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Can you digg it?

By Ben L. Kaufman · May 11th, 2008 · On Second Thought
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Leave it to The Economist to tell this paleoreporter about the digg icon at the end of many online news stories. Previously I've hesitated to push digg because I ascribe to Cincinnati City Motto (as translated from the Latin) "Don't Do Anything for the First Time That You Haven't Done Before."

Digg links users to an online community whose members decide what news reaches Page 1 of the digg.com web site. Each click is a "digg," as in "I dig." Dated, but cool.

Members submit stories, images and podcasts. Then, digg.com says, "Other people see it and digg what they like best. If your submission rocks and receives enough diggs, it is promoted to the front page for the millions of our visitors to see. We're committed to giving every piece of content on the web an equal shot at being the next big thing."

Digg.com elevates click whores to call girls or rent boys and it substitutes vox populi for an editor's judgment of what the public wants and needs.

Leave it to The Economist to tell this paleoreporter about the digg icon at the end of many online news stories. Previously I've hesitated to push digg because I ascribe to Cincinnati City Motto (as translated from the Latin) "Don't Do Anything for the First Time That You Haven't Done Before."

Digg links users to an online community whose members decide what news reaches Page 1 of the digg.com web site. Each click is a "digg," as in "I dig." Dated, but cool.

Members submit stories, images and podcasts. Then, digg.com says, "Other people see it and digg what they like best. If your submission rocks and receives enough diggs, it is promoted to the front page for the millions of our visitors to see. ... We're committed to giving every piece of content on the web an equal shot at being the next big thing."

Digg.com elevates click whores to call girls or rent boys and it substitutes vox populi for an editor's judgment of what the public wants and needs.

But it doesn't end there. The Economist says digg.com has become the the mother lode of data that Hewlett Packard's Fang Wu and Bernardo Huberman are using to quantify ways of drawing eyeballs to an ever-changing electronic Page 1.

Their initial conclusions were published in a paper, "Popularity, Novelty and Attention." It's available online here. They suggest that the key is the tension between shortterm novelty and longer-term popularity (or durability/importance).

Novelty would be a "Lion nurses lamb" story. Successful novelty moves to digg.com's front page quickly but interest dies fast, Wu/Huberman learned. Using this strategy to maximize clicks requires an endless search for and posting of novelties.

Rise and fall are rapid, measured in seconds. It's a short half-life, they say, drawing on nuclear science.

Popularity is harder to define, but it includes politics, war, home mortgages, etc. Popularity manifests itself far slower (in diggs) but has greater staying power on Page 1 as diggs accelerate and peak; its half-life is much longer.


Curmudgeon Notes

� Where is the opinion page outrage at Congress' delegation of power to Michael Chertoff, secretary for Homeland Security, to overrule "all laws" as he uses our tax dollars to finish the fence along the Mexican border? In Section 102, HR 418 of the noxious REAL ID Act, Congress gave him waiver authority in 2005 and limited courts from second-guessing him. The NYTimes says he's using it to waive dozens of laws. Congress said and meant "all laws" and said the secretary "shall waive all laws ... in such Secretary's sole discretion, determines necessary to ensure expeditious construction." If that is a command from Congress, does anything to stop him from banning news media reporting and criticism if he determines it slows construction?

� I have a thing for Africa. I studied classic cultural anthropology at London University's School of Oriental and African Studies. I worked in Central and Southern Africa and reported from Liberia to Tanzania and from the Limpopo to the Nile. I follow those nations in which my interest is keenest.

One is the former Southern Rhodesia, which begat Rhodesia, which begat Zimbabwe. It went from British colony to renegade state after the rebel white government declared independence unilaterally in 1965. It moved to black rule in 1979 after guerilla war.

Even then, the country was prosperous. Rhodesia/Zimbabwe exported grain and beef and enjoyed good roads, telephone systems, rail connections and public health. Its university was good and, unlike some countries, the nation had an educated black cadre. Tobacco exports were highly profitable, and the new black government assured white commercial farmers -- who dominated the best land and earned the foreign exchange -- of their continued welcome.

Today, Zimbabwe is a racist failed state. It suffers from failed public health, widespread HIV/AIDS, mass tribal/political murders, government-inspired malnutrition or starvation, often-violent eviction of remaining white farmers and their black employees in disasterous land redistribution to President Mugabe's equally dishonest cronies. This has led to failed agriculture, nonstop racial/tribal/political intimidation and election fraud.

This was not inevitable. It was imposed during 28 years of Mugabe's presidency. Millions have fled to South Africa and other neighboring states, adding to their social and economic burdens.

With no obvious American involvement, Zimbabwe is one of the least reported human, economic and political disasters despite the 24/7 news media search for sensation, disaster and gut-grabbing images. This lack of attention might arise from American newsroom belief that black-ruled Africa is hopelessly lethal and corrupt. It might also demonstrate American editors' fear that reporting about murderous black African kleptocrats risks accusations of racism.

Lack of coverage also reflects Mugabe's policies that make it dangerous for journalists to work in Zimbabwe, and government-controlled media are reliable only as Mugabe mouthpieces. However, I found an independent news source: the web site/aggregator www.zimbabwesituation.com. Try it.

� Gary Webb might have been my student at Northern Kentucky University. It was long ago. Webb became a fine reporter. Then his investigative stories in The San Jose Mercury News suggested CIA complicity in the mid-1990s crack cocaine epidemic. The paper backed away from his stories and demoted him to a suburban beat. He quit, took a variety of jobs in and out of journalism, then died of two gunshot wounds to his head. It was ruled a suicide.

Now, editorandpublisher.com reports that Universal Studios has contracted with Peter Landesman, a former New York Times Magazine writer, to do a screenplay about Webb.

� Now for some old business: Liz Bonis' medical reporting on Channel 12 is getting smarter and less "gee whiz!" A recent story on a innovative artificial iris implanted in a local woman's eye combined clear words and stunning operating room video. I'd already read Peggy O�Ferrell's similarly well-told Enquirer story, but there is something about an operating room video that print can't match.

� Jay Rosen's Pressthink blog offers a cogent explanation of friendly treatment McCain continues to get (and Obama and Clinton cannot): McCain likes reporters, is accessible, treats them well and doesn't go off the record. Each day, reporters covering McCain get up thinking "I'm a fairly decent human being doing a fairly important job." In short, it's about the reporters, not about McCain. Gen. Petraeus has a similar relationship with reporters, whether as an airborne commander, overall general in Iraq or visiting Washington.


CONTACT BEN L. KAUFAMN: letters@citybeat.com


 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 
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