Media offline on night of the election

Study finds newspapers, TV underused Web for coverage

November 27, 2006|By Nick Madigan | Nick Madigan,Sun Reporter

Most mainstream news outlets have yet to take full advantage of the speed and capabilities of the Internet on big stories such as the recent midterm congressional elections, a study released today concludes.

"News organizations recognize that the Internet - with all its potential - is the future," says the study, compiled by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, affiliated with the Pew Research Center in Washington. The group studied the performance of 32 news outlets on Election Day, Nov. 7. "But most of the sites we monitored have only partly developed beyond adding somewhat to what their parent organization already provided."

The researchers, who monitored the Web sites of four newspapers - The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and The Virginian-Pilot - said that the editors "continue to put most of their effort, seemingly, on the next day's newspaper."

"For top newspaper sites, finding the balance between speed and offering a rich narrative still has to be reconciled," the study says. "They are still struggling with the possibilities and risks of real-time news, something television has more experience with."

Viewers of election-night television news specials, meanwhile, "see programs still largely built on a model developed 40 years ago," says the study, which looked at the work of four broadcast networks: ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS, as well as that of their Web sites. Three cable outlets were also studied: Fox News Channel, CNN and MSNBC.

Perhaps the destinations best suited to election night were the Web sites of TV news operations. The study says: "They offered a combination of quick access to results plus the ability of users - largely through access to exit poll data or Associated Press material - to plumb a wealth of statistical material on their own."

The group also monitored six of the top-rated news blogs, including Technorati, Instapundit, Daily Kos, Drudge Report and Huffington Post. The researchers were unimpressed. "Bloggers were caught somewhat empty-handed by the relatively error-free election of 2006," the researchers said. "Some, such as Wonkette, got downright cranky that no one was leaking examples of fraud and abuse. Others got nasty about who was winning and losing."

Studies of Election Day media coverage have grown in significance in recent years as the number of news outlets has increased, especially on 24-hour cable television, and as the World Wide Web has provided a forum not only for fast-paced journalism but for instant debate and criticism.

The nine-year-old Project for Excellence in Journalism asserts that its goal is "to help both the journalists who produce the news and the citizens who consume it develop a better understanding of what the press is delivering."

For the 34-page study released today, the group employed 14 researchers. Besides newspapers, TV and blogs, they monitored online news aggregators Yahoo!, Google News and AOL; the Web sites of two political news magazines, National Review Online and The Nation Online; the political sites Campaignnetwork.org and Townhall.com; and National Public Radio, through its Washington affiliate, WAMU.

The news industry, the researchers said, is "still finding its footing as it begins to wander uneasily into the era of the Internet." Older, traditional major news organizations, they said, "now have so many roles they can play, and audiences to play to, they have not sorted out their election-night franchises."

nick.madigan@baltsun.com

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