|By the Project for Excellence in Journalism
What are those news sites like that are original on the Internet — sites that were not added on to some legacy TV network or newspaper? Do they have a personality profile? Do they have different emphases and strengths from those connected to another media? Or are they varied among themselves, an emerging platform with no fixed traits yet?
To try to help users sort through all that is available, the Project conduct a close study of 38 different news sites, those from different media sectors, and those that are Web only, including some with a distinct citizen-media-based flavor. The overall findings across the 38 sites (as well as an interactive tool to help citizens evaluate their favorite news sites) can be found in the Digital Journalism chapter.
We measured site’s using six different criteria: The customization options the sites offered, their use of multi-media, the possibilities they offered for interactivity, the branding of the content (that is how much was from the outlets as opposed to outside sources), the depth of information available and how the site was doing economically in terms of drawing advertising. On each of these measures each site was placed into one of four categories ranging from a top group that offered a lot to the last group which offered the least amount.
For the Web-only sites, we studied six, discussed here in detail. (For analysis of Web sites rooted in such different media as cable TV or radio, as well as a discussion of digital developments overall, please see the Digital section in each of those chapters.)
Over all, the Web-only entities vary a good deal in the features and kinds of information they offer. But generally they tend to place more emphasis on the user’s voice and involvement and less on the latest multimedia appeals. The six sites studied are Topix.net, a site that lets users organize news by geographic area or topic; GlobalVoices, a digest of local blogs from around the world; Digg, a site made up wholly of content from other sites submitted by users; OhmyNews International, a site made up of entries from bloggers who are paid, and edited by journalists; Benicia News, the web-based local “newspaper” for Benicia, CA; Slate, the online opinion magazine started by Michael Kinsley and now owned by the Washington Post; and Salon.com, another online magazine.
The first thing a user probably notices at Topix.net is the breadth of information available. The site does not generate content, but is an aggregator plain and simple. It draws from thousands of outlets ranging from U.S. newspapers to wires to foreign news sites.
That diverse mix is evident from the headlines that fill the homepage. The top nine may feature nine different news outlets from nine different countries. Under those are three headlines from your home area — something the site automatically identifies when you arrive.
Still, the site scored in the lowest tier of sites for depth, or making use of the potential of the web to go deep into a topic. Its rating here was hurt by the fact that it offered no archive and stories on the site existed as separate items, with nothing connecting related content together.
Topix.net scored somewhat higher, in the low-mid range, for customization. The site had strengths in that area – users, for instance, can further customize the local news section by choosing from a list of 30,000 different U.S. cities. And if a user changes his or her home location, the site remembers it. Other kinds of customization found on other sites, however, were absent here. There was just a single RSS feeds and at the time of the study, there were no podcasts or mobile phone delivery options.
The site puts somewhat more emphasis on allowing users to participate in the site. It scored in the second tier here. The page’s entire right column is reserved for readers’ comments, with a list of topics and the number of comments posted under each. Every headline also has a similar place for feedback.
As one might imagine with an aggregator site, the branding score for topix.com placed it in the bottom tier, with no content coming directly from the site and a computer program selecting the stories that appear on the front page.
Nor is Topix oriented to multimedia. It earned low marks in that category. Its home page was mostly text with roughly 90% of it being narrative. There were also no audio or video links.
The site also scored in the bottom tier for the level of revenue streams to the site. There was no paid content here and few ads.
That limited number of ads, though, helped with Topix.net’s clean-feeling front page. Ads are limited to the far right of the screen, after the user comment column. Here, too, localizing comes into play – the ads are local ones from Google about everything from cars to jobs to court records.
Unlike other aggregators, such as Google, Topix doesn’t change the top news headlines all that frequently. While there is no human editor on the site (its headlines are selected by a computer program), the program operates at a little slower pace than others. At noon on January 10, 2007, its lead story was about the possible of the chief of Al Qaeda in Somalia had been up for seven hours. Other “latest” stories had been there six hours, 10 hours and 13 hours. In other words, the stories that show up on the homepage are not just the latest wire copy. That can have the virtue of not piling the most recent story on top when it’s not necessarily the most important.
Global Voices (www.globalvoicesonline.org)
Of all the Web sites we examined, Global Voices was in many ways the least conventional. The end result was that it scored high in several of the areas we measured. It was the only citizen media site that would fit our definition of a high achiever, a site that earned top marks in three of five content areas.
