A study of the 2000 presidential campaign on the Internet
A close look at the most widely accessed Web portals reveals the dirty little secret of much of the Internet: wire copy-usually from Reuters, a conventional 149 year-old British wire service.
At the same time, the notion that the Old Media of television and especially newspapers use the Internet mostly for "shovelware," or as a dumping ground or morgue for yesterday's stories is also largely untrue.
While they run stories from their print or broadcast outlets, the web sites of traditional old media, are much more likely than Internet portals to exploit the Web's unique capabilities.
On the other hand, the worry that the Internet is a vast bastion of unsubstantiated rumor and innuendo is also false, the study found. The information on the Internet about the campaign is remarkably well sourced-and very little is based on anonymous sources.
These are some of the findings of a new study of political coverage on the most popular Internet sites by the Committee of Concerned Journalists. The study was produced for the Committee by the Project for Excellence in Journalism.
More and more citizens are turning to the Internet for news about the presidential election, especially as television abdicates covering the story. A survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found nearly a quarter of Americans are now getting at least some of their campaign news through the Internet . Another study by the Annenberg Public Policy Center and the Alliance for Better Campaigns found that the three major network newscasts are now averaging just 36 seconds a night of candidate discourse .
The Internet is also heralded for being a tool for citizen empowerment, for its ability to mix text, audio and video, and for its speed, openness and depth.
But what do citizens find about the election once they move online? How much is the Internet using its capacity? And for all the talk of a diverse landscape of information, how much do sites vary, say from portals like Netscape to online journalism sites like Salon?
To answer these questions, the Committee of Concerned Journalists examined 12 of the most popular web sites that provide news and information, including portals, purely online news sites and sites connected to Old Media news organizations, checking them repeatedly through the day on key dates during the primary season. In all, the study examined 72 political front pages and 286 lead stories on six selected dates from late February to just after Super Tuesday, March 7.
In addition, it studied the front pages of the print editions of the New York Times and the Washington Post for the same time period as a basis of comparison between print and the net.
The goal was to get a first look at what the Internet offers citizens looking for election news.
Among the findings:
The study examined the political front pages and lead stories of 12 of the most popular web sites, according to ratings data supplied by Media Metrix, a leader in Internet and digital media measurement.
The sites studied included portals of the five most popular properties on the web that carry news: AOL Network's Netscape; AOL Network's AOL News (not the subscriber news page but the portal AOL.com) Yahoo! Sites' Yahoo!, Microsoft's MSN (which links to Slate's political page), and Go Network's Go, which is owned by Disney and gets news supplied by its subsidiary ABC News.
The study then added the three top web news sites that supply election news: MSNBC (The NBC News run site), Pathfinder/Time Inc. (which is really Time magazine's site), and CNN.
The study then selected two prominent Internet magazine sites and two newspaper web sites for inclusion not based on Media Metrix data: These included Salon, National Review Online, The New York Times on the Web, and Washingtonpost.com.
Studying this new medium requires a new approach and a new methodology-which over time will undoubtedly be refined. Given the continuous nature of the web, we chose four separate download times to examine, 9 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 4:30 p.m. and 9 p.m., based on the normal news cycles, the posting times for web sites and times that users would naturally access the web.
1"The Tough Job of Communicating with Voters," Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, February 5, 2000.