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The digital election: Even networks emphasize the Net

In an election marked by electronic voting machines and YouTube as a campaign medium, the networks too are emphasizing the online world.
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Written by Richard Koman on

Yet another way that the Net has changed the election of 2006. Increasingly, Election Night reporting will happen on the Web, The New York Times reports.

And to some degree, bloggers, not what the networks say, is the story. This is because, after two elections of suspicious exit poll data, the networks are swearing off exit polls until 5 pm EST, and have sworn not to call elections until after the poll have closed. But, with networks relying on bloggers for perspective and conflict, the question is whether the bloggers will abide by the rules.

CNN, for example, will gather 20 of the most viewed and opinionated bloggers, including representatives from The Huffington Post (which typically tilts left) and Red State (more right) at a Washington Internet cafe known as Tryst. There, they will sit under enormous video screens — showing CNN, of course — while pounding out their reactions to the results for cnn.com.

But those blogs to which many of the news organizations will link during the afternoon and evening may not feel bound by such pledges, a situation that raises the possibility that a Web site like msnbc.com could serve as a means for visitors to learn how a race may be heading before any official results have been released.

The trend is driving not only a movement to the Web but a movement of journalistic standards - such as they exist on cable news networks - to the homegrown variety of bloggers.

“You can’t pretend something isn’t happening,” said Jennifer Sizemore, editor in chief of msnbc.com. “If something happens from other sources, we’ll report that, even though we may say the information is unreliable. We’re not going to be a walled garden.”

Similarly, Matt Margolis — whose Massachusetts election blog, hubpolitics.com, will be linked to abcnews.com via America Online on Tuesday night — said he could not rule out trying to break news on his site based on the exit polls or other raw data.

“I would expect that if I got the information, other people are getting the same information,” said Mr. Margolis, who also runs the site blogsforbush.com. “If people get access to that information and can’t put it out, and can get it to the blogs, there will be a trend of people leaking this out through the blogs. Because the media can’t.”

News organizations report that, as part of the hunt for demographically desirable viewers, websites are where the action is.

Mark Lukasiewicz, vice president of digital media for NBC News, himself is one reflection of how the balance of power has shifted among the news organizations, with an increasing emphasis on the Web sites. Two years ago during the presidential election, he was the executive producer of NBC’s television coverage. Now he is running the digital side.

But perhaps news sites will still be distinguishable from blogs.

Michael Clemente of ABC said that he felt confident that the material distributed via its Web site would conform with the standards and practices of the broadcast network — in large part because the same network executives will be overseeing all of that content. If, for example, the ABC Web site included a link to a blog that decided to post material that did not meet the requirements of the broadcast network, that link would simply be removed, Mr. Clemente said.

“That’s the difference between this and YouTube,” he said. “It’s not a complete free-for-all.”

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