Why A Mainstream Digg Wouldn't Dumb Down The News
from the check-your-assumptions dept
A recent study from the Project for Excellence in Journalism finds that there is very little overlap between the front-page stories selected by traditional editors, social news sites and Yahoo News user recommendations. There is an interesting interpretation of this study from Nicholas Carr basically stating that if crowd-edited news were to take over the distribution of news, it will accelerate the “dumbing-down” of news.
This extrapolation might seem logical but it is done with a few assumptions that are highly debatable to the point of being downright unlikely. First, it assumes that social news sites are promoting mainstream news today, and uses the overlap with mainstream news as a metric to measure whether stories are dumb. Digg and Reddit might be aspiring to become more mainstream but this is not the case today. These sites are still largely serving a homogeneous technology-oriented user base, a niche community where stories about the iPhone are perfectly informative, interesting (and not dumb) to the community (which is kind of the point of a community news site). Second, it assumes that the social news community (the crowd) will stay constant as social news sites evolve to “take over” mainstream news dissemination. It is more likely that as Digg and Reddit (or new entrants) evolve beyond their niche focus, they will gain critical mass in a more diverse demographic and in turn, this diversity will influence and change the nature of their front-pages. Finally, Carr assumes that the editors of mainstream news sources get to define what’s “smart news.” There is no reason to believe that’s true. This certainly doesn’t guarantee that social news sites will work for a mass audience beyond the core crowds, but there’s nothing in the current results to suggest that any of Carr’s assumptions are accurate or that social news dumbs down anything. In fact, given how promiscuous people are with their news sources, the idea that a single source would help dumb down the news seems fairly ridiculous.