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September 12, 2007

'Web users differ from mainstream agenda'


The headline above, from today's Financial Times over a story by Aline van Duyn, is true enough for now — though within five years the headline will read, "Web users define mainstream agenda."

Because like the tree that falls in a forest with no one around to hear it, if dead tree-based media wither away and no one really cares, the mainstream by default changes, much as the Mississippi decides where it will go independent of where its neighbors wish it would flow.

The FT story focused on how different are the stories featured on user sites such as Del.icio.us, Stumbleupon, Reddit and Digg from those in the headlines of MSM like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.

Most interesting.

I've noticed that about twice a week, on average, one of my posts gets big on one of the user sites, though I'm never, ever noted on paper.


Here's the FT piece.

    Web users differ from mainstream agenda

    The news agendas of traditional media websites have very little overlap with news sites based on stories selected by web users themselves, according to a new study comparing the content of mainstream sites in the US with popular user sites such as Digg.

    The findings come at a time when news organisations around the world are investing heavily in their web operations in an attempt to engage readers and viewers online.

    The report, published on Wednesday by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, a research organisation that specialises in analysing the performance of the press. It compared news coverage from the week of June 24 to June 29 on 48 mainstream news outlets to that on user sites Digg, Del.icio.us and Reddit. All three of these operate without news editors and instead let users decide what is most important or interesting.

    Few of the top stories selected by editors on mainstream sites appeared on the user-generated sites.

    For example, in the week in question the biggest story for traditional news providers was a debate in Congress about reforms to immigration policies, accounting for 10 per cent of all news stories. It appeared just once as a top-10 story on Reddit, and not at all on Digg and Del.icio.us, the study found.

    Mainstream media sites also tended to focus on a handful of big issues, while user sites rarely returned to stories.

    In addition, the analysis showed that coverage on the user-news sites focused more on domestic US events and less on news from abroad. Technology and science stories were the most common on the user sites.

    The differences partly reflect the sources of stories on user sites: the study found that 70 per cent of stories on user sites came from blogs on non-news sites such as YouTube or WebMD.

    The findings will fuel concerns about the situation of the mainstream media, especially as more people switch attention to the web and as advertising spending follows.

    “Whether or not we see further divergence between user-driven sites and mainstream media over the next few years will remain a key question,” the report said.

September 12, 2007 at 04:01 PM | Permalink


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