The site is non-profit, with an emphasis on relating information that the staff editors find interesting, not on providing the top news of the hour (or minute or day).
But Global Voices takes a unique four-step approach to identifying what is interesting. First, rather than searching stories from mainstream news outlets, editors cull through a vast number of blogs from around the world. The editors, who themselves are located across the globe, then decide which postings are worth passing on. Next, they add their own comments or background information to put the blog entries in context. Finally, when necessary, entries are translated into English, often by a different “language” editor.
Take, for example, January 10. In the afternoon the lead was “Philippine free press under attack.” The entry featured a lead-in by an editor noting that the Philippine press has been “one of the freest in the world” since Ferdinand Marcos was deposed, but reporting that the current first family “is harassing journalists by filing libel cases” against them. The post then ran blurbs from the Pinoy Press and the site Freedom Watch. The next post used the same approach to look at the Iraqi government’s efforts to register bloggers.
In our inventory, the site scored well, in the top tier, on customization. While its home page could not be modified by users, there were many RSS and podcast options available to users.
Global Voices was also one of only three sites studied to score in the top tier for depth. It did well because of the large number of stories it grouped together in packages and the archive it included.
The site also earned top marks for the degree to which it was offering a unique brand in which its own editorial process and judgment was emphasized. With the stories chosen by paid editors and with content that came from wholly staff, even when citing other sources, it exercised significant editorial quality control. The banner across the top of the page pays tribute to its many authors. The page’s logo and name sit next to the headshots of four bloggers, each one linking a short bio and a compilation of that blogger’s work. Each post then has the link to the original blog as well as a tag-line of the Global Voices editor. And running down a side column is the list of blog authors and the number of posts each has contributed to date.
The site also scored well, in the second tier, for user participation. It did not offer live discussion and interactive polls, two of the more controversial elements of web participation. But it contained a good deal of opportunity for users interact. In addition to the editorial choices, user content — through a user-based blog — is a big part of this site. At the end of each piece users are invited to “Start the conversation” by posting comments, which are moderated by site editors.
The one content area where this remarkably well rounded site did not stand out is for multimedia. This site is about words, 95% of the content available from the home page was narrative.
The site’s score for revenue streams placed it in the bottom tier as well – perhaps not surprising since it is a non-profit.
The strongest impression one has when visiting this site, however, is its international feel. The largest box of text is a list of countries from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. Next to that is a thinner blue box with a list of topics ranging from Arts & Culture to Governance to History to Youth. Under that is a slim one-line search box that runs the width of the page.
Global Voices is not a site to visit to get the latest headlines or find out what the media are talking about. But it shines a bright light on issues the big media often pass by.
Digg is democracy in action. The site, which calls itself a “user driven social content Web site,’’ is all about user participation. Users do more than participate — they select, create and manage the content. Indeed, with its high level of customization and user involvement, it was among the most user centric sites examined.
It works like this. A user — any user—posts new stories that appear in a simple column format. They are originally posted in chronological order, but then users rate them as stories they either “digg” (like) or don’t like and want to bury further down the list. The list of stories constantly changes with new posts and rankings.
Each story has a headline, a line on who submitted the story to the site and a few lines of teaser text. Next to that a small box shows how many users “digg it” as well as a way for others to rate, blog or e-mail the story and its topic.
There is no editorial staff making decisions on the content or even determining what the page looks like. The only requirement made of users before they begin adding their input is a fairly unobtrusive registration process — choose a user name and password and submit your e-mail address.
While most of the layout is determined by the masses, users can customize it a bit to fit their own interests, placing the site in our top tier as one might imagine. When users register with the site and begin to “digg” and “bury” items they are able to get a feel for other users who post things they are interested in, and over time they can make those people “friends.” They can then remake the homepage to feature posts by “friends.” RSS is also an option prominently located on the front page. A podcast tab was also available, though in beta-test at the time of the study, and mobile-phone options were absent.
Over all, Digg scored in the top tier of user participation as well. The entire site, after all, wouldn’t really exist without users supplying content and they ultimately control where stories end up on the page through participation.
The site, like some other citizen based sites, was largely narrative, and it scored in the lowest tier on the scale of multimedia. Its home page offered no audio or video links and nearly 85% of it was text.
