The ‘Golden Age’ of Web news

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I think we’re in what we will be remembered as a “golden age” of Web news.

A golden age amid the rubble of declining revenues for newspapers and local TV stations? A golden age amid downsizing that is shrinking to newsrooms to the lowest levels in decades? A golden age amid the the boardroom battles in some of the largest media companies?

It certainly is and I say freakin’ bring it on.

All-media-meets on the Web has created a local news and advertising battlezone in market-after-market the likes of which I’ve never seen in a 30-plus-year career.

I’ve worked in a JOA (Joint Operating Agreement) newspaper market and the newsroom competition was fierce, but on the advertising and audience sides, it wasn’t because the business side represented both papers.

Newspapers and TV stations have long competed in news and advertising, but in different mediums. Not the same thing as playing in the same ball field.

National competitors were once, well, national, but they’ve gone local with both content and advertising.

Borrell Associates says TV stations are laggards to newspapers in online revenue, but newspaper online revenue growth is seeing a disturbing flattening as competition heats up in local markets.

And audience share is decidedly a different story. Historically, WRAL-TV in Raleigh, KUSA-TV in Denver, KXAS-TV in Dallas, and KTHV-TV in Little Rock have been pointed to as TV sites winning in their local markets. But that’s history.

It’s clear from the National Association of Broadcasters convention this month in Las Vegas that even the gray-haired men in suits have been into the Kool-Aide. And I would dare to guess that in many markets, TV Web sites are rapidly gaining on their newspapers competitors in local market share. Or have caught them. Or have passed them.

Argue specific data, but the trend is undeniable.

In my local market in Knoxville, Tenn., it’s a Web War mainly involving two big media companies, E.W. Scripps (for whom I work) and Gannett. Rocks are being thrown although the two companies remain increasingly uncomfortable partners on several fronts.

It’s a deadly serious battle for audience and ad dollars.

But it’s also fun, tremendous fun. The community will certainly win through more intense and competition-honed news coverage and some damn good local news Web sites.

Both companies are improving their already good Web presences (we launched a new Web platform a year ago and our chief TV rival, WBIR, has a slick new site in beta). Both are working to re-align their organizations for the battle. There is constant pressure for incremental improvement and innovation.

Here’s a snapshot of how it’s going from Compete. (The data from Hitwise, Scarborough, comScore, Alexa and Compete often vary widely, but this Compete tool is publicly available.)

In NASCAR, they call that door-banging racin’. And it is. See how the battle goes in your market.

If, as a journalist, being right and first, or getting a scoop doesn’t get you pumped up; or if getting beat doesn’t make you want to throw things at the wall, it’s time to head for the exits.

And that’s why it’s a golden age.

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This post is part of this month’s Carnival of Journalism, hosted at

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