What The Public Wants

September 12th, 2007

If the findings of a new US report are true, then content editors are going to need to rethink their news values.

For it seems that while hardened journalists are insisting that the headlines should be concentrating on Iraq, the world financial crisis and the debate about immigration, what web users are REALLY interested in is Britney Spears, the rise of Nintendo and the release of the iPhone.

Tom Rosenstiel, who helped to write the report for the Project for Excellence in Journalism, told the BBC …

“Users gravitated towards more eclectic stories. There was a sense that users sifting through a lot of raw information; rumour, gossip, propaganda and the news were all throw into the mix.”

The study compared headline news in nearly 50 mainstream news sources, including TV, radio and online, to that of three user-driven news sites. Seventy per cent of stories selected by Reddit, Digg and Del.icio.us came from blogs or non-news websites with only 5% of stories overlapping with the top 10 stories in the mainstream media.

The question is what does this really mean for content? Is all that journalistic training and experience for nought?

Firstly, Reddit, Digg and Del.icio.us (and StumbleUpon and the rest) are favourite haunts of a tech generation, just the sort of people fascinated by the Wii or the iPhone or Britney so the comparison with sites like TIME.com is not a direct one.

Second, the people who use Reddit, Digg, Del.icio.us et al are more likely looking for something light-hearted and off-beat. The Age of Citizen Journalism is here: there is plenty being said on blogs and news-you-can-use sites, and as election year dawns in the US the level of comment will only increase.

Actually, the researchers found traditional news outlets like TIME.com accounted for one in four stories on the user news sites and less than one in a 100 were actually original.

“That suggests that people are re-aggregating the news in the style of citizen editors rather than journalists,” Rosenstiel told BBC news. “These sites offer people a different take on the news but it doesn’t mean that traditional journalism has become irrelevant. They are forming more of secondary conversation about the news.”

So newsmen and women shouldn’t be reaching for their pink slips just yet. The new citizen journalist is more likely a citizen commentator, or just someone sharing their opinion over a few beers (but possibly without the beers).

For content professionals there is a silver lining. All this talk implies that there is an unquenchable thirst for something interesting on the web. All you have to do now is cater to that thirst!



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