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A New Front Line in the Battle for Readers? Online Coverage of the 1996 Election by Denver's Competing Newspapers
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The Electronic Journal of Communication / La Revue Electronique de Communication
***** SINGER ****** EJC/REC Vol. 7, No. 3, 1997 ************


Jane B. Singer, Ph.D.
Colorado State University

        Abstract.  The _Denver Post_ and _Rocky
     Mountain News_ have been fiercely at war for 100
     years.  In the fall of 1996, the two papers got
     their first shot at trying to outgun each other in
     online political coverage.  This exploratory study
     analyzes the print and Web versions of the two
     papers during the campaign season to determine how
     they handled the opportunities and challenges of
     cyberspace; interviews with their online editors
     provide insight into why things were the way they
     were this time around.


     For more than 100 years, the _Denver Post_ and the
_Rocky Mountain News_ have been at each other's throats.
The populist _News_, whose editor became legendary for
fistfights with disgruntled readers, was already 33 years
old when a group of bankers and industrialists raised enough
money to start the _Post_ in 1892.  They shut it down for
lack of support a year later, revived it in 1894, then sold
it the following fall to the Wild West duo of Harry Tammen
(whose previous experience in serving the public consisted
of selling "authentic" souvenirs, made back East, to
tourists from his Denver storefront) and Frederick Bonfils
(who was on the lam because of a spot of trouble involving a
land-lot sales scam).

     The battle for Denver readers hasn't gotten much tamer

     The 1990s version of the well-publicized circulation
war in Denver has been described as a true showdown in the
Rockies:  just when it seems certain that one paper has won,
the other suddenly ascends (Shepard, 1995).  Denver is among
only a handful of U.S. cities still served by two
independent papers not under a Joint Operating Agreement.
Readers of each newspaper are continually bombarded with
both ads and news items declaring the paper they hold in
their hands to be winning the circulation war and accusing
the other of inflating its figures to stave off imminent and
inevitable death.  Although all the posturing makes reliable
figures hard to come by, the News, owned by Scripps-Howard,
reports a circulation of around 295,000 weekdays and 378,000
Sundays in the six-county Denver area where it is now
concentrating its efforts ("Denver Post caught," 1997).  The
_Post_, part of Dean Singleton's Media News group, says it
has an average daily circulation statewide of about 352,000,
going up to around 472,000 on Sundays (Meyers, 1997).

     Whatever the truth about the actual print circulation
numbers, it is a fact that competition between the two
papers entered a new arena in the mid-1990s:  Both went
online, the _Post_ in late 1995 and the News in early 1996,
just in time to greet the election year.  Across the nation,
the 1996 campaign was hailed as the first of the Web era,
offering an inkling of whether the "electronic republic"
envisioned by Grossman (1995) and others as redefining
traditional roles of citizenship and leadership would become
a reality.  Prognosticators declared that a big election
story would be how the Internet shaped the political
landscape, as candidates, media outlets and members of the
general public all began to reach critical mass online.
"Competition -- from the Microsoft Network to the Washington
_Post_ -- will be fierce," one observer said back in
January.  "All are angling to be credible and authoritative
voices in the sprawling, digital wilderness" (Houston, 1996,
p. 26).

     This exploratory study looks at coverage of the 1996
general election campaign and election results by both the
print and online versions of the _Denver Post_ and the
_Rocky Mountain News_.  In particular, it seeks to identify
the scope and nature of coverage in both formats and to
determine how the fierce battle in the streets of Denver
translated into cyberspace during what is, for people in the
news business, perhaps the most competitive of all seasons.

                     Literature Review

     It is still too soon to definitively identify the Web's
effect on the American electorate in 1996.  After the 1992
campaign, there was a great deal of talk about candidates'
use of nontraditional ways of reaching the public, from MTV
to radio and TV talk shows; in retrospect, it appears that
print and TV news continued to play a more potent role in
the campaign than the newcomers (McLeod et. al, 1996; Weaver
and Drew, 1995).  Diamond and Silverman may sum the
situation up best when they suggest that "computer democracy
spreads political communication farther and faster than ever
before, but not deeper" (1995, p. 150).

     But in 1992, "online newspapers" consisted almost
solely of a few pioneers offering small-scale electronic
versions either as stand-alone products or through such
commercial services as Prodigy or America Online; they were
very much still feeling their way, and their audience was,
perhaps mercifully, minuscule.  Studies that have sought to
assess the impact of online information on the election,
such as those conducted by Hollander (1995), have
necessarily considered newspapers as separate and distinct
from computer-based media forms rather than as contributors
to them.  Indeed, it is only very recently that researchers
have begun to view the Internet as a "multifaceted mass
medium" at all and to start to evolve conceptual and
theoretical approaches for studying the 'Net and its
audience (Morris and Ogan, 1996).

     However, initial reactions to the much-anticipated Year
of the Web indicate that, at least in terms of the electoral
process, it wasn't.  True, more than 800 commercial U.S.
newspapers had ventured online by the end of 1996 (Editor &
Publisher Online, 1997), along with hundreds of broadcast
and cable TV networks and affiliates, dozens of specialized
political information sites such as PoliticsNow and Project
VoteSmart, and countless candidates from the presidential
level down.

     But surveys indicate most Americans either didn't know
or didn't care.  A Pew Research Center survey found only 3
percent of its respondents went online more than once a week
for campaign information; a Media Studies Center survey
found that only 6 percent _ever_ visited a politically
oriented site.  "I don't think the 'Net culture played any
role at all" in 1996, says Wired media critic Jon Katz.
"The candidate who could have used it [Dole] didn't know
about it.  The candidate who knew about it [Clinton] didn't
need it" (Jurkewitz, 1996, p. 54).  Columbia University
scholar John Pavlik suggests that the 1996 campaign season
reflected a "latency" period, when forces were building but
the "great tectonic shifts" in the political plate of the
nation were not yet visible -- as, he predicted, they will
be by 2000 (Pavlik, 1997).

