Trend based reporting puts Syria backstage, Miley Cyrus out front
In the wake of the ongoing Miley Cyrus outbreak on social media and in news publications across the country we felt a need to comment.
No, we won't evaluate her recent performance at the MTV Video Music Awards, or her ability (or lack there of) to twerk. The Internet has provided a plethora of information and opinion on that. Instead, we want to comment on trend-generated media coverage. In the days following Cyrus' performance coverage about the pop star dominated cyberspace leaving many of us with little else to talk or think about.
The scary part is that because so many people shared the coverage and talked about it news sources had to produce more content to satisfy the trending topic. Conversation online fueled more conversation, which led to an excess of twerk.
In the meantime the violence in Syria that led to President Barack Obama's proposal of armed intervention took a sidebar on many news sites. Cyrus continued twerking her way into headlines.
This isn't the first time the media outlets have used trends to drive content, nor will it likely be the last. And we can't fault them for it. News websites require views from readers to maintain funding and, as a result, cater to the interests of online readers. Even in print news publication readers must be attracted to front-page stories in order for readers to buy.
The Washington Post may be the first to attempt to offer articles catered to a reader's interest following the publication's purchase by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos. This would take creating trend-generated news content to the next level and while it would behoove the publication by maintaining readers' interest in certain topics, it would prevent readers from seeing stories they may not find otherwise.
While searching for a story about Cyrus, a reader may encounter a series of other articles that he or she didn't know interested him or her, a story about the violence in Syria perhaps. Such stumbling upon is what Cass Sunstein recently called the serendipity in news consumption. There may be many stories that readers find boring, unappealing, outlandish or disagreeable, but finding a gem of a story that one might not have found otherwise is a wonderful sort of serendipity.
We recognize that we are a bit biased. The four of us reminisce in the memories of reading hard copies of newspapers at our kitchen tables. We're also interested in maintaining the sanctity of the newspaper industry into which we hope to enter post-graduation. But bias aside, we've all had at least one serendipitous experience scanning a newspaper or news site and coming across a story that didn't make the trend. It may have been a story that most people missed or cast aside. But for some reason it contained a value to us as readers.
Major news publications will continue producing content as they see fit, but we can control our publication too. Our staff will offer stories that readers ask for, but we'll also publish stories that no one sought out. We hope that our readers find the serendipity value of news consumption that we mentioned. It's our goal to work the way we think newspapers should, by giving news consumers what they want along with what they didn't know they wanted.
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