Some new numbers about the digital news wars suggest that cable news channels are increasingly beating major newspaper brands for online audiences — at least among the legacy news shops.
CNN.com is far and away the leader, with nearly 8.5 million unique U.S. visitors each day. (These estimates come from the audience measurement company ComScore for U.S. visitors for the first three months of 2011.)
Next in line was MSNBC.com with 7.4 million unique daily visitors (which benefits from its affiliation with Microsoft's MSN portal) while the NYTimes.com had 5.5 million.
After that the numbers drop sharply. But Fox News.com – which had not always been noted for its robust digital presence — beat out sites for the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Daily News and USA Today.
"This is a trend that's been developing for the last three to four years now," said digital news analyst Ken Doctor of Outsell Inc. "This underscores the fact that when you run a news company, you've got to run a multi-media company."
People associate breaking news with cable channels, said Rick Edmonds, who writes about the finances and business trends in the news industry for the Poynter Institute, a journalism school in St. Petersburg, Fla. He said viewers now reflexively turn to the web sites affiliated with those stations when venturing online to scan the headlines.
"If you're on CNN or MSNBC, you figure you'll find out what's going on within five minutes," Edmonds said. "With the others, there's a feeling I'll get a nice serving of stories that were produced this morning."
Sites that are entirely or overwhelmingly news aggregators, such as Google News or Yahoo News are not included here, though Yahoo would rank
second first if they were. For point of comparison, Huffington Post's blend of news aggregation, blogs and original reporting drew about four million unique visitors a day.
David Folkenflik is NPR's media correspondent.