Magazine article Nieman Reports

Network Web Sites Influence Political Reporting: By Compiling Coverage and Adding Original News and Analysis, the Networks Acquire a New Niche Audience-Including Political Journalists

Magazine article Nieman Reports

Network Web Sites Influence Political Reporting: By Compiling Coverage and Adding Original News and Analysis, the Networks Acquire a New Niche Audience-Including Political Journalists

Article excerpt

This year will be remembered as the time when the Internet arrived as a major force in presidential politics. And it won't be just because of Howard Dean's path breaking, online fundraising. The Web has also changed the way the media cover the campaign. Part of this change is occurring at newspapers, where reporters are using the Web to break news faster and display coverage that print editions would otherwise leave on the cutting-room floor. But a more intriguing development is underway at major television networks, which by using the Internet have found a new way to influence the campaign's media dialogue and agenda.

It happens at online publications like First Read, which I coauthor for NBC News. At ABC News, it's The Note. CBS News and CNN have their versions as well, and many Webloggers do this, too. Each is designed to synthesize major campaign developments and try to signal--some would say, direct--the next turn in the story. Distributed by e-mail and displayed on network Web sites, these daily messages reach tens of thousands of readers, including political reporters, opinion leaders, strategists for the candidates, and political junkies.

This new niche audience for the networks--a boutique corner of a business usually oriented to audiences of millions--is a relatively new entity. It began four years ago at my former employer, the ABC News political unit, and was intended to be used solely as an internal news planning document. To create this, my colleagues and I awoke at a painful predawn hour and forced ourselves to think hard about politics while showering, shaving and brushing our teeth. When we reached our offices, we'd comb through wire service reports and campaign schedules and e-mails we'd received overnight. We'd race through newspapers online looking for underlying themes and pieces of news within the news, then we'd check hard copies of papers for story placement and graphics not found online. While doing this, we'd track key interviews on the morning shows. Adding into the mix our own reporting, we'd distill the most keen insights we could muster for the army of people involved in preparing our network's newscasts.

At first, we distributed The Note throughout ABC News. Then it was sent by e-mail to favored sources outside the network, in addition to those at the network. Then ABCNews.com asked us to take The Note public on its site.

The Note's expanding audience, and the insider buzz it generated, soon spawned similar efforts at ABC's competitors, including my next and current employer, NBC News. Each of these Web publications differs in tone, format, length and audience. The Note, for example, plays up the inside-baseball details about the campaign, unwrapping its leads in a smart if not straightforward way. It is now written mostly for an audience outside of ABC News. CNN's The Morning Grind reports one or two political threads about what to expect during the day, often breaking minor news in the process and offering links to key news clips. My Web publication, NBC News's First Read, is written with its internal NBC audience in mind, laying out three to five stories and themes in politics on any given day. It assumes a politically savvy readership but leaves out the inside-ball references that are unlikely to make it into the newscasts that day.

The Web Publications' Impact

What the daily political Web publications have in common is an element of original reporting and analysis. …

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