Monday, October 27, 2008

Online political junkies swing to the left

In the midst of the most-talked about presidential election in recent times, independent online political news sites have seen their numbers shoot through the roof. And the biggest one-year gains are being enjoyed by left-leaning websites.

Comscore, a group that monitors internet trends, released the report showing which politically-oriented sites, blogs and online communities have been the most popular in this election cycle. The survey monitors only independent sites, and not ones associated with any newspaper, magazine or broadcast media entity.

The big winner – and the most-read independent political site of them all – is Huffington Post. The three year-old news and commentary site, an ambitious effort by namesake Arianna Huffington and others, was yet another attempt at creating a headline clearing house to rival Matt Drudge's conservative-leaning Drudge Report. In addition, the headlines were supplemented by a long list of bloggers (including Hollywood celebrities) and even sections devoted to media and entertainment news. While many Drudge-inspired sites have come and gone, this effort has paid off. Big time. During the period spanning September 2007 to September 2008, HuffPo saw its readership numbers surge a whopping 474%, reeling in over 4.5 million unique visitors.

Coming in second is another relatively new site, the just over a year old Politico. The non-partisan site, founded by several former Washington Post staffers, has also seen strong one year gains, up 344% to over 2.3 million unique visitors during the past month. Politico has been a must-read site for political junkies, and has even broken some big stories, including the most recent scandal involving the Republican Party's $150,000 shopping spree for Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin. While Politico also puts out a magazine, it is clear that it is the site that fuels the whole thing, and not the other way around. Politico plays it straight down the middle ideologically, and does not favor any particular candidates. Readers on both sides of the political spectrum have criticized the site for being slanted toward one side or the other, which means that they are obviously doing their job.

In third place is a surprising entry. Since it's founding in the early days of the internet, the Drudge Report has been one of the most-visited sites on the internet. It seemed as if everyone read it, and was a go-to for news and political junkies. And it has been copied, imitated and parodied by many over the years. But years later, Drudge seems to have become more and more irrelevant, eclipsed by other sites with more content, more vibrant layouts and original content. Perhaps readers grew bored with the c. 1995-style plain text layout. Or the blatant right-wing spin and mock outrage-stirring. Drudge even got some egg on his face last week by playing up the hoax attack involving McCain campaign volunteer Ashley Todd. He hyped it heavily, after reportedly being tipped off by Republican operatives (where he gets many of his stories), and found himself in a rather embarrassing spot when it was discovered Todd lied about the whole thing. Are we finally seeing the tide turn to the point that Drudge will slide into obscurity? Will Drudge Report fizzle out into obscurity like Excite, Metaverse, “The Spot” and many other ancient relics of the early web? To be fair, his readership has gone up during the election season, up 70% to 2.1 unique visitors, but it is evident that the site has lost much of its clout, having been eclipsed by younger, scrappier up-and-comers in HuffPo and Politico.

Perhaps the bland mid-90s Windows 95 look, which Drudge devotedly still clings to, also hurt reactionary message board community Free Republic, which actually lost readers from last September, sliding 3%

Several sites in the top 20 enjoyed massive gains in the past year. The non-partisan Real Clear Politics, which concentrates heavily on polling data, shot up 481% to #4. And Talking Points Memo, the left-leaning blog run by Josh Marshall, shot up 1,321%, placing it at #11, thanks in part to a heavy breaking news approach that employs real-time election data. The venerable Daily Kos shot up 381% to #7 on the list. Crooks and Liars, a blog that has been a go-to destination for television news show clips, is still quite popular (and does drive a lot of traffic to other sites, as I can personally attest). Media Matters for America saw a slight gain. And Americablog makes its first showing on the list this year. Of the left-leaning sites listed the only one that has declined is the five year-old Raw Story. This earlier attempt at a left-leaning Drudge Report dropped 3%, most likely eclipsed by the similar HuffPo. Nonetheless, it's still a good site, particularly for stories regarding the mainstream media.

A few right-wing sites did enjoy gains., part of Brent Bozell's consortium of phony outrage, enjoyed a 547% gain in readers who like to piss and moan about liberal bias in the media. is up 514%., World Net Daily and Michelle Malkin saw some gains as well.

Some new non-partisan sites have made quite a splash too. CQ Politics, and Pollster have started making a big splash as of late.

And before writing this, I had no idea what Capitol Advantage was. As I did a little digging, they're the folks who publish Roll Call and other publications. They are also heavy into federal government directories.

In addition to the aforementioned sites, there are many other useful ones. A longtime favorite of mine is the nonpartisan, which monitors the latest polling data for the presidential, senate and congressional races. The site also features an interactive roll-over map with the latest electoral college estimates. And the relatively-new Democratic Convention Watch has continued even past last August's Denver shindig. Initially, they tracked delegate and superdelegate numbers through the primary season, but as of late have been following campaign headlines and newspaper endorsements, as has Editor and Publisher. And of course, there's the traditional news sites, such as television and newspapers, as well as news aggregator portals such as Yahoo!, Google and MSN.

However you get your political fix, there's plenty of ways to do it via the World Wide Web.

Here is the list (color coded by yours truly) of the top twenty political web sites:


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