Report

The News You Choose: How User-Driven Content Differs from Mainstream Media

  • September 12, 2007

If someday we have a world without journalists, or at least without editors, what would the news agenda look like? How would citizens make up a front page differently than professional news people?

If a new crop of user-news sites -- and measures of user activity on mainstream news sites -- are any indication, the news agenda will be more diverse, more transitory, and often draw on a very different and perhaps controversial list of sources, according to a new study. The report, released by the Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ), compares the news agenda of the mainstream media for one week with the news agenda found on a host of user-news sites for the same period.

In a week when the mainstream press was focused on Iraq and the debate over immigration, the three leading user-news sites -- Reddit, Digg and Del.icio.us -- were more focused on stories like the release of Apple's new iphone and that Nintendo had surpassed Sony in net worth. The report also found subtle differences in three other forms of user-driven content within one site: Yahoo News' Most Recommended, Most Viewed, and Most Emailed.

The question of whether citizens define the news differently than professionals is becoming increasingly relevant. The trend toward user-defined news started with sites offering visitors a sense of what others found interesting: what news stories were most emailed and most viewed? Soon, establishment news sites like CBSNews.com allowed users to make their own newscasts. Then, names like Digg, Reddit and Del.icio.us emerged as virtual town squares, a way to measure the pulse of what the web community finds most newsworthy, captivating, or just amusing. The trend continues, as even Myspace, the social networking site popular among 20-somethings, has launched a news page.

Read the full report The Latest News Headlines—Your Vote Counts on the Project for Excellence in Journalism Web site.