     In the meantime, newspapers did offer extensive online
coverage of the '96 campaign, and they tried plenty of
innovative things in the new medium.  Examples range from a
_New York Times_ form for calculating what one's taxes would
be under the Dole or Clinton plans (Hall, 1997), to a
Chicago Tribune virtual tour of political conventions past
and present (Harper, 1996), to a wide selection of political
discussion forums, cyberballots, polls and databases.  It's
just that they seem to have been preaching mainly to the
choir.  Early analysis of Web users during the primary
season, for instance, indicates the people who visited
political sites were news junkies with a higher-than-average
level of interest in the campaign anyway (Cybercampaigns
Preach, 1996).  Researchers continue to tally the effect of
online political information on voters in the general
election, but early returns indicate it may have been

     Newspapers with Web sites are still too new a
phenomenon to have generated much published research into
the nature of online competition, but a considerable amount
of work has been done, particularly by Lacy and his
colleagues, on how a diversity of media voices affects the
news product.  The consensus seems to be that the more media
outlets, the greater the diversity of content -- but only up
to a point that lies within boundaries established by
journalists' similar news judgments and publishers' similar
financial constraints.

     However, some researchers suggest the differences may
be greater than previously supposed.  Johnson and Wanta
(1993), for example, examined three St.  Louis newspapers
(only two of which were in operation at any one time, and
only one of which remains today) and found significant
differences in the stories that editors chose to run.  Of
particular interest here is that the surviving paper,
Pulitzer's _Post-Dispatch_, devoted almost a third of its
news hole to political stories, running nearly twice as many
political stories as its competitor during the study period
in the mid-1980s.

     But as Schudson (1995) and others have pointed out,
there is considerable evidence that while the average
citizen has access to more diverse sources of news than ever
(for instance, satellite communication technology makes it
possible to get daily editions of such papers as USA Today,
The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal almost
anywhere in the country), control over that news is in the
hands of fewer and fewer institutions.  Information may come
from more places, but it is often the same information in
different packages.

     Of particular relevance here are two studies recently
published in _Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly_.
First, Vermeer (1995) found that the presence of more
newspapers in a county leads to closer election outcomes,
especially in open-seat contests in which no incumbent is
running (true of the 1996 U.S.  Senate race to replace
retiring Coloradan Hank Brown).  In another study, Coulson
and Lacy (1996) report that newspaper journalists -- who at
most papers, including the _Denver Post_ and _Rocky Mountain
_News_, are responsible for producing Web site content --
believe competition promotes editorial diversity,
competitiveness for stories and increased sensationalism.
But as the authors suggest, the fact that hometown dailies
are no longer seen as the only "real news" source for their
communities creates fertile ground for research into the
nature of intermedia competition.  This study of how two
competing papers used the Web to cover the 1996 election
hopes to offer a step in that direction.


     Two complementary methods of data collection were used
in this study.  The primary method was a content analysis of
both the print and online versions of the _Denver Post_ and
the _Rocky Mountain News_ during three selected weeks in
August, October and November 1996.  The goal was to assess
the scope of political coverage in each medium, so that they
could be compared and contrasted.  In addition, interviews
were conducted, in person and by telephone, with the
newsroom editors in charge of the online products at each of
the two papers.

     The three one-week periods during the general election
campaign "season" selected for study -- each a Friday
through a Thursday, partly in order to incorporate complete
weekend coverage and partly for news reasons -- were not
chosen at random.  Rather, they encompassed dates that were
especially relevant both nationally and in the Denver

     _Friday, August 16 through Thursday, August 22,
     1996._ The Republican convention in San Diego
     ended on Thursday, Aug. 15, and the Democratic
     convention in Chicago opened Monday, Aug. 26.
     This week's coverage included Bob Dole's
     acceptance speech ending the GOP convention and
     his visit to Denver the day after the convention;
     it also incorporated the run-up to the Democratic
     gathering.  More important to the Denver market,
     the Reform Party's unorthodox "convention" in
     Valley Forge, Pa., was held the weekend of Aug.
     17.  Former Colorado Gov.  Dick Lamm was
     (unsuccessfully) challenging Ross Perot for the
     party's presidential nomination.

     _Friday, Oct. 11 through Thursday, Oct. 17._ This
     week was selected in order to incorporate coverage
     of President Clinton's visit to the Denver area
     and local campaign rally the weekend of Oct. 12,
     as well as stories before and after the second
     presidential debate on Wednesday, Oct. 16.

     _Friday, Nov. 1 through Thursday, Nov. 7._ This
     period surrounded Election Day, Nov. 5. It took in
     coverage of the final stages of the campaigns,
     including the last stormy debate between the
     candidates in Colorado's U.S.  Senate race.
     Inclusion of the Wednesday and the Thursday papers
     after the election captured both election-night
     coverage and the day-after summaries and analyses
     that the two papers provided.

     For each of these weeks, two sets of data were
gathered.  One set consisted of all U.S. election-related
items in the local and national news sections of the early
edition (delivered outside the metro area) of the printed
_Post_ and _News_, plus political editorials, op-ed columns,
cartoons and letters on their editorial and op-ed pages.
These items were recorded and categorized using a coding
sheet that accommodated such information as story source,
length, accompanying graphics and category (presidential,
U.S.  Senate, etc.).  In all, 774 election news items were
identified and coded during the three weeks of the study:
354 from the _Post_ and 420 from the _News_.  In addition,
89 editorials and op-ed columns, plus 34 editorial cartoons
and 65 readers' letters were identified and coded from the
_Post_, as were another 89 editorials and columns, 46
editorial cartoons and 61 letters from the _News_.  The
findings are described below.

     The author did all the coding herself, so no intercoder
reliability tests were necessary.  Intracoder reliability
was tested after all the coding was completed, by repeating
the analysis of two randomly selected papers.  Of the 21
items originally identified as political items in the August
20 _News_, all but two -- a 1-inch brief about a dinner to
benefit a state House candidate and an op-ed column about
political leanings within the writer's family -- were so
identified on the recount.  No new items that had not been
originally identified as political content were identified
on the recount.  The overall identification correlation was
90.5.  All items were placed in the originally identified
category on the recount, so the overall category correlation
was perfect.

