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Clinton sex scandal great news for Web

As the alleged Monica Lewinsky-President Clinton affair titillated the world, online news traffic spiked to its highest levels, say executives at the Web's biggest news sites.
Written by ZDNet UK, Contributor

Seattle-based MSNBC, one of the Web's most trafficked sites, reports breaking its own viewership records twice in the past week. When the Clinton affair story broke last Thursday, the site's usual 300,000 unique daily visitors more than doubled to 716,000. On Monday, the number jumped to 830,000.

Atlanta-based CNN Interactive reports a similar phenomenon. "We're on course for having our biggest week if things continue," said Kerrin Roberts, a spokesman for CNN Interactive. Its biggest week ended Nov. 2, 1997, with 62.9 million page views, during the stock market fluctuation crisis.

The site's highest daily page viewership was Oct. 28, 1997, with 13.8 million page views. Its second and third largest daily page viewerships were Monday with 12.8 million, and Tuesday with 12.3 million page views, respectively.

The New York Times Electronic Media reports a 30 percent to 40 percent increase over average viewership, says Vice President Chris Neimeith, with more than 2.5 million page views per day since the scandal broke.

Fox News online this week has doubled its average 1.1 million unique visitors, says executive editor Scott Ehrlich. "The interesting thing is that with a story of this magnitude, people are searching for new information. The Internet plays well into that news appetite because it is constantly refreshed, it's fastest to publish," Ehrlich said. "You don't have to film it, edit, and air it -- you just have to put it up on a server."

While Fox News has experienced tremendous growth this week, Ehrlich hesitates to declare a victory for online news over its brethren on TV, cable, and newsprint.

Meanwhile, television outlets for Fox and CNN report more than double their usual traffic this week, as well. "TV still has more eyeballs," Ehrlich said. "There are more TVs than PCs. I don't think it's fair to say that the Internet has arrived as a medium. It's not built in a week. It's going to take time and concerted effort. TV was built in 50 years."

"The Clinton story is an outstanding story to use on the Internet because it is complicated and changes often," said Merrill Brown, editor at MSNBC. "TV and print have a hard time [managing] that."

Why are viewers flocking to the Internet to get their fix of Clinton scandal information?

"Several factors are coming into play. One is on-demand -- when the user wants to know, not when TV tells him," said online news analyst Dominique Paul Noth. "Two, the Net allows both the reality and illusion of contact. This is the kind of story people want to theorize about and share their theories, which the living room can do and the Internet can do. TV and print don't. With radio you have to wait in line."

Chat rooms and bulletin boards also were well-used this week on Web sites: CNN reports about 25,000 people commented on the Clinton crisis this week, more than any other time since the Princess Diana tragedy pulled mourners and commentators to the chat sites.

"This [event] is changing the news business," said Scott Charron, an online news analyst for Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass. "This will open the eyes of news executives and convert them if there are any doubters about the Web."

Though statistics are normally collected by the likes of Relevant Knowledge, Jupiter Communications, and Media Metrix on a monthly basis, none were available on the past week's activity. The statistics collected here are reported by each news organization.

News organizations collect data differently -- some counting page views and others unique visitors. Page views shows how many pages are viewed on the site, and is normally a much larger number than unique visitors, which only counts the number of visitors to the site.

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