For a change of pace, we asked our panel of Web users to visit CNN and MSNBC to see which site they would depend on as their primary source of news. The CNN site won by a substantial margin because the respondents felt it offered greater depth of coverage while being easier to navigate than MSNBC
MSNBC GLITZ NO HELP
Though several users cited strong graphics at the MSNBC site, the typical response was that "CNN is more basic, and gets right to the point. MSNBC is glitzier, which is not important to me when I want to find out about current events."
To give people an opportunity to evaluate both sites based on repeated use, research for this shoot-out was done in two parts.
The first part, which asked users about their preferences between the CNN and MSNBC sites, drew 72 participants. The second part, which explored the usage of these sites over time and how they compared with TV news, drew 78 respondents.
In all, 49 people participated in both parts.
Among the respondents, depth of coverage offered by CNN was particularly important. "CNN listed many more small stories with less broad appeal, but had them available to you if you so desired," said one person. "MSNBC didn't have as many of the smaller stories."
TV BRAND A FACTOR
However, the CNN site's link with its TV counterpart may have helped in this shootout, thanks to the strength of the CNN brand in TV news.
Said one respondent, "CNN is a news giant, while MSNBC is a giant with news."
Over time, however, providing local news coverage on the Web sites could become more of a factor.
"MSNBC makes use of local NBC television affiliates to provide local news," said one respondent. "Unfortunately, the local San Francisco station doesn't provide this service yet. If and when they do, I would consider MSNBC again."
When it comes to the Web vs. TV as a source of news, respondents were divided. The edge went to TV, but it was apparent that the Web has two distinct advantages over TV for delivering news: Selection and availability.
Said one respondent, "You can choose which news items you want to have a more detailed explanation."
Plus, said one user, "At first I used these sites instead of TV. Now I use those sites for more detailed reports on items in which I am particularly interested."
John Peebles is online services director for New York-based CLT Research Associates, which offers the WebScore service. He can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.