As an aggregator, Digg also scored near the bottom, the fourth tier, in branding. Editors don’t really play a role here and there is no site-generated content.
Ads are limited, helping place the site in the bottom tier of economics. Small Google ads appearing under the header and down the right column are the only sign of revenue-producing advertisements. And in terms of depth, Digg was a third tier site, with frequent updates and an archive, but no story packages.
So about what kind of things do these users post? Perhaps not surprisingly, since this is an online group made up largely of early adapters, there is a heavy focus on technology. For instance, on January 11, the morning after President Bush’s major speech on his policy shift in Iraq, only one of the top 15 stories on Digg in the previous 24 hours concerned Iraq — a map showing where the U.S. armed forces casualties were from. Eight of the top 15 stories were about technology.
OhmyNews International (English.ohmynews.com)
Lying somewhere between globalvoices.com and digg.com, OhmyNews International is a hybrid of citizen journalism and news editing. As with Digg, all the content comes from users, in the format of news stories rather than blog entries. There is also a heavy emphasis on narrative text. But, as with Global Voices, the editorial staff plays a heavy role in the internationally focused content. The approach in the end gives users a lot of ways to contribute and be heard but with strong brand identification.
The site itself is based in Korea, though the international version is posted in English. Although the content all comes from users, the site is far from an open forum or a clearinghouse for stream of consciousness. Potential reporters and writers must apply and accept the conditions laid out by the site, and if “hired” are paid for their work.
The process of submitting reports operates a lot like that at more traditional news outlets. There is a heavy editing process that instills a uniform style, which in the end reads a lot like a straight news or analysis piece. The contributors here are hybrids — edited citizens.
The diverse mix of largely international topics speaks to the individual interests of the citizen journalists who filed them. Stories come from around the world. On the afternoon of January 11, the lead item on the page was Part 3 of a series on the “History of French Nuclear Tests in the Pacific.” The next piece was a story on women in Africa using cell phones and the growth of mobile technology there. It was followed by a story about a Japanese politician visiting Pyongyang.
In addition to the stories themselves, the editors use a fair amount of the homepage to highlight certain features or help visitors find what interests them most. Next to the lead stories is a slimmer column with content the site is emphasizing in some way — special-report sections, podcasts, pieces on citizen journalism and a list of that week’s “Featured Writers.” And on the right is a map of the world showing the areas generating the most media attention, more featured-site links and headlines from the International Tribune.
Farther down are headlines arranged by topic area — Korea (the site’s home), World, Technology, Art & Life, etc., and finally a list of the most recent posts to the site.
As such, OhmyNews International sat in the top tier on branding. There is no wire copy on this site and the home page decisions are made by staff, not computers. What the site offers, instead, is branded controlled citizen journalism. If the number of citizen journalists posting to OhmyNews International continues to grow, one would expect the topics and regions covered to grow as well.
Thus, while the site may currently be the home of various bits of international news that have fallen through the cracks of mainstream journalism, it may be something very different in six months or a year
The site scored fairly well on user customization, in the second tier. It was helped by offering multiple RSS and podcast options high on the page. Visitors could not, however, remake their own homepage or get a mobile version of the site. As with Digg and Global Voices, multimedia was less of a focus, it placed in the last tier in that area. There was no video and no live streaming audio and, while the site is made up of content from citizen journalists, no blogs per se.
The site scored highly, in the second tier, on user participation. The site, obviously, has a lot of user content. It did not, however, accommodate live discussions, or the use of online votes.
The site did poorly in the rankings for depth and economics. Its depth score was hurt by not updating as often as other sites and not packaging stories together. And ads are largely non-existent on OhmyNews International. From its base in Korea it has a variety of Korean corporate “partners,” most notably Samsung, but there are no real ads on the homepage and the only ones on interior pages are Google ads.
Though it is one of the pioneers in the world of Web journalism, most Americans who regularly visit the Internet for news are probably at least aware of Slate, the online magazine founded in 1996 by Microsoft and run initially by Michael Kinsley, the highly regarded editor who helped revive the New Republic in the 1980s. Since it began, Slate has gone through several redesigns, a change in editors and a change in owners.
Through it all it has retained a distinctive look, feel and approach. Of all the sites examined, Slate probably uses visuals the most prominently — almost in place of headlines.
