The news we choose to go searching for on the internet is often radically different from the agenda set for us by the mainsteam media.
That is the conclusion of a major new US study into what made the headlines in the mainstream media and the most popular stories on three user-driven news sources.
The report from the Project for Excellence in Journalism took a snapshot of a typical news week back in June.
It found that whereas the mainsteam media agenda was dominated by Iraq and the immigration debate, the traffic on the user-generated news sites – Reddit, Digg and Del.icio.us – gravitated towards the launch of the iPhone and the revelation that Nintendo had overtaken Sony in the games console market.
The study authors offer various explanations for this difference, such as the fact that many users of these sites are invariably more interested in technology stories.
But another interesting revelation is that while the mainstream media tended to revisit the same story from a different angle each day, web users were happier dipping in to a variety of topics.
Does this point to an often-repeated criticism that mainstream media covers the same story at length, but without actually offering too much in the way of new, factual information?
This often appears to be particularly true of 24-hour news channels, where the most repeated opening gambit from correspondents seems to be: “We are awaiting confirmation, but the speculation suggests…”.
Is reporting on rumour really news?
Or, rather, should we expect more from the mainsteam media than speculating on speculation?
Little wonder that so many turn to alternative news sources. Equally worrying for the mainsteam media is the other recent study suggesting the younger generation find little, if anything, of interest for them in traditional news coverage and they are spending increasing amounts of time surfing for information.
The mainstream might question the quality, accuracy and impartiality of some of the most popular web-based news sites and blogs, but the painful truth is that similar criticism – at least in terms of quality and accuracy – can often be laid at its door too.
Setting the day’s news agenda is not an easy process – having compiled a fair few news lists for a morning newspaper I know how tricky it can often be – but listening to your readers, viewers and listeners makes it a little easier.
Here’s the news…the times are changing more rapidly than the mainstream media.