ONLINE POLITICAL NEWS CONVERAGE
A STUDY OF FIRST BALLOT VOTING IN THE CANADIAN ALLIANCE
LEADERSHIP RACE (JUNE 22 - 24, 2000)
3.5 Lead Stories
Lead stories originating with the hosting news organization
accounted for 43.1 per cent of lead stories.
Predictably, Web sites hosted by traditional media
outlets generally featured double-duty content, that is, content
written by the same journalists who contribute to the newspaper.
TheStar.ca and TheGlobeandMail.com featured original
content lead stories in every download.
CBC.ca also featured exclusively original
content. However, given that journalists were not accorded bylines,
it is unlikely that the same journalists produced the Web site content
as produce the television and radio content, the way in which newspaper
journalists feed both the print and online editions.
By contrast, lead stories on Internet portal Web
sites overwhelmingly featured Canadian Press wire copy.
Overall, Canadian Press wire service copy was the source
for 33.6 per cent of lead stories. In an apparently similar business
arrangement, aol.ca featured exclusively CBC Web copy as
its news content.
Finally, as discussed in the previous section, Yahoo.ca
was unique among the study sites in offering comprehensive 'meta-journalism':
that is, a collection of links to stories from across media including
audio, video, wire and print sources. As a result, the source of
the lead story varied from download to download.
The Bourque Newswatch site is also modeled
on a meta-journalistic concept. However, the lead story often was
a one paragraph piece of original content.
One of the more troubling findings of this study,
at least from the perspective of journalists, was that byline credit
was far from assured on news Web sites. As mentioned above, CBC.ca
never accorded any credit to a journalist for writing posted news
articles. By extension, aol.ca did not either. This may
be because CBC.ca Web content is produced by what amounts
to a rewrite desk.
Equally troubling, Excite.ca actually stripped
the name of the journalist from wire stories, resulting in the Canadian
Press journalist being given byline credit on all Web sites
featuring Canadian Press wire copy except Excite.ca.
As the traditional media move onto the Web, it appears
they may also place less emphasis on crediting journalists for their
work. While a journalist was credited in each lead story on the
more static sites, TheStar.ca and NationalPost.com,
on the more dynamic TheGlobeandMail.com site no journalist
was credited with a byline in two of 12 downloads.
Only those sites with journalists filing copy in
'real time' appeared to treat lead stories as 'living documents'.
CBC.ca and TheGlobeandMail.com were the only sites
where in some instances lead stories remained more or less the same
between downloads but the lead paragraph of the story was edited
or updated by the journalist.
Generally, however, the lead either remained exactly
the same in the previous download or had a completely new lead story
In 54.9 per cent of downloaded lead stories the
lead (and by extension the lead story) had not changed; in 39.8
per cent of downloads the story was completely new. The likelihood
of there being a completely new lead story posted at a given Web
site was correlated with the time of the download and not correlated
with which Web site it was posted on.
As with the political front pages, the lead stories
were somewhat disappointing in terms of integrating the unique interactive
features of the Internet such as audience polls, quizzes and discussion
forums into lead story pages. In 61.1 per cent of lead stories there
were no interactive features whatsoever.
Those sites that did integrate interactive features
into lead story pages were not necessarily the same sites that did
so on the national / political news front pages. For example, TheStar.ca,
which had no interactive features on the front page, featured a
'speak out' discussion forum link at the end of each story page,
as did Canoe.com and Sympatico.ca.
No photographs appeared on 52.2 per cent of lead
story pages. TheGlobeandMail.com, Excite.ca and
Bourque Newswatch did not include a photograph in any of
the lead stories downloaded for this study.
In 20.4 per cent of lead stories there was one photograph.
Sympatico.ca was most consistent, including a photograph
on nine out of 12 lead story pages.
Lead story pages featured four or more photographs
in 16.8 per cent of downloads. CBC.ca and aol.ca
featured four or more photographs in six out of 12 downloaded stories.
Yahoo.ca and TheStar.ca included four or more
photographs in 33.3 per cent and 25.0 per cent of downloads, respectively.
Audio and Video
Again, as on the national / political front pages,
links to audio or video were rare on most sites. In total there
were no such links in 73.5 per cent of downloaded lead stories.
TheStar.ca, Canoe.com, Excite.ca, Sympatico.ca
and Bourque Newswatch did not feature any audio or video
links in any downloaded lead story.
Given their origination with a broadcast media source,
it is not surprising that CBC.ca and aol.ca most
consistently featured audio and video links on lead story pages.
There were at least three audio or video links in each downloaded
lead story from these two (essentially identical) Web sites.
Yahoo.ca featured four or more audio or
video links in six out of nine downloaded lead stories.
Links to Other News
The number of links to related leadership news stories
included on each lead story page varied from site to site, and between
Many lead story pages, 31.9 per cent of all downloads,
included five or more links to related news.
However, 39.8 per cent of lead story pages had no
links to related news stories at all.
Links to Party and Candidate Sites
Links to related Web sites were much more rare.
This suggests that Web site hosts may prefer to keep online news
users within their site to read their news rather than encourage
site users to explore a broader spectrum of information sources.
Many sites, 60.2 per cent in all - including TheStar.ca,
Canoe.com, Excite.ca, Sympatico.ca and
the Bourque Newswatch site - did not include any links
to party or candidate sites at all. A further 27.4 per cent of downloaded
lead story pages featured just one link, generally to the Canadian
Alliance home page.
Links to Policy Sites
Links to policy sites were even more rare. Only
0.9 per cent of downloaded lead story pages had more than one link
to a policy-oriented site.
Generally, lead story pages did not have any links
to policy related sites. This was the case 73.5 per cent of the
time. There was one link to a policy oriented site in 25.7 per cent
of downloaded lead stories.