I dig analyzing online media; the pressure on the industry combined with the multitude of studies conducted of late make it so darn interesting. Consider the latest report from the Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ), for example, which compared a week's worth of news from three user-driven sites -- Reddit, Digg and Del.icio.us -- and Yahoo News to 48 traditional news outlets. What the MSM are feeding versus what the foragers are gathering just ain't the same thing.

The Citizen Journalism Supplement

The results of PEJ's study, if a bit limited (it was only a week-long snapshot), suggest that mainstream media outlets may not be offering up the stories online users most want to read. Rather, the study found among other things that user-generated news sites like Digg give top billing to different stories than mainstream organizations, and that seven in ten stories on the user-generated news sites come either from blogs or other non-news sites such as YouTube and WebMd. I can't say we're shocked. I mean, I usually gravitate towards the 'news of the weird' more than the main headlines, if only because it's different and a little more light-hearted than the usual fare. Apparently, this is a trend amongst social news as well, with 40% of the most popular stories on Digg and Del.icio.us devoted to topics like technology and lifestyle. While 70% of stories on the user sites come from either blogs or websites, only 1% were original content, suggesting that users are re-aggregating news from a perspective representative of citizen journalists rather than mainstream editors. This shift allows readers the opportunity to mix and match their news -- dare I call it a mashup? But it's true: what they read, recommend, and email vary greatly by topic.

Failings of the Front Page

While world news and politics will always be important, it's helpful to understand that users' news needs are diverse and not always fulfilled by front page headlines. PEJ takes care to note that that users are not necessarily disapproving or rejecting the mainstream news agenda, saying that, "these user sites may be supplemental for audiences. They may gravitate to them in addition to, rather than instead of, traditional venues. But the agenda they set is nonetheless quite different."

The Take Away

The PEJ study concludes that there was just a 5% overlap between the user-generated news sites' content and that of the mainstream media during the week's study. Some say that variety is the spice of life; and here it is the setting of an alternative agenda that is spicing the soup. It might be a juicy human interest story, a piece of celebrity gossip, or lo and behold, breaking iPhone news, but any way you slice it, proactive news foragers are seeking out bytes of very diverse information and these folks are primarily going to non-traditional media outlets to find them. For more trends in online publishing, check out Reuters Joins the Mochila Marketplace, NYT Brings the Knowledge Network Online, and News Publishers Say Free Content is Better.