In our content analysis, Slate might be called the site that offers Its Brand, Your Way. The site clearly is offering a team of writers and commentators, with a high degree of editorial quality control. But, it also stood out for the level of customization allowed. It was one of the few sites studied, along with NPR, to stand out for that particular combination.
The opening screen features several prominent photos or cartoons, each linking to a story or feature. There is text on the page, but the pictures dominate. The lead piece in the center of the page, twice as wide as any other column, is anchored by a photo. The headline for the piece even runs within the picture, and there is no teaser text. Under that lead item are five smaller items lined up in a row, each with a small photo and a headline.
Slate may be owned by the Washington Post and have an affiliation NPR, but its content is its own. There are no links to pieces from the Post or the wires on the homepage to give users the latest stories. From the beginning the site has taken great pride in its editorial voice — usually “smart” and often counterintuitive. The pieces rarely stress reporting, but rather about offering different views on topics in the news. On January 19, for instance, the lead article for the site was “How the Camera Phone Changed the World — For the Worse.” The piece recounted the rise of the camera phone’s prominence in news events, such as Saddam Hussein’s hanging. “A camera on a phone has only aided the perverted, the nosy, the violent, and the bored,” the piece opined. As such, it scored at the very top of the sites studied for branded control of its content.
It earned its high marks for customization with multiple RSS and podcast options featured prominently. Mobile phone delivery was also available back in September; a feature found only on a few of the sites studied.
The site also put notable emphasis on allowing users to participate. They were welcomed to comment on stories. There were links to most-read and most-e-mailed stories and there were ways to e-mail the authors of stories.
After quality narrative and giving users a lot of room to participate and customize the site, Slate became more typical.
Even with the heavy use of photos, the site scored in the bottom tier for multimedia potential. On the days monitored, 85% of the content on the front page linked to narrative text only. There is some presence of video, slide shows and interactive graphics, but despite a partnership with National Public Radio there were few audio links.
It also is not doing much to exploit the potential of the Web for depth. Its score there was hurt by updating less often than other sites and by not packaging related stories together.
When it came to the level of revenue streams evident on the site, Slate scored in the low mid range, second from the bottom. It boasts relatively few ads and its experiment with paid subscriptions was abandoned some years ago.
Slate has grown immensely, adding new features and blogs in its 10 years, and is climbing the ranks of most-visited sites. And in an age when people are pointing to multimedia as the Web’s next wave, Slate seems happy to stake it position as the Web’s version of the New Yorker — relying heavily on writing but minus the heavy reporting, of course.
Salon.com has often been thought of as Slate’s less affluent and smaller sibling — it was launched at roughly the same time, 1995, also as a Web-only magazine. Salon.com in 2006-07 is an attempt to carve out a niche as a place where “you’ll directly support independent journalism,” the site says. The result is something akin to an online version of Mother Jones, much more predictably liberal than Slate, with a few dashes of pop culture and sports thrown in.
It also differed in the scores it earned. The site stood out for promoting its own branded content, where it earned top marks. In every other category, Salon by our metrics earned mostly low-mid range scores.
Upon reading the content, the brand becomes quickly evident. Reports generally feature a first-person voice. Politics is a mainstay, but there is also a lot of culture as well. And often the two come together, such as the January 22 review of movies at the Sundance Film Festival. “You can start out a weekend at Sundance, as I did, irritated by all the minor inconveniences of this place,” the review began, “and end it as I also did, sitting in a roomful of strangers weeping at an impromptu late-night speech delivered live by Dick Gephardt.”
Also striking is the number of ways Salon.com aims at raising revenue. There are five outside ads on the site, split between two advertisers and a prominent advertisement for joining Salon Premium for $35 a year. That membership gives users access to Salon.com’s discussion forums and the ability to skip ads on the page as well as some benefits that have nothing to do with Salon — subscriptions to Wired and The Week. Despite this, the site was in the third tier of our revenue streams category in part because it didn’t feature many ads – only eight.
The site had been redone between the time of our inventory, October, and the New Year, and had added podcasts and video to its homepage. It did not score highly in most categories in our examination, however.
