We do not typically think of The New York Times, NPR, and CNN as direct competitors. But online, all news sources increasingly resemble one another. The Times produces video reports and short documentaries, blogs like Freakonomics record podcasts, National Public Radio and CNN write articles, The Atlantic Magazine blogs, the Huffington Post has won a Pulitzer, and just about everyone competes to report breaking news.
In a speech about the future of television, actor Kevin Spacey asked whether the distinctions between movies, television shows, YouTube videos, miniseries, and so on will matter to young, digital consumers:
"Watching 'Avatar' on an iPad or watching YouTube on a TV or watching 'Game of Thrones' on a computer -- it's all content. It's just a story. And the audience has spoken. They want stories."
The same speculation applies to the future of journalism. There are benefits to specialization. Rather than branching out into breaking news reporting and documentaries, The New Yorker may be best served by focusing on producing the best longform journalism and drawing customers looking for long, highbrow fare.
But in digital news, consumers seem eager to track down great stories (or cat pictures) wherever they reside on the Internet, in whatever medium. News providers are already responding. The home pages of CNN, NPR, The New York Times, The Atlantic, and many others already look fairly similar. In a more digital future, these news providers could forget their roots and compete to be a dominant provider of every type of news in every medium - from blog posts to radio/podcast commentary, to breaking news articles and footage, to high quality longform pieces and documentaries.
We want to be cautious about proclaiming a brave new world of digital journalism. We've noted how traditional radio has weathered the digital age so far, and we expect people to keep turning to cable television and radio for news for a long time.
Still, it's worth asking, could these rankings of news websites be the scorecard to be the news provider of the future?
Yahoo publishes ABC news content under a partnership agreement that helps make it the top visited news website. CNN, however, has the highest engagement levels as measured by the amount of time visitors spend on the website.
If news providers do decide to forget their niches and compete for domination over every type of journalistic medium, we expect some chaos in the standings. Perhaps the final winner will be a new, web-first player. Those interested in the future of journalism will just have to stay tuned.