The Project for Excellence in Journalism has done an interesting, if not particularly surprising, analysis of the “news agenda” of user news sites like Digg, Reddit and Del.icio.us (via Romenesko). Among the findings:
The news agenda of the three user-sites that week was markedly different from that of the mainstream press. Many of the stories users selected did not appear anywhere among the top stories in the mainstream media coverage studied. And there was often little in the way of follow-up. Most stories on the user-news sites appeared only once, never to be repeated again in the week we studied.
Despite claims that the Web would internationalize consumers’ news diets, coverage across the three user-news sites focused more on domestic events and less on news from abroad than the mainstream media that week. Yahoo News, both on its main news page and three most popular pages, meanwhile, stood out for being decidedly more international that week.
What were the favorite stories on the user-driven sites? For the most part, there were no dominant ones. The only story with any real traction was the release of the Apple iPhone, and that was just on one site (it accounted for 16% of the stories on Digg that week). Otherwise, users put forth a mix of diverse and unconnected news events from day to day. On the morning of June 26 on Digg, for example, a story about intelligent design topped the list followed by a story about a woman suing record labels for malicious prosecution. But by 5pm that day, both had vanished from the top ten.
The mainstream press, by contrast, tends to revisit the same stories every day and pound them into the ground. I’m not going to defend that approach, but the user-news sites don’t strike me as all that great a replacement. If you’re looking to get the news of the day that’s most important and useful to you, you can’t rely on them because they’re too quirky and transient.