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Citizen journalism radically differs from mainstream media

15 September, 2007:

Contributors to social news websites - often described as citizen journalism - make different editorial choices than their professional counterparts, says a report released by the Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) on September 12, 2007.

The report compared what the mainstream media considered newsworthy for one week – the week of June 24, 2007, to June 29, 2007 – with the news selected by user-driven news websites during that same period.

While the mainstream media focused on Iraq and the debate over US immigration, the three leading community news sites – Del.icio.us, Digg, and Reddit – featured stories about Apple’s iPhone and Nintendo’s net worth surpassing Sony Corporation’s.

The study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism said: “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. This does not mean necessarily that users disapprove or reject the
mainstream news agenda. These user websites 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.”

The Project for Excellence in Journalism seems to be making an effort not to characterise its findings, in keeping with journalistic tradition. It refers to
the sources user news websites draw on – 7 out of 10 stories on user news web sites come from blogs or websites like YouTube or WedMD – as “strikingly different” from those of the mainstream media.

Nicholas Carr, author of the report and tech blogger, remarked about the PEJ’s findings: “ When you replace professional editors with a crowd or a social network, you actually end up accelerating the dumbing-down of news. News becomes a stream of junk-food-like morsels. The people, formerly known as the audience, may turn out to be the people formerly known as informed.”

However, it remains to be seen whether user-driven news websites will make traditional news editors obsolete.

The survey found that the most popular topics for citizen editors are technology and health/lifestyle stories. And, user-generated news tends to have much faster turnover than mainstream media, which is inclined to revisiting the same story from differing angles for several days.

Major media outlets, like the BBC, still account for about 25% of stories on user-edited websites.




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