     Of the 30 items originally identified as political
items in the Oct. 17 _Post_, the other paper analyzed twice,
all were identified on the recount, as well.  No additional
items were identified on the recount, so the identification
correlation was perfect.  All news items were placed in the
originally identified category on the recount; one editorial
and one op-ed piece were placed in different categories the
second time around, for an overall category correlation of
93.3 percent.

     For both recounts combined, the overall identification
correlation was 96.1 percent; overall category correlation
also was 96.1 percent.

     The second set of data consisted of printouts of the
home pages and the political content offered by the online
versions of the _Post_ and the _News_.  The author accessed
the online papers at roughly the same time during the
afternoon of each day of the selected weeks.  The _News_ did
not have a separate section for campaign coverage, so any
relevant stories were simply printed out.  The _Post_
offered a "Colorado Campaign" section that included both
daily updates and archives of previous stories; both the
day's new items and the menus of archived material were

     In all, 116 election-related news items (not including
links to other sites) were identified and printed out from
the two online papers:  35 from the _News_ and 81 from the
_Post_ (see Tables 1 and 2).  Because almost all of these
items also appeared in print, they were not individually
coded in the same way.  Rather, they were analyzed for any
_differences_ between the printed and online versions, such
as changes in headlines or text.  When the online version
offered items that were not in the print paper -- such as
the full text of the presidential debates linked from a
story in the online _News_ -- these were also noted.



The numbers reflect news items that appeared during the
selected periods, not previously archived material. Each
item was counted only once, on the day it appeared.
Table 2 offers more details.

               AUGUST    OCTOBER   NOVEMBER     TOTAL

PRINTED POST   49        92        213          354

ONLINE POST    13        20        43            76[1]

PRINTED NEWS   79        94        247[2]       420

ONLINE NEWS    11        12        12            35
[1]  In addition, the online _Post_ ran four op-ed
columns, written by the paper's staffers, during the
three weeks; it also ran its own editorial endorsements,
beginning Nov. 3. Those five items bring the total
number of online items to 81.

[2]  The _News_ also ran a 32-page pull-out Election Guide
as part of its Sunday, Nov. 3, paper. The _Post_'s Election
Guide ran during a week not included in this study; the
number above does not include stories in the _News'_
Election Guide because their inclusion would create an
inaccurate impression of the comparability of coverage
by the two papers. As a point of information, the _News'_
guide contained 91 stories, consisting primarily of
candidate profiles and answers to questions about their
stands on various issues; and 29 infographics, such as
maps of Colorado's congressional districts, boxed
descriptions of contested offices and a sample ballot.



Counts reflect news items first, followed by
editorial-page items (editorials, op-ed columns,
cartoons, letters) after the slash. Archived items
are counted only on the day they first appear.

          POST      POST      NEWS      NEWS
_                                             _
Aug. 16   13/11     4[1]/--   14/5       4/--
Aug. 17    5/7      3/--      11/5       2/--
Aug. 18    9/9      2/1       17/14      1/--
Aug. 19    6/4      2/--       6/7       3/--
Aug. 20    5/10     --        13/8       1/--
Aug. 21    4/6      2/1        9/10      --
Aug. 22    7/6      --         9/6       --
_                                             _
Oct. 11   24/8      5/--      11/8       --
Oct. 12    6/4      2/--      12/4       1/--
Oct. 13   14/16     1/--      20/15      2/--
Oct. 14    8/2      1[1]/--    9/7       4/--
Oct. 15    7/8      1/--       9/11      1/--
Oct. 16   14/6      7/--      18/9       --
Oct. 17   19/11     3[1]/--   15/9       4/--
_                                             _
Nov. 1    32/15     6/--      34/11     --[2]
Nov. 2    17/11     6/--      26/8      --[2]
Nov. 3    29/24     5/1[3]    28/36     1/--
Nov. 4    13/4      6/1       15/5      3/--
Nov. 5    17/7      --         8/6      1/--
Nov. 6    53/9      9[1]      82/4      4/--
Nov. 7    52/10     11[1]/1   54/8      3/--
_                                             _
TOTALS   354/188    76/5     420/196   35/--
[1]  Two print stories were combined into one
     online story in the _Post_ on Aug. 16, Oct. 14,
     Oct. 17 and Nov. 7. On Nov. 6, 14 print items
     were merged into nine online items.

[2]  The online _News_ apparently was not updated
     on Nov. 1 or 2.

[3]  The _Post_ began running its endorsements online
     on Nov. 3.


     Because of the transient nature of online content, it
was not possible to perform reliability tests on this
material to ascertain whether all political items had been
identified when they appeared.

     In addition to this analysis of the print and online
products, interviews with _Post_ and _News_ journalists
involved in the Web sites were conducted on Aug. 6
(face-to-face at each paper, taped); Oct. 18 (face-to-face
at each paper, taped); Oct. 23 (by phone, with the _Post_
online editor, who had been called away to a meeting during
the author's visit on the 18th); Nov. 13 (by phone, _Post_
online editor); and Nov. 20 (by phone, _News_ editor).
Notes and, where available, tapes of these interviews were
transcribed and used to provide insights into the nature of
competition, online and "offline," as well as the reasons
behind decisions reflected in political coverage on the Web.


     Probably what is most immediately obvious is that the
sheer volume of election-related information offered in the
print papers dwarfed what was available online on any given
day.  The goal of this study was not to detail differences
between the broadsheet _Post_ and the tabloid _News_,
although the data do lend themselves to follow-up
statistical analysis along those lines.  But the raw numbers
indicate that in print, the two competing papers were
roughly comparable in their political coverage -- with the
_News_ taking a numerical edge attributable mainly to more
short items about the presidential contest and a greater
emphasis on Denver-area races, in line with the paper's
marketing strategy of pulling back to circulate almost
exclusively within the metro area (see Tables 3 and 4).
Such a finding would be in accordance with those suggested
by Lacy and others, as mentioned above.



In the November column, the first number reflects
pre-election items and the second number reflects
post-election items, including results.

