You Want Politics? You Got It

Article excerpt

Separating the useful from the useless online.

If the unsubstantial sound bite is the shame of televised election coverage, then information overload is the parallel pitfall on the Internet.

After spending one interminable day in October reviewing Web coverage of the presidential campaign, I can verify that the online universe is indeed infinite, and that politics, not pornography, seemed the most prolific theme.

Stunned by thousands of news articles, background pieces, surveys, discussion forums, transcripts and commentary, this human brain nearly screamed for spoon-fed mush. Election sections on most of the major news sites were so enormous that a person couldn't possibly process all the sections and subsections and sub-subsections. About 20 percent of the stuff seemed digestible; the rest was far more than the average visitor would care to chew.

But that's the nature of the Internet, isn't it? Throw enough stuff at the wall, and most of it will be used by someone. Let folks pick and choose their news. If nothing else, all the fodder provided a number of ready-made high school civics reports and fed the repurposing requirements of fellow reporters.

And why not? Airtime and column inches don't exist on the Internet. There's no need to decide between an interview with a candidate's grade school sweetheart, a 5,000-word analysis of his position on health care or a comparison of campaign platforms. You can do all of that and more.

This is a good thing, isn't it? Yes. As long as an organization has the resources and vision to distinguish its core coverage from the ornaments that surround it.

Along those lines, cheers to all of the major news sites for their efforts at live speech and debate coverage, solid election news and voting resources.

Nearly every news organization with access to live video streamed it quite successfully during the debates and provided cataloged archives for future reference (abcNEWS.com even offered a stream in Spanish). Nearly live text transcripts were also available on most sites.

The innovation award goes to Web White & Blue 2000 (www.webwhiteblue.org). Sponsored by the Markle Foundation, the project was a consortium of 17 major Internet sites and news organizations from AOL and Yahoo to MTV and MSNBC. Each day the presidential candidates or their surrogates would respond to a question submitted by a visitor at one of the partner sites. The answers and rebuttals could come in any format and were unlimited in length. …