USC Annenberg Online Journalism ReviewUSC





Surveys Say: Net Trounced by Cable for War News; The Register Goes Google Hunting

Web still sees upswing

The war is not over, but cable news can already declare victory over online news, if you believe recent surveys from Pew and the Los Angeles Times. They show, in varying degrees, that most Americans are relying on cable for their war news, while the Net ranks below newspapers, network TV, and even local TV news.

'The overall number of blog users is so small that it is not possible to draw statistically meaningful conclusions about who uses blogs.' -- Pew Research Center

But before you get your Web browsers in a twist about it, the numbers have been spun a bit back and forth. CBS MarketWatch narrowly clung to one aspect of the Pew report, headlining a column section as "Pew: Web least important war news source" (which was then highlighted by IWantMedia). The Washington Times headlined a more detailed article as "U.S. Turns to Internet for Iraq News," noting that Pew found that 77 percent of Americans have used the Net at least once for war news.

Pew's survey was indeed detailed, despite it being an early sounding on war news consumption. While the Net did finish last as a source for "most of their news," it was a good last place, showing marked improvement from 9/11. Weblogs, however, did not fare so well. Despite the hype (and Pew's own hopeful heading: "Blogs gain a small foothold"), the real news was that only 4 percent of people online got war news and opinions from blogs. More to the point: "The overall number of blog users is so small that it is not possible to draw statistically meaningful conclusions about who uses blogs."

The L.A. Times survey was less detailed, but mirrored Pew's findings on where Americans are getting most of their war news. Marty Kaplan, associate dean at USC's Annenberg School for Communication (which runs OJR), told the Times: "It's interesting that reliance on the Internet for news is actually down since the war began. Because the Internet, like cable news, doesn't have to obey the dictates of programmers, you would have assumed that they would climb together. What I think this disconnect underlines is that despite the proliferation of home computers, the interest in Internet news sites and bloggers is still the preoccupation of a small subset of Americans."

But maybe that small subset is getting a clearer picture of what's actually happening. CNET's Charles Cooper argues that TV is dumbing down the complexity of the war, with "John Madden meets Stormin' Norman Schwarzkopf" commentary. But on the Net, Cooper says you can get "context and a multiplicity of viewpoints." Still, you can say this is the "Internet war" till you're blue in the face, but the reality is that most people are still going to the simplicity of cable TV for the visuals, the quick fix, that they aren't used to getting online just yet.

 

Google under fire

Microsoft as "evil empire"? That's so 1998. Now it's time for the technology press to focus its muckraking eyes on a new supposed monopolist: Google. With its dominance in Net searches, and the rise of Google News, journalists have gone from praising the company to wondering if it's abusing its newfound power. Leading the charge is plucky British site The Register, which has two recent Google bombs -- one fingering the site for changing history ("Googlewashed"), and the other knocking Google News for listing press releases alongside real news.

The first item is a bit of an overreach, comparing Google and some A-list bloggers to Big Brother for changing the meaning of "second superpower." The Register's Andrew Orlowski says The New York Times and others described global anti-war protests as the "second superpower," but then a new blog by James F. Moore, and his essay on a "second superpower" (more of a techno-utopian tract) was soon promoted by enough bloggers that a Google search brought his essay up more than the original meaning.

One Google search at one moment in time is now recorded history? Not exactly, and a more recent Google search actually brought up Orlowski's article in the top 10 results. But the Register's other article -- also by Orlowski -- on Google News including press releases does hit the mark, especially for online journos. Should news consumers be given press releases as news? Google downplays the mix, telling Orlowski it doesn't usually lead with flack-dreck. But in a concession to the Reg and others, the company is planning to publish written guidelines for what it considers a news site to be.

Sure, it's a step in the right direction, but when did a technology startup get the right (and cahones) to dictate what a news site should and shouldn't be? Those guidelines will be chum in the water for a skeptical tech press and blogger community.

Note: I will be returning from my extended telecommute in Thailand this week, so Glaser Online will be offline this Wednesday and Thursday. Look for a return to action next Monday, April 14, when I'm back in San Francisco in mind and body.


Mark Glaser currently writes technology features for TechWeb, occasional features for The New York Times' Circuits section, marketing material for Comcast Online, and a bi-weekly e-mail newsletter for the Online Publishers Association, whose membership includes most major media companies online. That won't stop him from taking cheap potshots at these outlets, when necessary. You can contact him with any juicy tidbits about online journalism at [email protected].

Glaser Online regularly combs the following sites for links to pertinent stories: OnlineJournalism.com, IWantMedia, Romenesko, PaidContent.org, Google News and AltaVista News.

read past glaser online columns