"Graphics" reflect stand-alone photos and stand-alone
infographics; graphics accompanying stories were
tallied with those stories. Infographics were used
primarily for vote tallies.

               _                                  _
PRESIDENT (Including vice president)
Under 50 picas   10      14        9/3        36
50.5 to 100      25      21        11/5       62
100.5 and over   10      13        9/4        36
Graphics          1       2        2/4         9
                         TOTAL PRESIDENT:    143
_                                                 _
U.S. SENATE (Colorado)
Under 50 picas   --       1        2/--        3
50.5 to 100       1       5        5/2        13
100.5 and over   --      --        2/--        2
Graphics         --      --        2/2         4
                         TOTAL U.S. SENATE:   22
_                                                 _
U.S. HOUSE (Colorado)
Under 50 picas   --      --        1/--        1
50.5 to 100      --       2        2/4         8
100.5 and over   --       1        1/1         3
Graphics         --      --        2/13       15
                         TOTAL U.S. HOUSE:    27
_                                                 _
U.S. CONGRESS (State delegation as whole, plus nationwide)
Under 50 picas   --       1        --          1
50.5 to 100      --       4        --/1        5
100.5 and over   --       1        --/2        3
Graphics         --      --         1/--       1
                         TOTAL U.S. CONGRESS: 10
_                                                 _
Under 50 picas   --      --         1/--        1
50.5 to 100      --      --         --         --
100.5 and over   --       1         1/1         3
Graphics         --      --        --/1         1
                          TOTAL STATE SENATE:   5
_                                                 _
Under 50 picas   --      --        --          --
50.5 to 100      --       1        1/--         2
100.5 and over   --       2        1/--         3
Graphics        --        --      --/2          2
                          TOTAL STATE HOUSE:    7
_                                                 _
COLORADO STATE BALLOT ISSUES (Amendments, referenda)
Under 50 picas   1       --        1/--         2
50.5 to 100     --        2        2/3          7
100.5 and over  --        1        2/1          4
Graphics        --       --       --/1          1
                          TOTAL BALLOT ISSUES: 14
_                                                 _
DENVER (Primarily district attorney race)
Under 50 picas  --       --        1/--         1
50.5 to 100     --        2        1/3          6
100.5 and over  --       --        1/--         1
Graphics        --       --       --/1          1
                                 TOTAL DENVER:  9
_                                                 _
LOCAL (Communities outside Denver)
Under 50 picas  --        2       --           2
50.5 to 100     --       --       1/14        15
100.5 and over  --        1       1/1          3
Graphics        --       --      --/1          1
                         TOTAL LOCAL:         21
_                                                 _
OUT OF STATE (Races in other states)
Under 50 picas  --       --       9/--         9
50.5 to 100     --        4       3/1          8
100.5 and over  --        4       3/--         7
Graphics        --       --      --           --
                         TOTAL OUT OF STATE:  24
_                                                 _
Under 50 picas  --       --        6/--        6
50.5 to 100     --        5        9/2        16
100.5 and over  --        1        7/1         9
Graphics        --       --        7/1         8
                         TOTAL VOTERS:        39
_                                                 _
Under 50 picas  --       --        --         --
50.5 to 100     --       --        --/3        3
100.5 and over  --       --        --         --
Graphics        --       --        --/4        4
                         TOTAL EDUCATION:      7
_                                                 _
STATEWIDE (General election-related items, Colorado)
Under 50 picas  --       --       --          --
50.5 to 100     --       --       --/2         2
100.5 and over  --       --       --/5         5
Graphics        --       --       --/2         2
                         TOTAL STATEWIDE:      9
_                                                 _
MEDIA (Media coverage or media use)
Under 50 picas  --        1        1/--        2
50.5 to 100     --       --        1/1         2
100.5 and over  --       --        --         --
Graphics        --       --        --         --
                         TOTAL MEDIA:          4
_                                                 _
MISCELLANEOUS (Political process, parties, candidates)
Under 50 picas  --       --        --         --
50.5 to 100     --       --        2/5         7
100.5 and over   1       --        4/1         6
Graphics        --       --        --         --
                         TOTAL MISCELLANEOUS: 13
_                                                 _
during selected weeks:



In the November column, the first number reflects
pre-election items and the second number reflects
post-election items, including results.

"Graphics" reflect stand-alone photos and stand-alone
infographics; graphics accompanying stories were
tallied with those stories. Infographics were used
primarily for vote tallies.

