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Jun 3, 2008

News: 24/7 Wall Street has graded the sites of the country's top 25 newspapers

US: AdAge.com: Lessons to learn from USA Today's success

An article yesterday from AdAge.com reflects on USA Today's evolution from outcast startup to mainstream success, and explores the paper's divisiveness among readers. The author, Nat Ives, attributes USA Today's success to its aesthetically pleasing, user-friendly design, and an increasing quality of journalism.

"Twenty-five years after USA Today zigged while everyone else zagged...the industry has learned to imitate its earliest editorial priorities - color, brevity, sports, pop and dialogue with readers," writes Ives. 

USA Today's critics complain that the paper has cheapened journalism by pulling in readers through snappy visuals - a television-style format, extensive pop culture and entertainment coverage, brazen front-page advertisements - rather than content. 

Ives, however, argues that USA Today - dubbed "McPaper" by its critics - has improved the quality of its journalism, citing the paper's reporting on the war in Iraq as an example of its "serious journalism." 

Alex Jones agrees. Jones, director of the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard, says USA Today's balance between its entertainment news and its serious journalism is the key to its success.

"The lesson of USA Today is that style and trying to cater to people's interest in distraction will only take you so far. The thing that has made USA Today a success is making it a serious news organization but in a form and a style that is appealing," Jones said.

Can USA Today maintain a serious level of journalism in an entertainment-friendly medium? EditorKen Paulson articulates the paper's ongoing balancing act.

"As committed as we are to covering American foreign policy," Paulson said, "We're also deeply committed to covering 'American Idol.'"

Grading the Top 25 Newspaper Web Sites

The newspaper industry is desperately trying to migrate its business online before fleeing print advertisers consign it to history. Most newspapers, unfortunately, are doing a piss-poor job of this, and even the best ones, such as the New York Times (NYT), still generate only a fraction of their revenue online.

But still, you have to try. So how are the respective newspaper companies doing? 24/7 Wall Street has graded the sites of the country's top 25 newspapers--and found most wanting. Highlights:

The final judgment of a newspaper's online edition is whether, using the advantages of the internet, is it better than the paper itself. As one industry expert told 24/7, 'The strength of a newspaper web site is its ability to present almost endless information, far more than it could ever afford to print. The best newspapers take advantage of this by explaining in their print editions where additional information on a particular subject can be found -- the full text of a speech or a court document, for instance.'

1. The New York Times (Average daily circulation 1,007,256) (Compete online audience: 12,188,886) NYTimes.com is the single best daily newspaper site in the country. Grade: A

2. The Los Angeles Times (Average daily circulation: 773,884) (Compete online audience: 3,917,054) The website is relatively primitive compared to many of the others run by large papers. Grade: B

3. The New York Daily News (Average daily circulation: 703,137) (Compete online audience: 1,729,407) The size of the NYDailynews.com web audience is only a little more than two times its paid print circulation. That is a smaller ratio than with other large papers. Grade: B-

4. The New York Post (Average daily circulation: 702,488) (Compete online audience: 1,899,003) NYPost.com is too close to simply being a copy of the daily paper scanned and put online. Grade: C

5. The Washinton Post (Average daily circulation: 673,180) (Compete online: 6,548,678) The figures from the WPO 10-Q indicate that revenue for the company's online business is relatively small and represents only a modest part of the sales for the newspaper group. Grade: B-

Full analysis, commentary, and top 25 at 24/7 Wall St 

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