What is news to John Q. Public?

With the rise of user-driven content sites, Internet users have a say in what is news. A new study examines the differences between what editors think is newsworthy and what the public does.

Elinor Mills Former Staff Writer
Elinor Mills covers Internet security and privacy. She joined CNET News in 2005 after working as a foreign correspondent for Reuters in Portugal and writing for The Industry Standard, the IDG News Service and the Associated Press.
Elinor Mills
2 min read

In this day and age you, the so-called "users" of the Internet, wield so much power. You have seriously damaged the print industry by canceling your newspaper subscriptions in favor of Yahoo News and YouTube. And you are even put in charge of deciding what is newsworthy online at user-driven content sites like Delicious, Digg and Reddit.

But what is your editorial judgment and how does it differ from the experienced, veteran editors who previously had control over what stories were published?

The Project for Excellence in Journalism, formerly affiliated with the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, thinks it has some answers. In a study due for release on Wednesday, the group concludes that news items chosen by "users" tend to be "more diverse, more transitory, and often draw on a very different and perhaps controversial list of sources."

For the report, the group compared the news items that appeared in 48 mainstream news outlets for one week in June to those that appeared on Reddit, Digg and Delicious, which is owned by Yahoo.

"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 Delicious--were more focused on stories like the release of Apple's new iPhone and that Nintendo had surpassed Sony in net worth," according to the study.

However, Reddit, Digg and Delicious aren't necessarily a good comparison because they tend to be tech-heavy. The study acknowledges that in this paragraph buried in the report: "On both Digg and Delicious, roughly 40 percent of the stories were devoted to technology and science. They were only about half as common on Reddit (22 percent), but that was still more than 10 times the coverage in the (mainstream news) Index that week. There, technology and science stories accounted for just 2 percent of the stories."

The study also looked at the differences in items selected for Yahoo News and user-driven pages. The Most Recommended page was most likely to include useful items, such as articles on the Chinese pet food recall. The Most Emailed stories tended to be diverse, and the Most Viewed had the most sensational types of stories. Yahoo News' user-ranked stories tended to be more about health, lifestyle and crime.

"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 report said.