The central theory driving the Share Wars project is that digital content sharing will change journalism, quite possibly for the better.
Why? Because stories that excite, invoke awe or fire-up audiences get shared more. Also, people don’t share stories they think are inconsequential or content that makes them look sleazy or shallow.
So after a decade of a digital news agenda skewed towards what gets most clicks (including the ephemeral, the salacious and the Kardashian), sharing’s growing distribution power will see more important stories find a wider audience. Newsrooms will invest resources in creating these stories and so journalism – or at least, the job of journalism – is improved. That’s the theory, anyway.
To test some this (and also out of curiosity), we’ve created the Share Wars Engine that tracks sharing on news sites across the globe. Next week we start a three-month data capture that we hope will reveal the story elements that make people share.
We’re pretty sure it’s the biggest project of its type. During the pilot we’ve tracked about 540,000 stories and 55 million shares across more than 100 sites. All the big guns are included, from the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal to the Guardian and Le Monde. We’re also tracking some less familiar titles across all the continents from Nigeria’s Punch to Norway’s Aftenposten. In Australia, we’re following 13 sites including News Limited and Fairfax mastheads, the ABC, Yahoo7 and ninemsn.
As the source list has grown, the Share Wars engine has started popping rivets and our engineer Dom Filipovic has needed to boost server power and tune down database polling rates. His reward is the inclusion of four publications from his native Croatia so we’ll get a good read on what’s sharing in that part of the world.
From what we’ve seen so far, people across the globe are sharing stories with the following elements/subjects:
- Breaking news
- Deviant behaviour
- Animals behaving like humans
- Relating to Facebook
That list contains some fairly traditional story elements – those that young journalists have always been taught to chase. We’ve also noticed some stark differences between publications.
New York Times readers appear to have some existential angst that manifests itself in the sharing of stories about notable people dying (recently Etta James and TV host Don Cornelius) and opinion columns that prod the depths of America’s soul. So far this year, columnist Paul Krugman has four pieces in nytimes.com Top 10, with pithy headlines such as “Nobody understands debt” and “America isn’t a corporation”. At this early stage of the year, Krugman is the most shared journalist/columnist on the planet by a mile.
Chicagoans appear to be more local and practical with crime and weather dominating the ChicagoTribune’s most-shared list for 2012. Up in Seattle, they’re obsessed with gay marriage, with four of the five most-shared stories at the Seattle Times addressing Washington State’s senate passing a bill in support of gay marriage (although it’s likely some of this sharing was generated by interested readers across the US and the globe). Down in LA, it’s a mixture of science, politics, business and more famous people dying.
We’ve also been taking a look at Australian audiences’ sharing behaviour as we’re providing a weekly Top 10 list to MediaConnect. The Australia Day week Top 10 reveals sharing gold in the flag-racism study story. News editors and PR people might want to consider commissioning something similar for next year as the list seems to indicate an audience primed for Australia Day-inspired navel gazing:
1. ‘Bogan Love’ spreads ahead of Australia Day (ninemsn)
2. Julia Gillard dragged from angry protests (ninemsn)
3. Facebook to force change on users (ninemsn)
4. Aussie flag on your car? Racism could be an issue (news.com.au)
5. Riot police escort Gillard, Abbott from protest (ABC)
6. Aussie flag flyers more racist: survey (ABC)
7. Gillard, Abbott hide from angry protesters (news.com.au)
8. Flying the flag for racism (The Age)
9. Racism links to Aussie car flags (Herald Sun)
10. House of hope (SMH)
Each weekday, we’re publishing a sharing Top 5 from around the world, using the Share Wars engine. It’s an enjoyable mini-project that’s exposing some fascinating stories. A most-clicked or most-read list wouldn’t be half as interesting.
On Friday, this provocative opinion piece from Fox News made the list: Happy Birthday, Ayn Rand — Why are you still so misunderstood? Compare that with the same site’s most-read story at the weekend: New clip shows Miley Cyrus in onscreen sex scene.
That, in a nutshell, is why sharing is changing the game. You might click on the Miley Cyrus story. But would you share it?