Does Social Media Make You Dumb?

internetdumb.gifThe “Mainstream Media” has had somewhat of an antagonistic relationship with “New Media”. Journalists have bemoaned blogging on several occasions, stating simply that “Journalism requires journalists”. Once again journalists are gracing us with another study linking the success of the social news sites to the downfall of society.

The study, conducted by the Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ), compared the mainstream media’s headlines for one week against those of a host of user-news sites. Specifically:

“PEJ took a snapshot of coverage from the week of June 24 to June 29, 2007, on three sites that offer user-driven news agendas: Digg, and Reddit. In addition, the Project studied Yahoo News, an outlet that offers an editor-based news page and three different lists of user-ranked news: Most Recommended, Most Viewed, and Most Emailed. These sites were then compared with the news agenda found in the 48 mainstream news outlets contained in PEJ’s News Coverage Index.”

The comparison looked at the top stories (by percentage) from their news index compared to the top headlines (by percentage) for the social sites.

The study found that while the mainstream media talked about important issues like immigration (10%) and Iraq (6%), the only story gaining traction on social news sites was the iPhone. No surprise there. The study does concede that these user generated newsfeeds may not mirror the important news of the day because they may serve has an auxiliary source. However, it ignores the sheer volume of news that passes across their front pages. While mainstream news sites have a limited staff of journalists and real estate to highlight the days news, Digg and its cohorts can link to these stories with plenty of room for LOL Cats photos. For example, Putin’s dissolution of the Russian government made the top 10 of Digg today. So did the iPhone unlock.

Moreover, the study of social sites reveals what users are actually reading, whereas the mainstream news statistics point only at what they’re writing. Much of that “hard-hitting” journalism may not be getting the readership the coverage suggests. Where PEJ sees this as a clean stream of news, I see an echo chamber.

Similar to when the music industry went online, users are no longer forced to buy in a bundle. Instead they can select the stories/tracks that appeal to them without subsidizing the content they don’t want.

Photo credit ChrisL_AK