by Teck Chia

Filed Under:
journalism, social news

digg, reddit

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.

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  • identicon
    RandomThoughts, 14 Sep 2007 @ 1:28pm

    The top stories on Digg over the past week were:

    1 Man arrested after saying no to prostitute
    2. Leave Britney alone
    3. 7 Amazing Holes
    4. Missouri cop caught on tape "I can make up 9 things to arrest you"
    5. Best Anti-Piracy Ad Ever (finally a tech (sort of) story
    6. Top 10 Freeware (now we are rolling
    7. Home raided by SWAT, burned to ground, dog killed (oh well, our streak ended
    8. Officer in trouble over motorists video
    9. 7 reasons the 21st century is making you miserable
    10. What I have learned from Bush

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    am, 14 Sep 2007 @ 3:01pm

    how did you get through this post without mentioning the calacanis/netscape digg clone that failed spectacularly?

    that is a perfect example of another effect of trying to mainstream social news: people don't *want* to do it. judging from the netscape community's reaction, they just want an editor to pick the "smart" news for them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Sep 2007 @ 3:27pm

    Did he not see when Paris Hilton going to jail was the top story on almost every network and every news web page? And he still thinks it can get worse? The news orginizations are going to go where the money is, and the money is in giving the most popular news lead billing. So they're in the same boat as Digg, Reddit, etc.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Ulises, 15 Sep 2007 @ 9:07am


    I continue to be amused by so called "experts". As a believer that just about everything worth saying has already been said, I present the following:

    “The more I read, the more I meditate; and the more I acquire, the more I am enabled to affirm that I know nothing.”

    "If the world should blow itself up, the last audible voice would be that of an expert saying 'it can't be done'."
    Peter Ustinov

    And finally, because we mustn't take all of this too seriously.

    "A witty saying proves nothing."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    |333173|3|_||3, 16 Sep 2007 @ 9:18am


    /.has remained fairly constantly a source of good news stories, provided one can be bothered to read TFA, which most don't. Of course, on the Linux, YRO, and to a far lesser extent, the Apple sections, you need your asbestos longjohns and a high tolerance to vitrol to read the comments in some articles, there are also plenty of intelligent comments. Sites like Digg are no longer for Tech news, they have gone mainstream and lost sight of their old techie demographic, whereas /. is still largely a hacker site.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Alexander Fairley, 16 Sep 2007 @ 5:43pm

    Digg couldn't dumb down the news...

    ...because the news can't get any dumber. My roommate and his girlfriend are currently watching some kind of CBS special about freakin' shark attacks.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Davis Freeberg, 18 Sep 2007 @ 2:02pm

    Not Dumb, Just Unpopular

    Digg does find some pretty good stuff, but there are a lot of stories that they miss. Because an article needs to be popular, in order to advance, unpopular opinions tend to get buried by the masses. Sometimes, it takes a good editor to choose what's newsworthy because they can be more objective about some subjects. It's not that the crowd is dumb, it's just that they would always pick candy, if you give them a choice. Some of the best articles I've read have been from people willing to think outside of the norms. If mainstream news relied only on the social web, these voices would be too hard to find. It's important that people care about the news, but it's also important to make sure that you can look at news from multiple viewpoints.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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