The Color of News
Online — Polls and Horserace Top the List
The top news Web sites gave relatively less coverage to the campaign when compared with other media sectors.
On the five popular news Web sites that PEJ monitored (AOL, Yahoo, Google News, CNN.com, and MSNBC.com), one-quarter (25%) of the newshole was devoted to covering the campaign, slightly more than newspapers (21%), but significantly less than the broadcast media sectors (cable TV devoted 60% of their newshole, network TV 41%, and radio news 47%.) 
The tone of Barack Obama’s online coverage closely resembled the tone of the coverage he received overall. Online, 37% of Obama’s stories were positive, 33% were neutral, and 30% were negative. These numbers are similar to those he received in all media with 36% positive, 35% neutral, and 29% negative.
John McCain, however, received more critical coverage online than in the media overall. Fully two-thirds of the online campaign stories about McCain were negative, which was significantly higher than the 57% in the media overall. Less than a tenth of online stories about McCain were positive (9%).
Sarah Palin’s online coverage was less neutral than it was in other media, meaning that she had a higher percentage of both positive and negative stories. Online, Palin received 32% positive coverage and 46% negative (21% was neutral), while the media overall gave Palin 28% positive, 33% neutral, and 39% negative.
One-fifth of online coverage was focused on the policy elements of the campaign, which was the same as the media overall. Where the Web coverage differed was in focusing more on stories about the candidate’s public records and less on other types of political stories such as fundraising and advertisements.
Seven percent of the online coverage was about the public records and past histories of the candidates, compared to 5% of the overall coverage. There was slightly less personal coverage online (4% compared to 5% overall) and even less coverage of these other types of political stories (6% compared to 10%).
Looking at specific storylines, the Web sites studied here stood out for greater attention than other sectors to stories about the candidate’s latest standings in the polls. These stories about presidential preferences accounted for 12% of the online coverage studied, versus 6% overall. No other media sector devoted even half as much of their campaign newshole to poll-focused stories. Web sites spent almost the exact amount of their reporting space on polls as they did on stories focused on the economy and the ongoing financial crisis together.
Other storylines that were followed online more so than in other sectors included the vice presidential debate and the question of voting irregularities. The October 2 debate between Biden and Palin was the focus of 11% of the online coverage and was the third most followed campaign story online. Voting issues and irregularities, such as questions surrounding the voter registration group ACORN, were the subject of 5% of the online coverage while it was about half that (2.5%) in the media overall.
1. The radio sample includes NPR’s morning edition and the radio news headlines from CBS and ABC. Talk radio programming is not included in this study.