Digg.com Is Killing Journalism

Like many people, I am somewhat addicted to the recently-hot Digg.com Web site. But perhaps not in the same way. I’m watching it like a driver passing a multi-car pile-up on the freeway. I’m appalled and fascinated.
Digg claims to be a “news” site. It says so right there on the page: “What’s Digg? Digg is a technology news website…” But their definition of “news” is so different than mine, that I can’t help but be outraged.
You see, I have a slight background in journalism. I have a master’s degree in the subject, and worked a bit for newspapers before becoming a Web game guru. I still dabble a bit in the area, by blogging, our new video podcast and by making news-related games.
I learned a thing or two about “news.” Some rules, if you will. Many news sites break some of these rules. Bloggers break most of them, but they are just trying to be bloggs, not news sites. Digg breaks almost all of them.

1. Lack of Balance
Almost all of the stories submitted to Digg just show one side of the story. I’m talking about when someone links to a blog post. A blog post can be one-sided, sure, but then the post shouldn’t be linked to as “news.”

2. Lack of Editorial Consistency
The tone, quality and even grammar of each story is very different. This is, of course, because different people are posting each story. But competitor SlashDot has this figured out, so why can’t Digg? With all the bucks I’m sure they are pulling in, why can’t they employ at least a part-time editor to clean up the entries that make it to the front page?

3. Promoting Illegal Activities Isn’t News
A large number of Digg stories simply spell out how to steal music, video and software. I have no problem with people reporting that this is being done, or interviewing pirates, or even debating the legality of it. But there are a lot of “how-to” articles. It’s all fine and good free speech, but it isn’t news.

4. Low Quality of Text
Digg has spelling and grammar errors everywhere. Usually right on the front page. Things like exclamation points have no place in headlines. One headline uses capitalized words, the next only capitalizes the first word. Some are two words, and some are sentences. This lowers trust in a news source and they really need to clean it up if they hope to be taken seriously.

5. Lots of Old News
If Digg had an editorial team, they could stop the problem of having old news repeated all the time. Some of the “I just discovered this!” posts are for pieces of information that are months or years old. It isn’t news just because one blogger happened to come across it one day.

6. Need Better Headlines and Summaries
Some stories get posted with summaried like “You have to see this picture!” If you expect me to click on it, tell me what the picture or article is about. How do these items even get that many Diggs?

7. Popular Vote Just Doesn’t Work
The top stories on Digg are determined by how many Diggs it gets and how fast. Basically a popular vote. But that often puts silly and juvenile stories above more important ones. I like the idea of letting the readers influence the meause of the “newsworthiness” of a story. But I don’t think it should be 100% of that measure. Digg would do better to mix popular vote with editorial control.

My conclusion is pretty obvious, I think. Digg really should have some “editors” that clean up top stories and provide some guidance for the importance of a story. I don’t think that this would hurt the prime mission of Digg, since popular vote would still be a major factor. But it would certainly increase the quality, and they may even get taken more seriously — as a real news source, not a threat to good journalism.

Posted on January 30, 2006 at 11:32 am by Gary Rosenzweig · Permalink
In: General

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  1. Written by aardvark
    on 1/30/2006 at 1:42 pm