When it comes to the Internet, if it's election news you want,
there's plenty of it - but don't get too attached to any quirky
news sites unless they have deep pockets.
While some online outlets are reveling in all-time high traffic,
nervous investors are pulling away from others, even as they receive
critical praise. This has left journalists looking for jobs and
Internet users deleting bookmarks.
"In this dotcom environment, it's hard to tell where we'll be in
60 days," says Hoag Levins, executive editor of crime site
APBnews.com, which watched its funds dry up earlier this year and
laid off dozens of staffers before finding a new owner.
Sites like APBnews, Salon, and Thestreet have all had problems
this year - which some industry-watchers attribute to trying to do
too much too fast, and to the elusive formula for bringing
advertisers and Web surfers together.
But even as sites are downsizing and disappearing, others are
cropping up, suggesting that what is happening may be as much
natural media turnover as it is Wall Street misgivings.
"To some extent what we're seeing is not just retrenchment, it's
churn," says Janice Castro, a veteran of media Web sites and now an
assistant professor at Northwestern University's Medill School of
Indeed, many in the online news industry are optimistic about its
"For those of us who can claim financial security, the climate
has never been better," says Merrill Brown, editor of MSNBC.com,
which along with Slate.com is backed by Microsoft.
Thanks to the never-ending election, news sites MSNBC.com and
CNN.com had record traffic in November, according to Web-site
tracker Media Metrics. Major events, like the death of JFK Jr. or
the Monica Lewinsky debacle, bring new Web users on board and keep
them coming back, Web sites say.
In 2000, about 1 in 5 Americans went online for news about the
election, according to a study released this month by the Pew
Internet Project. In 1996, only 4 percent of people got their
election news off the Internet.
Mr. Brown points out that the Internet has allowed news media
into a place it wasn't before - the workplace - even though online
media are still trying to make inroads into households.
"The eyeballs are there, they just haven't found a way to
translate that into something advertisers are willing to buy into,"
says Sreenath Sreenivasan, an associate professor at Columbia's
graduate school of journalism, and the administrator of this
month's first ever Online Journalism Awards.
Ironically, that ceremony highlighted some of the industry's
problems, as several winners were products of struggling Web sites.
APBnews and Salon were winners (see list, right), as was writer
Emily Prager, whose column was cancelled after eight months when
Oxygen.com let her and other freelancers go. …