Nielsen//Netratings reports that during March eight of the top 20 news Web sites or ‘groups’ in the U.S. were affiliated with newspapers. Yet isn’t this like reporting that eight of the top 20 dining spots were affiliated with restaurants? Why this news? Why does it warrant a story in Editor & Publisher magazine?
I’ll tell you why. It’s news because online is one of the places where the newspaper industry is fighting for its life (the other places are on people’s doorsteps and on newsstands). Online has always been the newspaper industry’s medium to lose. I know for a fact that in March 1995 all 20 of the top 20 U.S. news Web sites or ‘groups’ were affiliated with newspapers. By March 2000, probably only 12 of the top 20 were. Now, only eight are. Here are Nielsen//Netratings current rankings (based upon a poll of 60,000 home and work online users. The time figures are that site’s average user’s total time on that site all month):
- CNN (24,315 users, 38:18 minutes per month)
- Yahoo! News (21,648 users, 32:21)
- MSNBC (20,453 users, 22:39)
- AOL News (14,460 users, 45:02)
- Gannett Newspapers (12,224 users, 14:11)
- Knight Ridder Digital (10,443 users, 11:33)
- Internet Broadcasting Systems Inc. (10,117 users, 13:53)
- Tribune Newspapers (9,456 users, 13:29)
- NYTimes.com (8,886 users, 51:59)
- ABCNews Digital (7,867 users, 12:41)
- USAToday.com (7,709 users, 18:32)
- Associated Press (6,794 users, 5:29)
- Hearst Newspapers Digital (6,373 users, 12:53)
- WashingtonPost.com (5,717 users, 25:03)
- Fox News (5,415 users, 45:42)
- CBS News (4,950 users, 7:01)
- Google News (4,904 users, 12:39)
- BBC News (4,881 users, 10:59)
- Advance Internet (4,608 users, 13:24)
- WorldNow (4,434 users, 8:21)
It’s no surprise that CNN’s quick fix on the news ranks first, nor CNN’s nemesis MSNBC ranks third online. But Yahoo! News, AOL News, Internet Broadcasting Systems (7th ranked), Google News (17th), and WorldNow (20th) are each news organizations that didn’t exist ten years ago (MSNBC didn’t either, but it at least half-stems from NBC News). Fifth and sixth places are taken respectively by Gannett and Knight Ridder, the first and second largest newspaper chains in the nation. Tribune, the third largest newspaper chain, ranks eights online. The next largest newspaper chains, Hearst and Advance, rank 13th and 19th online. The New York Times, USA Today, and the Washington Post rank 9th, 11th, and 14th. ABC, Fox, and CBS, the traditional TV networks that don’t have the large online oeprations that CNN and MSNBC do, rank a middling 10th, 15th, and 16th. A surprise is BBC news on the chart at 18th. Lesson in these rankings: Newspapers used to compete with just TV and radio, but now five of the top 20 U.S. news sites are organizations that wouldn’t have appreciable U.S. audiences if it weren’t for online technologies: Yahoo! News, AOL News, Internet Broadcasting Systems, Google News, the BBC, and WorldNow.
Why is Nielsen//Netratings aggregating the users of entire newspaper chains’ sites and comparing the aggregate total againt the usage of single newspapers such as The New York Times, USAToday, or Washington Post. Why compare the total users of all 89 Gannett U.S. newspapers against those of just the Washington Post? The reasons why are because otherwise no Gannett newspaper (except separately ranked USAToday) would appear on the chart. Few, if any, Knight Ridder, Tribune, Hearst, or Advance newspapers would, too. (All those companies are clients of Nielsen//Netratings). The only way it can be said that eight of the top 20 news Web sites or ‘groups’ in the U.S. aere affiliated with newspapers is if you lump entire newspaper chains’ sites together. I suppose that’s akin to saying that McDonalds and Burger King are among the top 20 restaurants in the U.S. Yet, in this case it doesn’t make sense to say that Gannett’s Norwich Bulletin is ranked among the top 20 U.S. news sites, alongside The New York Times. No way.
Now look at the aggregate monthly time figures for each of the top 20 U.S. news sites:
- NYTimes.com (51:59)
- Fox News (45:42)
- AOL News (45:02)
- CNN (38:18)
- Yahoo! News (32:21)
- washingtonpost.com (25:03)
- MSNBC (22:39)
- USAToday.com (18:32)
- Gannett Newspapers (14:11)
- Internet Broadcasting Systems Inc. (13:53)
- Tribune Newspapers (13:29)
- Advance Internet (13:24)
- Hearst Newspapers Digital (12:53)
- ABCNews Digital (12:41)
- Google News (12:39)
- Knight Ridder Digital (11:33)
- BBC News (10:59)
- WorldNow (8:21)
- CBS News (7:01)
- Associated Press (5:29)
Only five of the top 20 U.S. news sites engage their average user to stay on site more than more 30 minutes per month (an average of a minute per day?) Only one of those five sites is affiliated with a newspaper and two of those sites are from news organizations that exist entirely online.
Among online newspapers, the primacy of The New York Times is obvious: it gets double or triple the average reading time of other newspapers. Ditto Fox News among broadcasters’ sites: it gets 20 percent to 100 percent more usage time.
Most non-national daily newspapers get only some 13 to 14 minutes average usage all month long usage time that hasn’t changed during the last five years despite all sorts of ‘improvements’ to those sites. Its remarkable that Google News, which didn’t exist 18 months ago, gets about the same usage time.