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Netizens Crock The Vote

Viewers are hardly tuned in to election coverage online

Although broadcast networks may have limited their coverage of the Democratic and Republican conventions, their Internet arms helped pick up the slack with a too-much-is-not-enough exuberance.

But based on this summer’s conventions, do viewers really care about the presidential Web wave?

As a benchmark for Internet users’ interest, MSNBC.com‘s unique visits fell from 5,187,000 (July 23-29) to 3,745,000 (July 30-Aug. 5) the week of the Republican National Convention. And ABCNews.com experienced their least trafficked week since April with 856,000 unique visits for the convention week.

FoxNews.com, an exception, grew by 4,000.

The democrats couldn’t do any better. MSNBC.com’s visitors dropped from 4.5 million (Aug. 6-12) to 4.43 million (Aug. 13-19), the week of the L.A. bash. ABCnews.com rose slightly, going from 1.13 million to 1.21 million. FoxNews.com grew but by only 130,000 visits.

These numbers should serve as a caveat to those covering the Nov. 4 showdown: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Of course, that’s not slowing the networks down one bit.

Four years ago, text and chats made up the majority of the online election coverage; today, there’s an overabundance of online election information, from delegate diaries to correspondent quizzes.

“What we’re seeing is a coming of age in online journalism,” says Laura Durkin, senior veep at FoxNews.com. “This is the year that we make our bones in election coverage.”

Interested parties

Michael Silberman, exec editor of MSNBC.com, says even though television coverage and ratings for the conventions have declined, viewer “interest in Webcasting (at the conventions) is going up.”

Silberman credits that increase to the novelty of the new coverage, specifically streaming video. He also cites an interest from an online audience devoted to politics, noting that those viewers “want to check out the coverage even if they weren’t interested in watching it on television.”

“We saw our audience increase three or fours times our normal numbers for our videos (during the Republican convention),” says Silberman. “But we’re still talking about relatively small numbers, probably in the tens of thousands.”

As the election accelerates and voters feel more needy for news, the Web could offer advantages over television that could draw the eyeballs worthy of their exhaustive efforts.

“You don’t need an appointment to get information,” says Steve Jones, ABCNews’ exec producer, “but quantity without quality is meaningless.”

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