter who tried to pass his cold to Gary Bauer by actively smearing his germs on everything the candidate came in contact with. But if one can ignore all the sneezing and door-knob licking (granted, that's not so easy) this site has some well-considered pieces.

Salon is a reasonably good idea of what an Internet magazine could be-mixing Internet tone and attitude with good reporting.

The online magazine's political content is easy to find. A simple click on the upper left-hand corner of the site's home, salon.com, takes a reader to the Politics2000 page. Once at Politics2000, there is several days' worth of political reporting, more than 20 stories at any given time during the period we examined. Updates can be frequent, when news is breaking or the site has an exclusive story.

The page includes straight news reporting, enterprise pieces, opinion pieces by Salon columnists, and reports from the campaign trail. Salon also provides directories that sort previous coverage by candidate, issue, and by "hot topics" like specific primaries or religion. Stories are listed by headline, with one- or two-sentence descriptions and the site's original reporting is supplemented with headline links to stories from the Associated Press and from CBS News.

On the interactive front there is a poll and links to its Table Talk forums – message boards where visitors can discuss specific topics or individual Salon articles. Salon also links to the C-SPAN/Virage video archive, and offers pull-down menus that help users tailor their search by candidate, party, or state.

Politics2000 has the same "voice" as the rest of Salon, which is to say, breezy, a little jaundiced, smart and occasionally sophomoric. It tries to inform without taking the subject matter entirely seriously.

Lead Stories

In its lead political stories Salon manages the balance between being a magazine and a web-site quite well. The stories are updated regularly, but they still hold a level of analysis and depth not seen in many of the constant update sites.

One can only wonder how much caffeine Salon reporters ingest since all the stories were staff written, most were lengthy, and sometimes the same reporter posted multiple stories a day.

The pieces generally lean left and the vast majority, 71%, were triggered by newsroom decisions. But for the most part they were well reported. Even the commentary in the lead pieces rarely leapt into a topic without first citing information.

Also worth noting is that contrary to the prevailing conventional wisdom, some of Salon's pieces were full of serious enterprise and investigative reporting. On March 5, for instance, Salon turned back to the topic of February 29th's Washington Primary and considered the possibility that McCain, long ago declared the loser by the mainstream media, might actually win the vote when all the absentee ballots were counted.

Of course, Salon also sometimes uses its magazine credentials as an excuse to do less tough-minded pieces. One lead story devoted itself entirely to comparing the vice president to Godfather character Michael Corleone, referring to the veep as Al Goreleone. Some ideas are best left to sleep with the fishes.

 
 

 
 
 


WashingtonPost.com

Interestingly, it is one of the giants of the old-media world that probably made the best use of what the new media has to offer. The Post's OnPolitics page mirrors the paper in tone and quality of reportage, but it also makes good use of its ability to update information and provides the user with many interactive options.

The page relies on its own people for most of its content and there are a lot of stories to read here daily. The page also offers links to previous series of articles on the main candidates, on George W. Bush's record as governor, and to a menu of stories about campaign issues and about the major events of the campaign to date.

The page, which is easily found by clicking the "Politics" button in the upper right-hand corner of washingtonpost.com, also features a number of "online extras," or web-exclusive columns. These include an ad watch by media reporter Howard Kurtz and two columns focusing on politics outside the Beltway, and an audio editorial cartoon, as well as more common online resources like a campaign calendar, delegate tallies, and photo galleries.

But OnPolitics' really shines in its attempt to take advantage of the interactive opportunities the Internet provides. In addition to an online poll and an online game, the page gives the user the chance to participate in chats with Post reporters, columnists, and outside experts. These chats are more focused than some online forums and provide users a chance to interact with knowledgeable individuals and not just their fellow Internet surfers.

The Post links to C-SPAN's Virage video archive with pull-down candidate and party menus to help users narrow their search for the footage they're interested in.

The OnPolitics page, like the New York Times' politics page, gets most of its content from its print parent, but doesn't limit itself to that.

Lead Stories

The Post's lead stories were always staff written. The page seemed to key its changes on significant developments in the race. Stories rarely changed for the sake of changing, but on days when real news was breaking the Post' page updated regularly.

The way the stories were handled suggests the Post's site is relatively comfortable in the new media world. Its model for lead story changes stays relatively true to the newspaper mission-it used editorial judgement to treat its lead updates like old-time newspaper Extras.

The site also took its cues from the newspaper in other ways. The morning lead story was without exception the lead political story in the paper, which meant it was relatively long-usually more than 26 paragraphs-and usually citing more than seven sources.

Overall, washingtonpost.com belies the impression that the old media are at a loss online. That is not true at the Washington Post, at least when it comes to the business of Washington-politics.

 
 

Yahoo.com

Another of the portals we looked at that gave us that feeling of reading through the political wire cue. If you can actually take the time to sit and read through everything on the page you might find it to be thorough on the whole, but its story selection was quirky. And though it was regularly updated, it was less than scintillating.

Like the other portals we examined, almost all of the news on Yahoo!'s page is provided by Reuters-with each story listed by headline followed by a line or two of the actual piece. The site also offered a few stories from National Public Radio, which can be listened to by people who have installed RealPlayer on their computer. Of the stories featured on the page, five to ten of them were campaign related. The rest, as was true of the other portals, were anything remotely related to the federal government.

Yahoo! offers more links to other resources and news sites than the other portal pages we examined. It included links to the Yahoo! Politics page (which is separate from the Politics News page), to a "Find Your Representative" page, and to a variety of news sites aimed at both the general audience and the political junkie. These features make it the best news resource we found among the portal sites we studied-though other non-portal sites still offered more.

The page was fairly easy to find. After getting to Yahoo!.com, one had to click the "News" link at the top of the screen, then look for "Politics" in a menu on the left on Yahoo!'s Daily News page.

Lead Stories

Like Netscape and AOL, Yahoo! relies on Reuters for its political coverage. And like those two sites its lead stories often seem to have been chosen more by chance than design.

The stories primarily focused on breaking news and were most often triggered by a candidate's actions. The stories generally stay up on what is immediately happening, but they generally lack the perspective of campaign roundup stories that appear in the morning newspaper or on a nightly broadcast. The reports are snapshots of the campaign throughout the day.

And occasionally there are glaring omissions. The day of McCain's Virginia Beach speech, for instance, Yahoo!'s lead political story never touched on the topic.

For those hungry for change, the site offers constant updates. But readers hoping to keep up on the nation's biggest political news by dropping by a site now and then might find life difficult in Yahoo!'s world.