It was in the third tier in terms of customizability. Users could not modify the home page and there was no mobile version of the site available – though the site would have ranked somewhat higher after its additions. The same could be said about its multimedia ranking, where it was in the bottom tier. The big video link now on the front page would have lifted that score as well.
Its score for the level of user participation, also in the third tier, was unchanged though. There are live discussions and users can email story authors, but the site does not include user content or things like polls. Its third-tier depth score also would have been the same. The site’s relatively infrequent updates – three a day – helped keep the figure low.
Benicia News (www.benicianews.com)
It is unlikely that Benicianews.com will win any awards for Web design, at least with its current layout, but slick looks and clean lines are not what the site is about. It is rather something of a rarity on the Web. It is a completely online local “newspaper” for Benicia California, a small community in the Northern part of the state, not far from Oakland, that is made up of stories aggregated from around the Web and from citizen journalists.
Visually the site is laid out in three columns, a narrow navigation column on the left, a wide one that contains content in the middle and another narrow column on the right that holds ads. There are few photos on the page. And its overall look – from the small logo in the top left with a dog holding a newspaper jumping through a computer screen to the text that appears in many different sizes – gives the site something of a homemade feel.
That look, however, is not in contrast with the site’s larger mission. The top 10 stories on the page all come under the “Citizen Journalism” header, with the top three containing teaser text. These pieces were all submitted by users. Under that comes a broader “News From The Web” header with 10 more stories – all of them culled from online news sites based in the area (like the Contra Costa Times and San Jose Mercury News sites). Under that are a bunch of category headers – News, Education, Cartoons – that may or may not have any headlines with them.
The site did not score well in many of our inventory categories. It was in last tier in customization. It offered users no way to modify the home page no RSS feeds and no podcasts. It was also in the bottom tier on multimedia. On the day we examined the site it not only lacked video and audio links – which is generally the case – there were also no photos.
Its depth score was also in the bottom tier, hurt a great deal by the few updates on the site (some stories were on the front page for days) and the lack of an archive. And it sat in the lowest tier on branding. The site’s staff editing helped its score, but the amount of material from outside hurt it. It did slightly better on revenue streams , the third tier. The 11 ads on the page were more than some sites offered, but there was no fee content or fee archive.
As one might imagine with a site so dependent of citizen journalism, Benicia News did better on user participation, where it sat in the second tier. There is obviously a lot of user content here and users can email story authors. It didn’t score higher because it lacked thing like interactive polls and online discussions.
This site speaks to the strengths and weaknesses of citizen journalism. Topics are extremely varied – from personal experiences to the opening of new parks – and users are “empowered.” But they don’t seem to be empowered that often. Perhaps the most surprising thing about the content on Benicia News is how static it is. Stories can sit in the top two or three for weeks at a time.
Crooks and Liars (www.crooksandliars.com)
The liberal blog Crooks and Liars labels itself a “virtual online magazine,” but the site is ultimately a relatively straightforward Web diary of links and excerpts of other material. The element that differentiates this blog from others is its heavy use of video links. And for that material it seems to rely heavily on cable news to provide the fodder, positive and negative.
In our site inventory, Crooks and Liars scored it s highest marks for branding, where it placed in the highest tier of the 38 sites studied. But that score is somewhat misleading. While the site does have bylined entries that included some editorial commentary (which helped its score) the majority of those entries were excerpts from other places.
Beyond that, the site didn’t score highly in any of the categories measured. Even its multimedia score was in the third tier despite the many video links on the page. That was largely because even with those links, the page was dominated by text. Crooks and Liars also fell into the third tier for the level at which it allows users to participate, offering little beyond the ability to e-mail authors and comment on stories. There was no user blog here.
The site also scored in the third tier for depth. It doesn’t offer much of an archive and does little to link stories together into compete packages. It also wasn’t updated as often as other sites.
Crooks and Liars scored in the bottom tier on customization. This is essentially a static site. There is no way for users to modify the homepage. There are also no podcasts for users and no mobile version of the site.
The home page reflects one revenue stream, advertising, and it had a fairly high number of ads, about 12.
In content, Crooks and Liars is similar to many blogs with a political agenda. It uses print and video clips to hit at issues, politicians and personalities on the right, and uses other material to support those on the left. On March 5, for instance, one of the site’s authors posted a clip of the MSNBC host Keith Olbermann’s “World’s Worst Wingnut Trifecta” (Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter). On the same day a different author posted video of CNN’s Jack Cafferty calling the recently chronicled problems at Walter Reed Hospital “a disgrace.” The same post also quoted the New York Times columnist Paul Krugman as calling the Walter Reed fiasco “another Katrina.”
