Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Digg a hole

I don't usually read the Dow Jones MarketWatch, but a recent article in the "Ethics Watch" column (which I certainly don't read) caught my eye. Thomas Kostigen writes that digg's ranking system is problematic because it will prevent journalists from going after hard news. He writes:
The job of a journalist is to lobby and report stories that he or she covers, or better yet, uncovers. In this way, the story is forced upon readers. At a newspaper that's more easily done because an editor can't point directly to a story's ranking and say, "Look son, no one wants to read about that. Go cover something else." But now he or she can. (Take a look at the NYTimes.com and you'll see what I mean.)
Kostigen doesn't blame digg directly for this problem despite the article's headline being 'DIGG it: Story rankings play havoc with traditional journalistic tenets.' What he does criticize is the trend of ranking news, which echos the sentiments of many journalists.

If I were a professional journalist writing for an online ethics column I would be careful about using the phrase "forced upon readers" as an example of the way things should be done. Newspapers would have utilized this technology at any point in time, editors and reporters alike. Of course novelty stories about K-Fed are going to get the most hits just like a story of your friends dating is going to cause the most gossip. There is a place for novelty and it is rankings. It does not imply the death of good journalism but an open door for people to give their feedback. Twopointouch.com, which is where I learned of the article, makes a valid point Marketwatch seemed to completely dismiss:
Top of digg right now is a story about a man who was tasered, clubbed and committed by the police as a result of his epilepsy. In fact, pretty much all the top ‘world and business’ stories at the moment are about political scandals, anti-war, and anti-establishment news stories. If you use digg as the barometer of what the public really wants, then the front page of MarketWatch might look a bit different.
Considering Jay Rosen's presentation at the Berkmen Center I am guessing he would have a similar response. Rosen thinks about how trends like news ranking can help journalists rather than hurt them. Journalists have always known working at People Magazine is different than working at the Wall Street Journal and I don't think digg was the first to reveal this.

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