               _                                  _
PRESIDENT (Including vice president)
Under 50 picas   32      14        16/3       65
50.5 to 100      26      25        19/16      86
100.5 and over    5       3         8/2       18
Graphics         --      --         2/12      14
                         TOTAL PRESIDENT:    183
_                                                 _
U.S. SENATE (Colorado)
Under 50 picas   1       3         1/--        5
50.5 to 100      2       6         4/--       12
100.5 and over  --       3         4/1         8
Graphics        --      --        --/4         4
                         TOTAL U.S. SENATE:   29
_                                                 _
U.S. HOUSE (Colorado)
Under 50 picas   1       1        --/5         7
50.5 to 100     --       3         4/2         9
100.5 and over  --       2        --           2
Graphics        --       --       --          --
                         TOTAL U.S. HOUSE:    18
_                                                 _
U.S. CONGRESS (State delegation as whole, plus nationwide)
Under 50 picas  --       --        3/0         3
50.5 to 100      1       --        2/3         6
100.5 and over  --        1        2/--        3
Graphics        --       --        --         --
                         TOTAL U.S. CONGRESS: 12
_                                                 _
Under 50 picas   1       --        1/--        2
50.5 to 100     --       --        2/--        2
100.5 and over  --       --        --/1        1
Graphics        --       --        --         --
                         TOTAL STATE SENATE:   5
_                                                 _
Under 50 picas  --       --        --         --
50.5 to 100     --        2        --          2
100.5 and over  --       --        --/2        2
Graphics        --       --        --         --
                         TOTAL STATE HOUSE:    4
_                                                 _
COLORADO STATE BALLOT ISSUES (Amendments, referenda)
Under 50 picas  --        2        2/1         5
50.5 to 100      1       --        8/12       21
100.5 and over  --       --       --/2         2
Graphics        --       --       --/1         1
                         TOTAL BALLOT ISSUES: 29
_                                                 _
DENVER (Primarily district attorney race)
Under 50 picas   1        1        2/--        4
50.5 to 100      1        6        3/5        15
100.5 and over  --        2        2/--        4
Graphics        --       --        --         --
                         TOTAL DENVER:        23
_                                                 _
LOCAL (Communities outside Denver)
Under 50 picas   2       --        2/6        10
50.5 to 100      3        3        4/12       22
100.5 and over  --        4        2/2         8
Graphics        --       --        --/1        1
                         TOTAL LOCAL:         41
_                                                 _
OUT OF STATE (Races in other states)
Under 50 picas  --         4       2/2         8
50.5 to 100      1        --       4/4         9
100.5 and over  --        --       --         --
Graphics        --        --       --/1        1
                         TOTAL OUT OF STATE:  18
_                                                 _
Under 50 picas  --         5       2/--        7
50.5 to 100     --         1      13/5        19
100.5 and over  --         1       2/2         5
Graphics        --        --       1/--        1
                         TOTAL VOTERS:        32
_                                                 _
Under 50 picas  --        --       --/1        1
50.5 to 100     --        --       --/1        1
100.5 and over  --        --       --/1        1
Graphics        --        --       --         --
                         TOTAL EDUCATION:      3
_                                                 _
STATEWIDE (General election-related items, Colorado)
Under 50 picas  --        --       --         --
50.5 to 100     --         1        1/1        3
100.5 and over  --        --       --/2        2
Graphics        --        --       --         --
                         TOTAL STATEWIDE:      5
_                                                 _
MEDIA (Media coverage or media use)
Under 50 picas  --        --       --         --
50.5 to 100     --        --       --/3        3
100.5 and over  --        --       --         --
Graphics        --        --       --         --
                         TOTAL MEDIA:          3
_                                                 _
MISCELLANEOUS (Political process, parties, candidates)
Under 50 picas  --         1       1/2         4
50.5 to 100     --        --       --/4        4
100.5 and over   1        --       1/5         7
Graphics        --        --       --         --
                         TOTAL MISCELLANEOUS: 15
_                                                 _
during selected weeks:


     Online, however, the differences between the two papers
were considerable, as were the differences between each
paper's own print and online versions.  The _News_, which
offered 616 political news and editorial-page items in the
print paper during the three selected weeks (not counting a
32-page pull-out Election Guide in the Nov. 3 paper, which
contained another 91 stories plus dozens of stand-alone
infographics), ran just 35 election-related items online
during the same period, or around 6 percent of the political
content in the paper.  The _Post_ offered more online
content -- 81 unique political items during the three weeks
-- but still less than 15 percent of the 542 total news and
editorial-page items related to politics in the print paper.

     The reason for the difference between the two online
versions was apparent from visits to the two newsrooms.  A
three-person team worked on the online _Post_:  a former
political reporter and long-time city editor who was in
charge of the online service; a recent college journalism
graduate who worked as a consultant, handling updates and
helping develop new content; and, as of late September, an
online advertising executive.  At the _News_, the copy desk
was given the task of updating the online service at some
point in an already-busy evening; the person in charge of
the online product was the deputy managing editor, whose
main job was to get the printed paper off the floor every

     "We're trying to do it with limited resources," said
_News_ Deputy M.E. Jack McElroy (McElroy, 1996a).  "And in
the Denver market, where you don't have a monopoly situation
with the newspaper, resources are especially scarce and have
to be devoted toward the primary objective, which is
survival of the printed product."  The _News'_ philosophy
was to use the Web to complement the print edition, so
online content tended to have "shelf life" -- a recreation
guide, entertainment information, background on the city's
pro sports teams.  "Politics is clearly an area that you
want to get involved in.  It's very central to what
newspapers do.  But some limitations that we've been faced
with in terms of manpower and also equipment have not made
that a primary area," he said.  "We're trying to do as much
as possible with as little as possible."

     Although the _Post_ at the time of this study had made
a stronger commitment to its online product, resources also
were scarce there.  "We have not developed the type of depth
that I would like to develop in original content for the
political section.  We still don't have the resources to do
it," said New Media Editor Todd Engdahl (Engdahl, 1996).
His wish list included, in addition to more staffers, the
"bells and whistles" that would allow search functions,
online forums, sample ballots and more.

     In the meantime, the primary advantage over print that
the _Post_ offered those seeking political information
online was an extensive archive of stories about the
presidential, senate and congressional races in Colorado.  A
story might run on the _Post_'s home page or at the top of
its online "Colorado Campaign" section the same day it
appeared in print, then move to the appropriate archive
spot, creating a running account of developments in key
contests.  "You have a depth you can't have with the
newspaper unless you're an obsessive clipper and filer,"
Engdahl explained (Engdahl, 1996).

     Both the _Post_ and _News_ also offered hypertext links
to additional material available online.  The _Post_'s site
included a standing section called "On the Net," with links
to candidates' home pages, national political news sites
such as Politics Now, and sites offered by major national
news organizations such as CNN and The New York Times.
However, the _Post_ did not incorporate those links within
its stories; users had to return to a menu page and work
their way back down.  At the _News_, links were more
sporadic -- but when they _were_ offered, they were
associated with specific, related stories.  For instance,
the day after the second presidential debate, the _News_
used an AP story, then ran links down the side to items
ranging from the complete text of the first and second
debates; Clinton and Dole home pages; a site offering audio
from the debate; and another site that afforded
opportunities for user participation in forums and polls.

