Americans Continue to Dominate in Online Competition

By: Steve Outing

For the second year, I administered the Editor & Publisher Best Online Newspaper Services Competition, results of which were announced today at the Interactive Newspapers conference in Houston, Texas. And for the second year (this is the second contest we’ve run), U.S. newspaper Web sites dominated the awards, winning 10 of 10 first place spots.

(To see the full list of winners, go to this Web page.)

Last year’s results also had all U.S. winners — and that was partly as a result of the majority of entrants last year being U.S. news Web sites. This year, as we developed the process for the contest, we wanted to make sure that non-U.S. sites could compete on equal footing with the Americans. I assembled a panel of 21 volunteer judges — all well known and respected in the field of interactive media — who hailed from 12 different countries and were fluent, collectively, in 17 different languages. (Here you’ll find the list of judges.)

We received entries from a total of 160 Web publications this year — from 26 different countries (on six continents) and publishing in nine different languages. As might be expected, the vast majority of sites were in English.

The judges identified as the strongest news Web sites in the world 10 U.S. entries. That’s not terribly surprising, because the U.S. was the country where the commercialization of the Internet took off first; American news Web publishers had a head start on much of the rest of the world in learning how to effectively use the online medium. But as comments by the judges indicated, publishers from other parts of the globe are fast catching up, and next year I fully expect to see less U.S. dominance of this contest.

Judge Jak Boumans from The Netherlands commented that several non-U.S. sites that he judged compare favorably with older and more established American sites.

Two non-U.S. sites that did do well were the Jerusalem Post Internet Edition and the Irish Times on the Web. The Post won an Honorable Mention award for use of advertising on Web sites by newspapers with under 100,000 print circulation. The Irish Times won Honorable Mention for best editorial content on a Web site, also in the under 100,000 circulation category.

Big in print world, big online

The big winner in the contest was the New York Times on the Web, which won two first-place awards: best overall online newspaper service (large circulation category) and best editorial content on a Web site. Judges, who rated various components of sites on a 1-10 scale and their scores averaged, gave the Times site an aggregate score in the Overall category of 9.13. Only one other site scored above 9.0 in the contest. (To put the Times’ score in context, the average score for entries in the Overall, large-circulation category was 7.40.)

The Times site scored a number of 10’s from our judges. That’s no easy feat, as contest instructions indicated that for a site to get a 10 score from a judge, it must be “absolutely perfect; could scarcely be improved upon.” Among the judges who reviewed the Times site for the Overall contest category, all of them scored it a perfect 10 in the categories of editorial content quality and comprehensiveness, and timeliness. It scored 9.5 in the category of design and user interface. The site’s lowest score in the Overall category was 8.5, in the use of advertising and fostering online community rankings.

But despite high praise, even the Times site had room for improvement, according to the judges. One complained that the site took too much time to load on screen. Said one, “It is not a truly interactive site; too much of the broadcasting paradigm is left. Still, (it’s) one of the best sites on the Web!” Said another, “This is an excellent site, very attractive, easy to navigate and uses the most recent Web techniques. It has no chats or sound; those features could be a good idea so readers can communicate with each other and interchange ideas or impressions.”

The winner in the Best Overall category for newspapers under 100,000 print circulation was a site that many people may not have seen before, the Sunline service of the Charlotte Herald Sun in Charlotte Harbor, Florida. It was the only other Web site in the contest to score above 9.0 — 9.06, to be exact.

Sunline was praised by judges for its success at serving its community. Said one judge, “This is a very impressive site in that it is truly intending to be the information source of the community first, a distribution mechanism for the news second. There is a great compilation of local and community links. This is a model for a small community information site — clean, usable and full of useful and interesting information. I’m very impressed.”

Another judge liked Sunline’s “Tributes” area, which enables users to write tributes to departed friends and relatives, and write their own obituaries in advance. The site also allows readers (individuals or community organizations) to build their own homepages and post them on the Sunline server. “Would be hard to ask for more from a small paper. And its creativity outstrips that of many larger papers,” a judge commented.

Non-newspaper news site

While the E&P contest is geared toward the newspaper industry specifically, we fully recognize that on the World Wide Web, traditional models of media are merging. A TV station or an entrepreneurial start-up can create a Web news service that looks very much like a newspaper’s site; the Web creates an even playing field. With that in mind, we included a category for Best Online News Service by a Non-newspaper Company.

Coming in first place was the News.com service from C|Net, with an aggregate score of 8.58. Judges praised the site’s design and interface, depth of editorial content, and timeliness of its news. Only its use of advertising, which was not deemed particularly innovative, kept the score from being higher. “One of the best examples of the definition of what an online information service, and specifically, a new information service, should be,” wrote one of the judges.

The organizers believe that the results of this contest can serve an educational role for the newspaper new media industry. We hope that you’ll take the time to look over the sites of the winners.

Entrants in the contest may be interested in their sites’ specific scores. That information is not being posted publicly on the Web, but if you send me an e-mail note and the name of your publication, I will send you judges’ rankings. In order that I can filter out this mail, please send it to [email protected] (Please be aware that I receive a lot of mail, so I will appreciate your patience if I am slow to reply.)

Interactive Newspapers conference daily coverage

Daily news coverage of the Interactive Newspapers conference in Houston, Texas, which runs through Saturday, is being provided on a special “Conference Daily News” Web site by Editor & Publisher. E&P Web editorial director Hoag Levins and editors from E&P magazine are offering up coverage of the daily events.

The special daily conference Web site, which can be found by going to the main E&P home page, is being solely sponsored by New York-based online classifieds company AdOne.

No column on Monday

Due to the President’s Day holiday in the U.S., there will be no Stop The Presses! column on Monday, February 17. The next column will appear on Wednesday, the 19th.

Steve

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This column is written by Steve Outing exclusively for Editor & Publisher Interactive three days a week. News, tips, and other communications may be sent to Mr. Outing at [email protected]

The views expressed in the above column do not necessarily represent the views of the Editor & Publisher company

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