It’s time to consider an uncomfortable reality: What if newspaper editors are doing a sucky job of picking the day’s top stories?
A study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism shows news lineups are far different from the norm when users are allowed to pick their own stories. Here’s how the San Francisco Chronicle reported it (found via Romenesko):
During a week this summer when the mainstream press focused on the immigration debate in Congress and a failed terrorism plot in the United Kingdom, the most popular stories on news sites where the users rank their favorites, like San Francisco's Digg, was - aside from chatter about Apple's new iPhone - not dominated by any one news story.
There are only two ways to interpret this study's implication for traditional newspaper lineups.
1) Traditional editors will blame dumb users for creating a lineup for other dumb people. They’ll say that when users are allowed to pick their own stories, they can choose to ignore what’s actually important. And, they’ll claim the world will end as we know it because everyone’s brains will turn into a pile of mush.
2) Or, the users are right.
Consider for a moment that thousands of users’ combined knowledge creates a more effective lineup than what comes from a very small group of old curmudgeons who create Page One each day.
Newspaper editors are trained in “news judgment” that is supposed to balance what people want to read against what the editors say is actually important. But too often what they’re selecting impresses other newspaper editors, not readers.
"The traditional news outlet wants to put a lot of gravitas on their front page. They want the readers to eat their spinach," said Kourosh Karimkhany, general manager of Wired Digital, which owns Reddit.
Everyone who works online, with its continuous stats about which stories are actually being read, knows that transporting a newspaper lineup to the Web site will spell disaster for page views. Those self-assured editors often pick stories that drop like a rock online.
And, boy, do they think that’s funny. Those silly online readers, they say, don’t care about good stories. With newspaper circulation in a state of perpetual decline, maybe it’s time to consider that print readers don’t like the way you cook your spinach either.
Tailoring news to your audience
The study also showed strong evidence that news must be tailored to match the interests of your audience.
The lineups presented by the user-aggregated lists were different from each other. For example, Digg trended more toward technology stories while Reddit users were more inclined to recommend government news and opinion. This isn't surprising. After all, each Web site attracts a different audience.
Newspaper readers are yet another audience altogether. So it's an oversimplication to suggest newspaper editors should just defer to whatever the folks at Reddit are picking that day. All news is relative.