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Are User-Ranked News Sites Like Digg and
Reddit a Plus or Minus for Journalism?

Want to know what's going on in the world today? Forget the newspaper, the TV news or their online equivalents. There's a brave new world of news aggregator Web sites out there, and they're fighting to gain your attention as your first, comprehensive stop for news. What's more, it seems they may be winning.

User-ranked news sites like Digg and Reddit feature unique news stories that often don't make the cut in the mainstream press.

The most popular of these user-ranked news sites (sometimes also referred to as social content sites) is, which has only been around since December 2004, yet is ranked 19th in Alexa's list of most popular U.S. Web sites.

Sites like Digg, and also Reddit, Wikio, Newsvine, and StumbleUpon, work by putting the readers in control. Anyone can post a news piece (usually after a short registration process), then readers vote on whether it's good or not. The news pieces that get the most votes are the ones that make the sites' front pages.

If you visit Digg or one of the other sites, you'll probably first notice that the news you see is not like that on mainstream news outlets. While some of the news does, indeed, come from mainstream sources like Reuters or USA Today, much of it comes from random Internet blogs, You Tube or a wide range of other little-known sources. And herein lies the debate.

While proponents praise user-generated news sites as a way of taking freedom of speech to a whole new level, opponents fear their users may be missing out on important news in favor of what's simply entertaining.

User-Ranked News Sites Put YOU in Control

The major plus side to user-generated news aggregator sites, fans say, is that it puts the reader (aka, you) in control. If an article gets enough votes from site visitors, it will make front-page news, regardless of its content -- no editors, marketers or CEOs exist to shoot it down.

Meanwhile, some of the sites will also track your preferences so that only news articles that will appeal to your personal interests are presented. This means that ultimately you have to do less browsing, less sorting and less skimming, and have more time to read news that matters to you.

The underlying premise, and its benefit, are simple. You -- not a paid employee or other person with potentially ulterior motives -- get to decide what news deserves media coverage.

Do User-Ranked News Sites Hide "Real" News?

On the other side of the coin, however, are those who say that user-ranked sites do not present a fair sampling of truly important news stories from around the world, the way, say, a well-planned newspaper might.

news information

Social content news sites are sure to be entertaining, but, because their sources aren't monitored, the news might not be as accurate as that from other news sources.

Critics say social news aggregator sites inevitably wind up geared toward a niche, such as technology, that's represented by the audience, therefore limiting the sites' content. Meanwhile, top stories may often be those that are simply interesting, entertaining or odd, drawing in votes more on their shock-value than their real newsworthiness.

And, because the posts can come from any source, top pieces may turn out to be rumors or could easily contain false information.

Yet it is this same critique that fans say is the point. News that is boring, or that doesn't apply to a site's main audience, shouldn't get major press coverage anyway, they argue. So user-ranked sites provide the best of both worlds in this sense, offering both relevant news and entertainment.

Users Paid to Post?

Adding to the controversy, news aggregator site has begun paying its top contributors to continue to make interesting, well-read posts. These "navigators" or "social bookmarkers" are earning $1,000 a month to post at least 150 stories. Further, Netscape has begun recruiting and hiring top contributors from competing (and non-paying) sites like Digg and Reddit.

"This is a new field, in some ways, a new talent pool," said Jason Calacanis, general manager at Netscape. "They have a different skill set analogous to other jobs out there but perhaps most analogous to 'cool hunting.' It's almost like urban archaeology, finding interesting things. In other industries it might be a talent scout, or it might be a designer or people who go out and find the latest cool sneakers. There are people in our society who get employed doing a job like this."

While some applaud Netscape for compensating the valuable news-finding service that top contributors provide, others, including Jay Adelson, chief executive of Digg, say the idea could threaten the online communities.

"What's important to the community is not to favor anyone," Adelson said. "If we betray that and start compensating users one way or another, you create significant hierarchies where individuals are motivated based on compensation."

Recommended Reading

The Dark Side of Social Online Sites Like MySpace to Beware Of: Threats to Privacy & Self

The World's #1 Internet Threat May Be Robbing Your Identity Right Now


St. Paul Pioneer Press January 28, 2007 January 24, 2007

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