     But aside from such impossible-to-ignore news stories
as the political conventions (to which both papers sent a
reporter) and the debates, both the online _Post_ and _News_
focused almost exclusively on staff-written stories.  In the
printed _Post_, election items during the selected weeks
included 151 wire or syndicated news stories and 203
staff-generated items or stories written for the _Post_ by
correspondents or special contributors.  Online, the _Post_
ran only three wire or syndicated election news stories,
compared with 78 staff-written items.  Similarly, the _News_
ran 189 wire and syndicate election news items in its print
editions during the study period and 231 staff-generated
items.  Online, it offered 29 staff stories and six from the
wires.  In addition, the op-ed pages of both print papers
contained a mix of local and syndicated items (see Table 5).
Aside from an occasional op-ed column by a _Post_ staffer,
neither paper ran editorial or op-ed pieces online, as
discussed further below.





     STAFF     22[1]     52[1]     129[2]    203
     WIRE      27        40         84       151


     STAFF     13[3]     19        46[4]      78
     WIRE       2         1        --          3


     STAFF     32[1]     55        144       231
     WIRE      47        39        103       189


     STAFF      9         8         12        29
     WIRE       2         4         --         6
[1]  Includes one story from staff and wire services

[2]  Includes three stories from staff and wire services

[3]  Includes one item from staff and wire services and
     two op-ed columns

[4]  Includes two items from staff and wire services,
     two op-ed columns and the _Post_'s endorsements.

During the selected weeks, the print _Post_ also ran 53
editorial-page items written by staff or local contributors,
including unsigned editorials and staff cartoons; it ran 70
syndicated columns and cartoons. All letters to the editor
were local.

During the same weeks, the print _News_ ran 58
editorial-page items written by staff or local contributors,
including unsigned editorials and staff cartoons; it ran 77
syndicated columns and cartoons.  All letters to the editor
were local.


     The emphasis on local news online was deliberate, and
stemmed from the notion of competition for the online user.

     "The niche that we want to hold is to be the
authoritative Denver online information resource," the News'
McElroy said (McElroy, 1996a).  "And so who's competing for
that?  Well, there are some of the local media.  There's
some start-up operations.  There's some national -- AoL
[America Online, which launched a Denver "Digital City" site
in 1996] and Microsoft and such, who have designs on
presenting local information.

     "I would say as far as what we perceive the situation
to be, the landscape to be right now, all of those are our
competitors.  If you get to the _Rocky Mountain News_
online, is that the best single source whether you're local
or you're dialing in from Timbuktu to find out what's going
on in Denver in a useful way?  That's a question we're
trying to answer `yes' to.  So I think the competition is
coming from a lot of different directions."

     The guys down the block see things exactly the same way
-- except they see themselves as that key authoritative

     "Our competition is everybody and nobody," said the
_Post_'s Engdahl (Engdahl. 1996).  Sites offered by the
likes of Politics Now or CNN can handle national races.
"The appeal of our election section is that it provides
Colorado, or at least a slice of Colorado, with the news
that may be hard for people to get elsewhere.  Nobody else
has as much stuff out there right now on the Internet about
Colorado as we do.  So if you're looking for Colorado things
on the Internet, why, there's a place for you to go."

     In other words, the print paper has a responsibility to
provide as complete a picture of the world as possible
because, especially in a competitive market such as Denver,
it wants to be the only paper its readers see.  Online, the
rest of the world is just a click away.  The online paper's
purview need not be so all-encompassing; its niche is a
local one.  And its immediate concern, expressed by online
executives at both papers, seems to be to protect its
franchise in local information and local advertising -- not
so much from the competing newspaper, also still feeling its
way in this new medium, but from outsiders who are richer in
technology and investment capital but poorer in their
knowledge of and relationships among the local community.

     The _Post_'s local emphasis also stemmed from the fact
that it set up categories of election information online
(Colorado Senate Race, Daily Congressional News, etc.); once
they were established, it was confined mainly to running
stories that fit within them.  The Colorado emphasis was
especially noticeable after the election.  While the print
papers carried full results of national races, along with
local races in other states (notably California's ballot
initiatives) that its editors found interesting, the online
versions stayed close to home.

     On Wednesday, Nov. 6, the _News_ got 82
election-related items (stories, stand-alone photos and
infographics) into the print news pages, of which 31 were
about either the presidential outcome or races outside
Colorado.  Its online product for the same day carried just
four political items:  Results of Colorado's U.S.  Senate
race, state ballot initiatives and the Denver district
attorney race, along with a column about future U.S. foreign
policy by a staff columnist whose pieces regularly appeared
online.  The following day, the _News_ ran 54 political
items in the print news pages and three online:  two local
and the third, again on foreign affairs, from the same

     The _Post_ ran 53 election-related news items (it made
less use of stand-alone infographics) in the print paper on
Nov. 6. It ran nine news items online, and all were local,
including Colorado results in the presidential race.  The
next day, the _Post_ ran 52 political news items in print,
of which 11 local stories were available online; in
addition, a column by the _Post_'s political editor, which
ran on the op-ed page in print, was included online on Nov.

     Although both papers emphasized local political
content, the _Post_ -- with its separate online staff led by
a former political reporter and city editor -- was more
likely than the _News_ to edit stories for the online
product.  Of the 35 political stories that ran online in the
_News_ during the study period, only seven were noticeably
different from their print version, other than combined or
split paragraphs and alternate headlines stemming from
variations in the "counts" available in the two formats.
(For instance, an August 17 print story about Dole's Denver
visit carried a 4/54/1 headline that allowed room to say
only "Dole rallies Denver faithful"; online, there was
enough space to accommodate "Dole, Kemp thrill partisan
crowd in Denver.")  The few editing changes that were
apparent consisted primarily of slight rewording and, now
and then, omission of potentially problematic quotes or
references; they may have been a result of the fact that
what appeared online came from a different edition of the
paper than the one the author, who lives outside the metro
area, used in her analysis.  In general, _News_ editors did
not seem to mess with reporters' copy in order to put it

     At the _Post_, about 40 percent of the online stories
-- 32 of the 81 -- did contain editing changes beyond simple
things such as changing time references (in preparation for
archiving the stories) or simply running paragraphs together
(likely the result of a coding glitch, since some
confusingly abrupt shifts in topic from one sentence to the
next resulted).  Again, some differences may be attributable
to variation among print editions, but the changes were more
frequent and substantial than would be expected as a result
of that fact alone.  They ranged from altered leads to
deleted quotes to online typos not in the print copy to, now
and then, a changed or dropped byline.  Sometimes, extra
background information was provided; other times, it was
deleted.  Occasionally, two or more stories were combined
and reorganized.

