Thursday, September 13, 2007
ANALYSIS: User-news sites offer diverse stories, some questionable sources
LINK TO THE PEJ STUDY WRITEUP:
"Indeed, these user-driven sites have entered the news business, or perhaps more accurately, they have entered the news dissemination business. Reporting is not a part of their charge. Instead, they turn to others for content and then they bestow users with the task of deciding what makes it on the page."
URL OF ARTICLE BELOW:
User-news sites offer diverse stories, some questionable sources
By Joe Garofoli
San Francisco Chronicle Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
During a week this summer when the mainstream press focused on the immigration debate in Congress and a failed terrorism plot in the United Kingdom, the most popular stories on news sites where the users rank their favorites, like San Francisco's Digg, was - aside from chatter about Apple's new iPhone - not dominated by any one news story. And that's part of their allure. The 24-hour news cycle doesn't exist on rapidly growing user-news sites like Digg, Del.icio.us or San Francisco-based Reddit. Neither do the small cabal of editors who decide what news readers and viewers should see on traditional print and broadcast outlets.
Instead, the readers of these user-news sites collectively and continuously contribute to the creation of a digital "front page" of their favorite stories - pushing to prominence news that may get scant airing on traditional print, broadcast or cable outlets, where space and airtime is finite and, they say, risk-taking is more rare.
This changing approach to news consumption is highlighted in a study released today by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, a Washington, D.C., think tank. It compared the stories on the above three leading user-news sites, along with Yahoo News' Most Recommended, Most Viewed and Most E-mailed stories, with the project's daily content audit of 48 print, cable, online, network TV and radio news outlets. The study, a snapshot of a week's worth of news consumption, shows the growing interdependence between traditional news outlets and online user-news sites. It also illustrates how the news looks a lot different when audience members pick what story they want to read or recommend, as opposed to a professional journalist.
"The traditional news outlet wants to put a lot of gravitas on their front page. They want the readers to eat their spinach," said Kourosh Karimkhany, general manager of Wired Digital, which owns Reddit. Technology allows users to create their own news "agenda" from multiple online sources, rendering a traditional front page increasingly "irrelevant," he said. Instead, on these growing sites - Digg welcomed 19.5 million unique visitors last month - consumers rely on the "wisdom of crowds" (other readers) to figure out what are the top stories of the day.
The study found that the news items on these sites are "more diverse, more transitory and often draw on a very different and perhaps controversial list of sources." It found that 40 percent of the stories on user-news sites originated on blogs and 24 percent came from mainstream sites like BBC News. Only 5 percent came from wire services.
So the immigration debate never was a top-10 story on Digg or Del.icio.us during the week of June 24, the study's focus period. It appeared just once that week among the top stories on Reddit.
"The best way to get a sense of trend among these sites is not to look at specific news events, but at broad topic areas such as politics, crime and foreign affairs," the study found. And the focus on user-news sites is a lot different than editor-chosen news sites. The study found roughly 40 percent of the stories on Digg and Del.icio.us were devoted to technology and science. Lifestyle stories were the second most popular on user-news sites. While the war in Iraq accounted for 10 percent of the stories from the nation's top mainstream news outlets, it was only 1 percent of the stories on the three user-news sites.
At traditional outlets, the top-10 list of stories that week - topics like Iraq, the Supreme Court decisions and a major fire near Lake Tahoe - accounted for 51 percent of all the stories. "What it hints at is that the range of topics are broader and more varied (on user-news sites)," said Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism. However, Rosenstiel said, it also shows that "more sources may or may not be completely dependable." On these user-news sites, items may be posted from a blog or other online source that doesn't come with the "assurance of a professional journalist saying, 'I made seven calls on this, and it's legitimate.' Or, 'It's a scam.' "
And while traditional journalists often concentrate on ongoing coverage of the same issue, the variety of stories turning up on user-news sites may show that "maybe a lot of readers aren't as interested in those turn-of-the-screw type of stories," Rosenstiel said. But the study doesn't portend the end to traditional journalism, said Jay Adelson, CEO of Digg. On his site, its 2 million registered users submit and vote on content, "digging" the stories they prefer and "burying" those they don't. Stories with the most "diggs" go to the top of the page, creating a constantly evolving news source. "In the current form, it is a very symbiotic relationship" between user-news sites and traditional media, he said. "What
this study shows is that the online news consumer consumes news differently." Instead of cuddling up to one newspaper or checking out the evening news, today's consumer is checking out 15 to 20 sources - from the New York Times and The Chronicle to ABC to a blog, said Reddit's Karimkhany.
Indeed, many traditional news outlets mark their stories with one or more user-news icons, inviting their readers to "Digg" that story. "It's not so much that people are shunning news. I think people are reading more," said Karimkhany, a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism and a former reporter for mainstream outlets like Reuters and Bloomberg News. "What Reddit does is much what a traditional newsroom does. Except that instead of having four or five men in their 40s and 50s decide what goes on the front page, thousands of people do."
But while this changing environment has brought many more news outlets into the picture, it has also cut into revenues for traditional outlets - which traditionally have been the home of most investigative reporting, because they had the resources to do so. Said Adelson: "What I wonder about is what is going to happen to investigative journalism."
User-news sites in the survey
Begun in December 2004, Digg's audience is more male (57 percent) than female. It is also had the youngest audience of
the three user-news sites in the study, with just under half (47 percent) of all users between ages 18 and 34.
The content is entirely user-driven. Registered users submit and vote on content, "digging" those they like and "burying"
those they don't. The stories with the most "diggs" move to the top of the page, with the order changing almost every
Founded in late 2003, Del.icio.us was acquired by Yahoo in December 2005. It has more female (55 percent) users than male
(45 percent) users. It also skews the oldest, with the lowest percentage (35) of users under 35. Del.icio.us is also 100
percent user-driven, but works a little differently than Digg. Del.icio.us is a social "bookmarking" Web site, which lets
users "tag" content they find most interesting. So when users find a piece of content (or an entire Web site) that they
want to share - whether they find it on Del.icio.us or on an outside news outlet - they "tag" it and add a list of
keywords to describe the story.
Founded in 2005 and later acquired by Conde Nast Publications last October, it is the newest of the three user-news
sites. It had the highest percentage (64) of men and almost as many users (45 percent) 18 to 34 as Digg did during the
week the study conducted its research.
Its content selection is based on user submissions followed by "up" or "down" votes. Next to each of the 25 stories on
Reddit's home page there is an up and a down arrow for users to vote for or against the content. Stories with the most
"up" votes rise to the top.
Source: Project for Excellence in Journalism
E-mail Joe Garofoli at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appeared on page A - 3 of the San Francisco Chronicle
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