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Internet Foreign Coverage Superior to Mainstream Media

By       Message Sherwood Ross     Permalink
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A survey comparing online and mainstream media finds that 27 percent of lead news stories in the former had an international focus compared with 16 percent in the latter.

"That's a pretty big difference," says Paul Hitlin of Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism(PEJ) of Washington, D.C.

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Only five of the top 10 stories in media overall last year were international, compared to seven of 10 in online media, Hitlin told a conference of journalists and journalism authorities at the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover(MSL).

The seven international stories that made the top online 10, he said, were Iraq, Pakistan, the Olympics, Afghanistan, the Georgia-Russia conflict, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Zimbabwe.

For the conventional media---newspapers, TV, and radio---the campaign and the economy were "by far" the biggest stories, Hitlin said, taking up 51 percent of all space. Online, those two stories combined to make up 39 percent of all space.

To track Internet coverage, Hitlin says PEJ is publishing a New Media Index Friday mornings on its website,

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Two characteristics of Internet activity, he said, are opinion columns and stories that are driven by small, but intensely interested, groups of readers.

"Articles that get the most attention from bloggers are not articles, they're columns," Hitlin says. "They're opinion pieces, very often New York Times columns." Paul Krugman or David Brooks of the Times "will write something, and those will become among the most talked-about things by bloggers."

"So they're starting not with a piece of reporting, but a piece of opinion, and then they offer their opinion on the opinion. It becomes cyclical, and people offer their opinions on the opinions, and so forth," Hitlin says.

Small groups of readers can keep a story alive on the Internet for weeks, Hitlin added. He pointed to an optical firm that sold eyeglasses for as little as $8 a pair that was among the top five online stories for two weeks in a row.

Hitlin said PEJ measures the popularity of a story in terms of percentage of links. "We're talking roughly 200 blogs linking to a story in a week makes our top list," he said.

Some Internet experts are giving their stories titles that "are unbelievably boring, and they do that on purpose," Hitlin said, "so that when people search (a subject) on the Internet, "their stuff comes up."

Jonathan Last, online editor of The Weekly Standard, another conference participant, faulted print media publishers for giving their material away for free online. "I think that's a problem (and) that a lot of publications are going to pay for that by going out of business."

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"It just seems to me ludicrous that you have to pay, what is it, $59 to get the New York Times delivered to your doorstep, but you can access all of it for free online. Well, what are you paying for?"

Last went on to say, "I think the traditional media does general interest news gathering very, very, very well" (but) the Internet does general interest news very, very, poorly, because they don't do news gathering, they do news commentary."

What the Internet does really well, Last added, "is super-specialized technical discussions".if you're looking for a serious discussion about intellectual property law, or fisheries management, or stamp collecting, or scotch, publications are not going to do that very well. If you go online, though, you're going to find very small communities of very, very specialized experts who are not media in any way, they do something else for a living" and who conduct "high-level, very in-depth discussions which I think are super valuable."

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Sherwood Ross worked as a reporter for the Chicago Daily News and contributed a regular "Workplace" column for Reuters. He has contributed to national magazines and hosted a talk show on WOL, Washington, D.C. In the Sixties he was active as public (more...)

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