But what’s most interesting, to me, are the assumptions baked into the Trending Topics algorithm in the first place. On the one hand, it’s perfectly fair — in fact, it’s perfectly necessary — to define ‘trends’ as brief ruptures of the ordinary. Spikes, you know, speak. But the algorithm’s assumption is also one that’s baked into the cultural algorithm of journalistic practice: We tend, as reporters and attention-conveners, to value newness over pretty much everything else.
Again, on the one hand, that’s absolutely appropriate — ‘the news,’ after all — but on the other, the institutional obsession with newness often impedes journalists’ ability to address the biggest issues of the day — the economy, the environment, the effects of the digital transition on global culture — within conventional narrative frameworks. Just as #OccupyWallStreet, in Twitter’s algorithm, competes against #KimKWedding, we pit the long-term and the temporary against each other, forcing them to compete for people’s (and journalists’) attention. We accept that the slow-burn stories have to fight for space against the shocking, the spiking, the evanescent.
Which is unfortunate, since the most important topics for journalists to address are often the ones that are the opposite of 'trending'.
Megan Garber, Nieman Journalism Lab
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