A news agenda formulated by citizens would be radically different from that put together by journalists.
That is the conclusion of a US study which compared what made the headlines in the mainstream media with that of three diverse user-driven news sources.
The study – conducted by a wing of the US Pew Research centre – compared stories over seven days.
Its results will make interesting reading for news editors as well as the new breed of citizen journalists.
The report – released by the Project for Excellence in Journalism – took a snapshot of news stories from the last week in June 2007.
It compared the stories making the headline in 48 mainstream news sources, including TV, radio and online, to that of three user-driven news sites – Reddit, Digg and Del.icio.us.
It found that the interests of users was markedly different to that of traditional editors.
Seven out of ten of the stories selected by the user-driven sites came from blogs or non-news websites with only 5% of stories overlapping with the ten most widely-covered stories in the mainstream media.
“Users gravitated towards more eclectic stories. There was a sense that users sifting through a lot of raw information; rumour, gossip, propaganda and the news were all throw into the mix,” said Tom Rosenstiel, one of the authors of the report.
In a week dominated by stories about Iraq and the debate about immigration, users were more interested in the release of the iPhone and the news that Nintendo had surpassed Sony in net worth.
This technology bias was partly down to the fact that it was early adopters of technology that lead the way when it came to “playing with the potential of the internet to empower users”, said Mr Rosenstiel.
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In all, 40% of the most popular stories on Digg and Del.icio.us, were devoted to technology with the second most popular category being lifestyle stories.
One of the biggest differences noted by the researchers was the emphasis put on a single story. While the mainstream media tended to revisit the same story from a different angle each day, users were happier dipping in to a variety of topics.
“It was more hit and miss with a sense that they wanted to know a little about a lot of things,” said Mr Rosenstiel.
News editors need not hang up their notebooks and pens quite yet though. The report found that traditional news outlets such as the BBC still accounted for a quarter of the content on the user news sites. Interestingly, original content accounted for just 1%.
“That suggests that people are re-aggregating the news in the style of citizen editors rather than journalists,” said Mr Rosenstiel.
“These sites offer people a different take on the news but it doesn’t mean that traditional journalism has become irrelevant. They are forming more of secondary conversation about the news,” he said.