Daily Kos (www.dailykos.com)
With 20 million unique visitors monthly, Daily Kos, the liberal blog started in 2002, is one of the busiest on the Web, and the site shows it. With its orange and white color scheme and professional-looking banner, it does not look like a mom-and-pop operation. It also offers it own line of merchandise — t-shirts, sweatshirts and hats. And its founder, Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, has become something of a TV talking head, appearing on cable shows to discuss issues in the news.
In terms of format the site does the usual linking and quoting one expects on a blog, but there is more original text and commentary mixed in. Indeed, some posts are largely the author’s thoughts about the topic he’s discussing, with the cited material making up only a few lines. That is a big reason why the site scored in the highest tier on branding. This site is about the mind of Daily Kos.
Daily Kos also received high scores for user participation, sitting in the top tier in that category. It lets users blog, e-mail authors, add their own content and rate stories. It was the only blog we examined that scored in the top tier in this category.
The site scored lower, in the third tier, for customization, or the degree to which it allows users to make the site their own by customizing what they see or how it is delivered. Like most blogs, it does not offer some of the customizing features that bigger sites do. There are no podcasts, for instance, and the site has no mobile version. Users do have the ability to modify the homepage, however.
Daily Kos also scored lower on multimedia, again in the third tier. It does not offer photos or audio links on the front page and only a few video links. Daily Kos is largely focused on words.
It placed in the lowest tier on depth. Posts were not packaged together by issue or topic, and stories didn’t offer links to archived material to add context for users.
The site’s heavy readership has led to a fairly strong revenue stream. It was in the second tier of all the sites we looked at in that area with about 15 ads on the page.
Daily Kos’s approach to content varies depending on who is posting, but the site is more likely than other blogs to include extensive comments from posters. Excerpts from other outlets are often used as jumping-off points for longer, column-like entries. And the posts here, from the left side of the political spectrum tend to be more inside-politics than on other sites. There is less commentary on other commentary than there are posts about actual news. For example, many posts the week of March 5, 2007, addressed the inquiry into whether several U.S. attorneys had been forced from their positions for political reasons. The posts looked at the specifics of the case, who might be coming forward in the days ahead and what groups were filing additional ethics complaints.
Little Green Footballs (www.littlegreenfootballs.com)
Blogging from the right side of the political spectrum, Little Green Footballs has become a popular Web destination for conservatives by offering, largely, a critique of mainstream media coverage. It is of the category of blogs that focuses less on original content and more on aggregation. Much of the content is a few lines of author text tied to an excerpt or link from another online outlet. The entries are not always critical of the media, often pointing out approvingly stories the blog wants noted.
Like all the blogs we looked at in our inventory, Footballs scored highest on branding, landing in the top tier in that area, because its content all comes from the author of the blog, Californian Charles Johnson. Again, that is despite the fact that many of the entries on the page were largely content from other places. Even in those cases though, a few lines from the blogger usually introduced the item and put the excerpts in context.
The site didn’t score well in the other areas examined. It was in the third tier on customization. Though it did have a front page that users could modify, it had only one RSS feed and no podcasts or mobile version of itself available.
It sat in the bottom tier in the other areas we measured. It offers little in the way of participation. Users have no ways to interact with the site beyond posting user comments at the end of entries.
As for depth, the site offered an archive and updated fairly frequently, but it did not package links to give user a broader sense of issues.
The site was also not heavy on multimedia. All told, 84% of the page was made up of narrative text.
Again though, like Daily Kos, the site’s unique visitor number has helped with its revenue streams, where it ranked in the second tier. Though it depends on ads there were a lot of them, just under 20 on the homepage.
The content of Little Green Footballs is diverse with a strong foreign-affairs tilt. Topics can range from domestic politics to the news media, but international news has a special place here. And while the site’s view on such issues always comes from the right, one can read the site and get a fairly comprehensive view of the subjects in the news. The first six posts on the site on the afternoon of March 6 were the verdict in the Scooter Libby case, the way the Huffington Post was blocking nasty comments about Vice President Cheney’s blood clot, the story of a possible defection of a former Iranian defense minister to the U.S., the hunt for Osama bin Laden, and a visit by German bishops to Israel. Little Green Footballs is a site for those wanting a conservative look at the news of the world.
