@SNOW/WWW, 2013, by Arkaitz Zubiaga
The front page is the most important page of a newspaper. It is what passers-by will have chance to look at, and so it represents the showcase that might determine whether or not they will end up buying the newspaper. Thus, the stories of the front page are carefully selected to catch the attention of a large number of potential readers. Everyday, newspaper editors meet and discuss to choose what they believe are the newsworthiest stories of the day to constitute the next day’s front page. Given this, the motivation of our study is to analyze how the selection of front page stories matches the interests of the crowd, as well as how front pages would look like if they were defined by the crowd.
With this motivation, we analyze the front pages of The New York Times in 2012, and compare to the top stories each day on Twitter and Facebook. The New York Times archives online all the stories that constitute each day’s newspaper, with headlines and URL pointers to all the stories both in the front page and inside. We looked at the popularity of these stories on social media, to analyze the extent to which the stories selected for the front page each day match with those that attract most attention on social media.
To compare front page stories and socially popular stories, we look at categories of front page stories by editors, and front page stories by users. The figure below shows the ratio of editor to user stories for the top 20 categories of the newspaper, where right bars represent more editor than user selected stories, and left bars represent more user than editor selected stories. Both Twitter and Facebook coincide in most disagreement cases with respect to editors, with a few exceptions. Although only Twitter users would like to see more news on Technology and Media, users from both social media sites express high interest in news related to Fashion, and Science, and to a lesser extent Music. On the other hand, editors select for the front page more US politics, Economy and Society (e.g., World, with subcategories Middle East, Africa, Asia) news than users would like to see. This suggests that editors choose more news than users on topics that can be categorized as hard news. However, users are expressing that they are rather into softer news topics including science, music, fashion, or technology.
Summarizing, a daily comparison of popularity of news on social media questions the effectiveness of today’s front page news selection so as to matching the interests of the crowd. While the daily circulation of newspapers continues to decline, the voice of social media users cries out for modernizing the selection of front page stories to attract a greater number of passers-by that will potentially become readers. Our study suggests that such modernization should consider fewer hard news such as political, economic, and societal news, to make way for softer news such as fashion, science, and music.