The media environment has probably changed in attitude more than it has in action. News organizations recognize that the Internet—with all its potential—is the future. But most of the sites we monitored have only partly developed beyond adding somewhat to what their parent organizations originally provided. It is as if each news organization has a kind of DNA derived form their original business and history, and you can see that in their online operations. The newspaper sites continue to put most of their effort, seemingly, on the next day’s newspaper. The aggregators are collecting, but they are less sure how to distribute. The bloggers remain, to a significant degree, outsiders looking in.
Viewers of TV news specials, meanwhile, will see programs still largely built on a model developed 40 years ago—though with more limited resources.
In the end, it would be hard to identify the ideal election night destination. The TV Web sites may come closest at this point, despite frustrations, in part because they make best use of the exit poll data that the networks are involved in funding. That also makes the TV Web site vulnerable. They worked this night because the exit poll did not misdirect people the way it did in some earlier election cycles.
The fact that the polling data is such a resource to these sites—allowing users to dig deep, according to their interests and knowledge—suggests that the exit poll may become more important—not less—as the Internet only grows in importance. That is only one lesson derived from reviewing the media landscape in Election Night 2006.
The other, more broadly, is that there is a long way to go.