Michelle Malkin (www.michellemalkin.com)
The blog of the syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin is clean and understated in its look, with a white background and a column of running posts from the author. But what may stand out the most about the blog is the lack of writing on it. Malkin, who writes a weekly political column for the Creators syndicate, seems happy to use the blog as a way to stay on top of breaking news, calling attention to news that she wants noticed without writing extensively online. That’s not to say there is a lack of viewpoint here. Malkin’s arch and sardonic conservative voice is clearly heard, but it comes in short, quick bites.
In our inventory, the site’s strength was its branding. It is all about Malkin, from the domain name to Malkin’s picture looking over the page to each item, which is posted by her. This is the writer’s online home. Michelle Malkin is the reason to go here, the brand and the appeal.
The site scored in the bottom tier in the other categories we measured. It offers users few chances to modify the site, our category called customization. There is an RSS feed, but no podcasts, no mobile version of the site and no way of altering the front page.
Malkin also scored low on participation. The site offered no way for users to interact beyond the ability to e-mail the author. Other than the picture of Malkin, the site was all text when we did our accounting, which led to a low multimedia score. There were no video or audio links and the page was 96% text.
And like other blogs its depth score was low because the site didn’t package pieces together to give users context and breadth. The site also didn’t update as much as others.
As for revenue stream, Malkin’s site was also limited. There were only a few ads on the page (roughly five) and no for-fee content.
That said, the site isn’t really about those categories or about generating revenue. It seems designed to give Malkin an online platform to talk about the things she wants and extend her brand online. Its content allows her to do that. For instance, in a March 6 entry about the Huffington Post’s blocking users from saying cruel things about Vice President Cheney’s blood clot, Malkin wrote “Huffington Post has disallowed comments on an article about VP Cheney’s blood clot. The first step toward recovery…” In a March 5 post about the Walter Reed Medical Center scandal, Malkin posted a “Note to haters” in which she told people who questioned her critique “I know perfectly well that Walter Reed is not part of the VA system. Duh.”
Michelle Malkin’s Web site is ultimately a place for her fans and detractors to go to find out what’s on her mind. On that score it is highly successful.
AOL News (www.aol.com )
With its modular design that places everything in boxes and its range of sources AOL.com’s news site seems focused on telling users what everyone else thinks is news. This is a not an aggregator site that is focused on combing through sites to put together a kind of uber news page. It is rather a site that seems content to mine the wires, the big broadcasters and prominent print outlets for a snapshot of the days news viewed through different prisms. Most of the pages “top news” comes from the news wires but further down the page are boxes for AOL partners – the New York Times, USA Today, CNN, Wall Street Journal and CBS News – each with three headlines that take users to those pages. Video links work the same way on the page, listed by outlet.
This approach had pluses and minuses in our site inventory.
AOL News scored high in our participation category – in the first tier – for giving viewers several ways to interact with the site. There was a user blog, a page with stories generated by users and chances for users to comment on stories. Authors could also be emailed in some cases.
The site was also fairly customizable – ranking in the second tier in that category. Users could modify the front page and the site offered multiple RSS feeds and an advanced search option.
AOL News scored in the third tier on multimedia. While there are video links here, the site on its face is mostly text driven with more than 70% of the home page content consisting of narrative and narrative links. It also finished in the third tier on depth. While the site often linked stories together for packages that give readers a the broader context of issues, the site was hurt by not updating as much as others. And as one might expect from a site that simply gathers content from elsewhere on the Web, the site scored in the bottom tier on branding.
It doesn’t have a strong revenue stream either, sitting in the third tier in that area with only about a half-dozen ads in the site.
In terms of content, the news on AOL may not be organized into a comprehensive page, but there is clearly a lot here. Between the wires, news outlets, blogs and “citizen media” links here, users can see the day’s events through a lot of different lenses. And the combination of human editing (which the site clearly uses on its “Top Story” and the running headlines from the wires and other outlets on the rest of the site makes for a real mix of news. The site’s design may be a drawback as well. The site can feel like looking at a wall of front pages. All those top headlines from various outlets feels in some ways like the site is missing a page two.
