Americans Turn to Online News in Droves

One of the first and most popular applications of the Internet, online news has become an even more essential resource for Americans looking to keep abreast of developments in Iraq. In fact, according to comScore, major news sites posted an 82% increase in U.S. visitors on Monday, March 24, compared to an average of the four Mondays ending March 9 (prior to the Azores summit and ultimatum).

With limited availability of TV and radio coverage during the workday, workplace Internet users often rely on the Internet as their primary source of up-to-date news. Major news sites saw an average increase of 85% in at-work visitors compared to an increase of only 13% for at-home visitors.

MSNBC.com is still on top in unique visitors, followed by CNN.com, Time.com and NYTimes.com and FoxNews.com.

comScore reports that not only has the war had a major impact on the number of people visiting news sites, but it has also affected the intensity with which they visit them. With a record number of correspondents covering the war in Iraq, the world's major news organizations are able to quickly update their websites with the latest news and graphics from the front.

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Americans - again, particularly those at work - are clearly utilizing this near-constant flow of information. In fact, as ground forces pushed into Iraq on Friday, March 21st, Americans visited the 10 major news organizations sampled below an average of 21% more often from workplace PCs. The average at-work visitor to USAToday.com visited the site three times or more on Friday, 42% more often than normal.

Not surprisingly, topics related to the war in Iraq were among the most searched-for terms at the Web's major search engines and portals. With last Sunday's news that Al Jazeera was broadcasting footage of captured Americans, "Al Jazeera" was the second most searched-for term. (Despite site outages, Aljazeera.net, the Arabic language site of the satellite network, drew 560,000 Internet users in the U.S. alone that day. This represents an increase of more than 2,000% over an average of the four Mondays ending March 10).

Although the war in Iraq was clearly on the minds of many Americans, many turned their attention - if only briefly - to the Academy Awards. Despite reports that viewership of the show's television broadcast was down significantly versus last year, the term "Oscars" placed sixth in Monday's search ranking, making it a more popular search term than "Iraq."

One of the Internet's key benefits as an information source is its unique ability to quickly provide global perspectives. Web logs, or "blogs," are online journals that are quickly gaining popularity as a medium to express personal views. Dear_raed.blogspot.com, thought by many to be the only Web log or "blog" operating in Baghdad, drew more than 46,000 visitors last Monday. This site, which was virtually unheard of only one week ago, has since received national news coverage and global exposure.

The Internet also provides a global audience for more mainstream voices. Last week, for example, nearly 40% of the daily visitors to Whitehouse.gov came from outside the U.S. In fact, more than one of every four visitors to the five government sites sampled below resided outside the United States. This represents an important opportunity for the government to influence more positive perception worldwide.

Total consumer online sales were $1.523 billion, up 7% versus the same week last year. Non-travel sales were $873 million, up 5% versus the same week last year. Travel sales rose 9% versus year-ago to $650 million.

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