     Neither the _Post_ nor the _News_ editors said they had
heard any complaints from reporters about the online
products.  Interest varied among individuals, they said, but
newsroom reaction was generally favorable.  Jen Griggs, who
reports to Engdahl at the _Post_, said some political
reporters had passed along positive feedback from sources
about the site (Griggs, 1996).  At the _News_, McElroy said,
"there's tremendous interest.  More people would like to be
actively involved than we can actually do" (McElroy, 1996a).

     Because the online editors at both the _Post_ and the
_News_ got the stories after they already had been through
the copy or city desk, they seldom took advantage of the
lack of space limitations online by running stories longer
than the printed versions.  In the rare instances in which
stories were longer online than in print, it was either
because two or more stories had been merged into one or
because additional background information had been inserted
into the online version.

     As mentioned above, the headlines _were_ different in
print and online because of varying counts.  What's more,
differently worded prompts led to the same story from
different spots in the online _Post_'s structure.  Because
of the desire to allow users to access items from a variety
of archival locations, a single story might have several
pointers within the Web site.  For example, a story in the
Oct. 13 online _Post_ about Clinton's local rally at a
popular outdoor concert venue carried this headline:
"Confident Clinton campaigns at Red Rocks."  The story was
accessible from the main home page, where the headline read
"The Prez packs 'em in at Red Rocks," the Colorado Campaign
menu ("Clinton plays to friendly crowd"), the Campaign News
menu ("Clinton returns to Colorado") and the Presidential
Race in Colorado section within Campaign News ("Clinton
plays Red Rocks").  A user thinking there were several
different online stories about the rally -- as there were in
print -- could be in for a frustrating few minutes.

     Another key difference between the online _Post_ and
_News_ was their use of graphics.  The online _Post_
contained no photos; its main menus, including the home page
and the Colorado Campaign page, offered standing logo-like
graphics, but lower-level menus and stories were text only.
If, as visual communication research suggests, images play a
strong role in helping people evaluate and form opinions
about political candidates, those cues were entirely lacking
in the online _Post_.

     The _News_ always runs a large photo or graphic on its
front page, along with a series of references to inside
stories, and that format was carried over to its online
product.  A large color news photo appeared online daily --
though the online photo was not always the same as the print
photo.  Of the 21 days included in this study, the online
photo contained political content 11 times, compared with
six times in print.

     Finally, a few words about editorials.  It has become
axiomatic among Internet aficionados that this, at last, is
a medium to fulfill the dream and the promise of a society
resonating with a true multitude of voices.  Editors at both
the _News_ and the _Post_ expressed regret that the
technology available to them did not allow creation of
discussion forums and other interactive structures that
would enable the sort of citizen involvement in the
electoral process that is a key aspect of the civic
journalism movement.  They simply did not have the resources
to begin to build a structure that allows "a collection of
views (to) be archived, reread, explored and connected in
new ways that offer new models of problem solving that
expand the narrative boundaries of traditional journalism"
(Friedland, 1996, p. 202).

     However, it is worth noting that neither paper provided
even the diversity of voices readily available in print
through editorials, op-ed columns and letters to the editor.
During the three selected weeks, the printed _Post_ ran 89
editorials and columns, 34 cartoons and 65 letters to the
editor related to politics; the printed News also ran 89
editorials and columns, plus 46 cartoons and 61 letters.
None of the _News_ items ran online, although staff columns
that run in the news pages did appear.  The online _Post_
ran its editorial endorsements in November; four political
columns, written by staffers, that ran on the paper's op-ed
pages also appeared online during the selected weeks.
Otherwise, it also ignored the wealth of opinions available
to it from around the city, state and nation.

     Understandably, there is a need to be selective in
allocating what resources are available, and, as the _News_'
McElroy put it, "politics is a big bite to start chewing"
(McElroy, 1996a).  In terms of their political content this
time around, both papers made the same decision about what
was most palatable:  the same local, primarily textual
content, and the same one-way communication from newspaper
to reader, offered in print.


     For the most part, then, what both Denver papers
offered online during the 1996 general election season was a
small subset of what was available in print -- a subset that
focused almost exclusively on local content.  This study
indicates that at least in their early stages of Web
exploration, regional newspapers such as the _News_ and the
_Post_ may see themselves as authoritative sources about a
narrower range of topics online than in print.  Most offer
links from their own Web sites to those of larger news
organizations with either more comprehensive or more
specialized content -- indication, perhaps, of a recognition
that the instant accessibility of other information sources
within the same medium redefines their particular online
role or niche.

     In other words, the notion of using a global medium to
offer information about only a very small slice of the world
is not as paradoxical as it may seem at first.  The printed
paper serves as a stand-alone information source and seeks
to bring its readers as much of the world as possible in a
single package.  The online paper can use hyperlinks to take
readers to extensive sources of national and international
information, channeling its own resources into the community
it knows best.

     If regional newspapers such as these are indeed seeing
their online purview as different from their print one, it
suggests they also may be looking at the notion of
competition in a new way.  The changing concept of just who
is a competing information source online merits more thought
and study.  On one hand, hyperlinks to outside news
organizations, particularly national ones, eliminate any
framing of those organizations as competitors on stories
outside the paper's own primary coverage area.  On the other
hand, competition within a newspaper's market is obviously
expanded online to include not just other local media
outlets but also computer companies, telephone companies,
and anyone else with a server and the ability to offer cheap
classified ads.

