‘User’ Sites Choose Different News Than Mainstream Outlets

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By: Joe Strupp

Mainstream media outlets may not be offering up the stories online users most want to read, according to a new survey that found user-generated news sites like Yahoo give top billing to different stories than mainstream organizations.

The study, from the Project for Excellence in Journalism, took a week’s worth of news from three user-driven sites, and Yahoo, and compared it to top stories on various mainstream outlets.

The result: online users gravitated toward different topics than those from traditional news outlets.

“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 study, released Wednesday, said.

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.

Researchers looked at news posted during the week of June 24 to June 29, comparing the three user-news sites and Yahoo News to 48 mainstream outlets in PEJ’s News Index.

The study reviewed 644 stories from the three sites and Yahoo News?s three most popular pages and compared them to 1,395 stories from the same time period in PEJ?s News Coverage Index.

Among the findings:

? “Many of the stories users selected did not appear anywhere among the top stories in the mainstream media coverage studied. And there was often little in the way of follow-up. Most stories on the user-news sites appeared only once, never to be repeated again in the week we studied.”

? “Seven in ten stories on the user sites come either from blogs or Web sites such as YouTube and WebMd that do not focus mostly on news.

? “The three user news sites differed from one another in subtle ways. Reddit was the most likely to focus on political events from Washington, such as coverage of Vice President Cheney; Digg was particularly focused on the release of Apple?s new iPhone; Del.icio.us had the most fragmented mix of stories and the least overlap with the News Index.”

? “On Yahoo News, even when picking from a limited list of stories Yahoo editors had already pared down, users? top stories only rarely matched those of the news professionals.”

The study also found “there were mostly similarities in what people are most likely to email each other versus what they recommend or view on Yahoo News. But there were some differences.”

Yahoo’s “Most Recommended” stories focused more on ?news you can use,? such as advice from the World Health Organization to exercise during long flights; the Most Viewed stories were often breaking news, more sensational in nature with a heavy dose of crime and celebrity; and the Most Emailed stories were more diverse, “with a mix of the practical and the oddball.”

Meanwhile, most coverage across the three user-news sites focused more on domestic events and less on international than the mainstream media. Yahoo News, both on its main news page and three most popular pages, stood out for being decidedly more international that week.

“In short, the user-news agenda, at least in this one-week snapshot, was more diverse, yet also more fragmented and transitory than that of the mainstream news media,” the survey said. “This does not mean necessarily that users disapprove or reject the mainstream news agenda. These user sites may be supplemental for audiences. They may gravitate to them in addition to, rather than instead of, traditional venues. But the agenda they set is nonetheless quite different.

“This initial report is based on a limited sample?a one-week snapshot?to get a first sense of differences and similarities in user-driven and mainstream media. PEJ intends in a future study to delve further into this area of research.”

More information on the survey is available at www.journalism.org.

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