Election 2008

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Where Did You Get Your Election News?

November 05, 2008
by findingDulcinea Staff

Finally, Election 2008 is over, and we can get on with our lives. But while you were in the throes of the American political season, how were you keeping up to date? Sure, maybe you turned on the TV and browsed your local newspaper. But most likely, interactive maps, YouTube videos, Twitter tweets and your Facebook friends were providing you with the majority of what you needed to know on a minute-by-minute basis. This year, more than ever before, the Internet was a primary source of news.

All the News That's Fit to ... Post

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Many Americans were passionately devoted to following Election 2008; according to a September 2008 Gallup poll, "A record-high 43% of Americans say they follow news about national politics very closely, up from 30% at this time last year and 36% during the last presidential election." Those numbers no doubt rose as November 4 approached. But at the same time, the poll reports, Americans are voicing their distrust of the news provided by print, television and radio. Instead, they prefer to go online.

The Internet has both collected and influenced political opinion as never before. A Gizmodo article has dubbed 2008 "The First Real Internet Election."

Media outlets are devoting an ever-increasing amount of their resources to putting the news online, and have then found themselves competing with a rising tide of citizen journalists. How successful have professional efforts been to remain relevant?

Networks Take On the Net

Around the year 2000, news networks began launching full-scale presences on the Web, lending their voices and styles to entire sites, and supplementing their television programs with manageable news takeaways, low-key multimedia, and even personalized, local start pages. In 2000, CNN.com had just 30 pages to its site. But it had streaming video, a “MyCNN” section, sports scores, weather, a search box, and limited archives.

Along with other online news sources of that time, such as The New York Times Web site, the CNN.com of 2000 was living in the moment, the now of the Web, following the dot-com crash, reporting it with zeal and scrutiny. There was little of the rush for multimedia, vast archiving (whether paid or free), or the numerous op-ed blog residencies that networks and newspapers have fostered in the past two or three years.

Some Stats on Net News

The Pew Internet & American Life Project gathered data on Americans' Internet use from 2000 to 2005 and found that getting news ranked ninth among their most popular Internet activities. In 2007, comScore Media Metrix listed Yahoo's news service as the most popular general news source, and it has been among the most popular for several years.

The top ten news sources from this survey, which tracked unique visitors for the month of April 2007, include networks and newspaper giants: CNN, CBS, The New York Times, MSNBC, Fox, and AOL. And it was essentially in 2007 that many of these sites and their competitors began ratcheting up the quality of their sites—design, diversity, clarity, accessibility—as well as the quantity. For example, The New York Times began offering a substantially larger proportion of its archives for free.

Gussying Up the News

The number of newspapers and networks that went through site redesigns in 2006 and 2007 is staggering (some notable examples are USAToday.com, CNN.com, Newsweek.com, AOL News and Topix.com). But even those who don’t overhaul their sites once every year or two are continually adding content—streaming video, blogs, RSS feeds, customization, comment sections, and other information that supplements the print or television edition.

But is it working? The goal of these sites is to keep visitors on them for longer than a couple of minutes or page views, as well as to break and develop news stories faster. In early 2006, several “newspaper pros” discussed the numerous site redesigns of 2005 and 2006 and made some recommendations. Not surprisingly, one of their first mantras is, “Customize, customize, customize.” Says one critic, “Make the user feel like they are part of the experience; they know what they want and how they want it.”

Statistics on print newspaper readership from the Newspaper Association of America indicate that newspaper circulation has been in decline for years—long before the Internet became a mainstream source for news. But with Nielsen//NetRatings as its source, the blog ReadWriteWeb tells us, “The traffic to newspaper websites continues to rise.” Furthermore, it’s those innovative new buckets of content that are doing the trick: “Interestingly, the area of newspaper websites that has experienced the most growth is blogs, perhaps proving that new media formats are beginning to usurp old media in earnest.”
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