     Yet this study indicates that at least during the 1996
election season, the most direct form of competition in
Denver -- the much-publicized, to-the-death struggle between
the city's two printed newspapers -- did _not_ extend to the
Web.  On the contrary, those at both papers saw the struggle
for survival as sapping resources that might otherwise be
used to create a decisively superior online product.  "It's
harder in a competitive market because a lot of the focus is
still on the print competition and not the online
competition," the _Post_'s Griggs said (Griggs, 1996).
McElroy at the _News_ said papers not in a head-to-head
market struggle can afford to fund an online product in
order to maintain stature.  But he pointed to the brutal
Detroit battle between Gannett and Knight-Ridder as a
warning to the wise:

     For a while, they threw as much money as they
     could at it.  I think that Denver may have learned
     or took some lessons from what happened there.
     We've not seen either side here willing to say,
     `Well, we're just going to drive you out of
     business by throwing everything we have at it.'
     Instead, it's been, `We're going to be more lean
     and mean than you are.'  And so that doesn't leave
     any room for, or very much room for, unnecessary
     extras (McElroy, 1996b).

     It is worth noting that at the time of this study, the
online products at both the _Post_ and the _News_ were not
even a year old.  Both have since benefitted from major
makeovers.  At the _News_, the online product has been moved
off the copy desk and a separate staff hired to produce a
far more robust daily product than was available through the
November election.  Among the current offerings are an
online discussion forum, access to the Associated Press
wire, and extensive local news stories and archives.  The
_Post_'s online product remains geographically and
psychologically situated within the newsroom, but it, too,
has been revamped and expanded.  Its new offerings include a
search function of some sections (notably entertainment and
classified ads), a News You Can Use section with features on
topics from recycling locations to an astronomical calendar,
and, like the _News_, access to the AP wire.

     Interestingly, then, as each has had time to evaluate
the strengths and weaknesses of the other, many of the
differences between them have been erased.  They are far
more similar now, in both "look" and content, than they were
in the fall of 1996.  Then, it was fairly easy for each side
to point to the other and claim it was going about things
all wrong:  _Post_ staffers belittled the _News_ for failing
to provide regularly updated information in major areas such
as politics, and the _News_' McElroy belittled the _Post_
for not going for a "useful, complete guide to the city type
of approach."

     Those disparagements are no longer valid.  The online
products have become simultaneously more appealing and less
distinctive.  The papers' online executives are right when
they identify their strength as the experience and
reputation gained through generations of covering, and being
a part of, their city.  But both the _News_ and the _Post_
have a comparable knowledge of Denver and long-term
relationships with its people and institutions.  On the
street, the two papers have survived for 100 years by
establishing unique personalities to attract readers and
advertisers.  Online, their personalities are becoming
virtually indistinguishable.  If the trend toward
homogenization of online media products continues as these
products mature -- not just in Denver, but around the nation
and the world -- the questions about the nature of online
competition will both change and expand as fruitful topics
for future research.

     And, as always, there are other factors, too -- factors
that merit both further study in the academy and further
consideration in the newsroom.  There's the little matter of
the Newspaper Guild, for one.  Although Colorado is a
right-to-work state, staffers at both the _News and the
_Post_ have Guild representation.  During the 1996 election
season, Guild copy editors at the _News_ worked outside
their contract to maintain the online product; the _Post_
avoided the problem by hiring a consultant as its only
non-management online staffer.  In general, union concerns
about staffing of Web products are still being dealt with
largely on a case-by-case basis, and how it all shakes out
remains to be seen.

     There is also the issue of how television fits into the
competitive equation of the campaign season.  In 1996,
national and local TV coverage remained a major factor in
the minds of _News_ and _Post_ editors, especially on
election night.  Television, of course, provides
up-to-the-minute results without the hassle of Web traffic
jams and a constant click-click-clicking for fresh facts.
"I've always felt, and I still feel, from a media point of
view, election night is television's night," the _Post_'s
Engdahl said (Engdahl, 1996).  "It's hard for anybody else
to compete with them."  McElroy agreed.  "Rather than the
returns, it may be that the leading up to the returns and
providing avenues for debate and such may be a more central
role for the online" product, he said.  "Involvement in the
campaign more than the election" (McElroy, 1996b).

     A newspaper's online service, then, may be a natural
venue for extending and expanding the service provided in
print:  Seeking to help citizens learn not just about what
is going on but also about the part they themselves play in
the democratic process.  The implications of this
exploratory study extend well beyond Denver.  True, other
fiercely competing papers around the country face similar
questions of how to balance the need to maintain their print
products with the desire to establish a credible presence in
a new media environment.  But at a broader level, this look
at how the _Denver Post_ and _Rocky Mountain News_ handled
their first campaign-season ventures into cyberspace
provides evidence for a number of conclusions.

     One is that if newspapers are serious about being
citizens of the online community and are ready to go beyond
merely hedging their bets to protect their advertising base,
management must take seriously the need for resources that
allow the new medium's promise to be fulfilled.  The
Internet does offer an opportunity to consider politics from
bottom up as well as top down, in an effort to "help make
modern deliberative democracy work better than it does
today" (Grossman, 1995, p. 242).  Simply offering the same
material in bits instead of atoms does nothing to further
that effort, as _Post_ and _News_ editors noted in
identifying their own weaknesses; to go beyond "shovelware"
demands a commitment of human, technical and, therefore,
financial resources.

     Clear thinking also is needed about who the newspaper's
audience is online and what that audience might expect.
Both McElroy and Engdahl said expectations in 1996 were too
high to be met:  People wanted the Web product to do
everything they envisioned it as _capable_ of doing, an
impossibility even with far more resources than were
available.  A key question for any paper venturing online is
what they bring to a party whose attendees come from all
over the globe.  Both the _News_ and the _Post_ see their
strength as knowledge of their own community and their users
as people interested in that community -- yet both also
offer online windows to a broader world of credible
political content than their own newspapers can ever afford
to provide.  Product changes since this study was conducted
have continued that outward expansion.

     A diversity of voices in cyberspace _is_ desirable --
and that means a diversity of media voices, too.  As the
babble increases, so too does the need for people skilled at
making sense out of it, at bringing coherence to the clamor.
Both the _Rocky Mountain News_ and the _Denver Post_ helped
some semblance of order emerge out of the chaos of the old
frontier.  The need for their services remains strong on the
new one.


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Author Information:  Jane B. Singer
                     Department of Journalism and Technical
                     Colorado State University
                     Ft. Collins, CO  80523
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