Google News (www.news.google.com )
If you could constantly comb through thousands of news stories to cobble together a page of top news links from outlets around the world, you would be creating the front page of Google News. No person can do that, of course, but Google’s computer programs can. The result is a page that is broad, deep and somewhat serendipitous. Users never know exactly what they are going to get when they visit the site – maybe the lead piece is from the New York Times and maybe it is from China’s Xinhua news service – but Google’s algorithms ensure that many people are reading them. That determines what stories make it to the front page.
The stories also contain lots of links to other pieces on the same topics which is the why the site scored obscenely high in our depth category, not only in the first tier but far and away first overall. Stories were “packaged” with hundreds of other stories to give users more links on any one topic than they probably know what to do with – though often the stories are just the same wire copy repeated in many outlets. The site was also updated frequently.
Google’s news page scored fairly high on customizability – in the second tier. Users can modify the page, choose from multiple RSS feeds and access a mobile version of the site. There are, however, no podcasts here.
In all other areas we measured, though, the site ranked in the last tier. Its multimedia score was hurt by the fact there is so much text on the front page. And opportunities for user participation are largely nonexistent. There are no user blogs, no ways for users to comment on stories and no polls to take part in. And, of course, the site’s branding score was bound to be low considering everything on the site is from somewhere else.
There is essentially no revenue stream for the content on the page, with no ads and no fee content from Google.
The content here is from well-known outlets from across the globe and that can make for some interesting reading. On March 6 for example, the top story in the afternoon was about the just announced verdict in the Scooter Libby trial, though the account was from Prensa Latina. The second story was a New York Times piece about the Mega Millions lottery jackpot, which was at a record $370 million. But other top pieces (running along the right side of the page) included a Business Week story about Michael Eisner’s bid to buyout the baseball card maker Topps and San Jose Mercury News account of Virginia Commonwealth University defeating George Mason in men’s college basketball. Users, of course, can ultimately shape the page as they want – choosing what kinds of stories they want to see on top. But visiting Google News randomly can be a lot like going by a virtual newsstand that is constantly updated. What one takes away depends on when one stops by and where one looks.
Yahoo News (http://news.yahoo.com/ )
At first glance the news page for Yahoo.com looks a lot like a dumping ground for the newswires, particularly the AP. The top stories are all wire, as are the pieces in the secondary “More Stories” area. But look a little closer and there is more going on here on this site. There is video from a number of sources, including CNN and ABC News. And further down the page there are tabs to look at headlines from a number of sources including NPR, USA Today, the Christian Science Monitor, Congressional Quarterly, Business Week, Fashion Wire Daily and the Sporting News. Outlets specializing in specific topics are grouped under their topics headers – like Business, Entertainment, Travel and Sports. The site is a mix of approaches seen on other aggregator sites. The news here makes a comprehensive “newspaper” like page, but news is segregated by outlet.
In our site inventory, Yahoo’s news page didn’t really stand out in one category. It scored fairly well on customization, ranking in the second tier. Users could modify the page considerably and the site remembered the changes they made on subsequent visits. There were multiple RSS feeds and an advanced search option. But the site didn’t offer podcasts on its page or a mobile version.
It was also a second-tier site when it came to user participation. It offered a link to a page with user content, let users rate stories and offered most viewed and most emailed story lists. But there was no user blog, live discussions or polls.
Yahoo News scored lower on branding, in the third tier. It was hurt by the fact that it simply pulls material from other places, but the site’s human editors gave its score a lift. It also scored in third tier on depth, hurt by the limited number of stories it linked into packages. And it was in the bottom tier on multimedia. There are some video links here, but no audio and the page is dominated by text.
Its revenue stream also scored fairly low, in the third tier, with only eight ads on the page.
The strength of Yahoo News’s content is that it is always fresh. The site is put together by real people, not a computer program, and they apparently comb the news all day long looking to make updates. So at one point on March 7 the lead story was an AP account of an airliner that overshot a runway in Indonesia and a few minutes later it was a Reuters story about civil strife in Iraq. Users of the site, in other words, are not likely to miss the big stories of the day with human editors constantly updating the news. But if there is a drawback it is that those lead stories are wire stories – long on facts, but often done as the news breaks and short on context.