Digg takes on the Old Grey Lady

My old-media pal Scott Karp over at Publishing 2.0 latched onto something that I noticed as well — a “data point,” as I like to call them — in Mike Arrington’s post about Digg launching the new broader version of its news filter next Monday. According to TechCrunch and Alexa’s traffic stats, Digg has about 800,000 unique visitors a day and page views of about 9 million a day (and those numbers continue to grow at a fairly dramatic rate). Extrapolating from those figures gives Digg almost as many page views a month as the New York Times, and almost as many unique visitors a month as well.

That is a pretty staggering number — and it has to be fairly sobering for anyone who works at the New York Times and is paying attention, not to mention anyone at a traditional media organization like the one I work for. There are issues with the traffic numbers that TechCrunch is using, of course, as one commenter on Scott’s post pointed out: Alexa’s measurement tools only track the U.S. audience, and the New York Times almost certainly has a fairly broad international readership. Still, the NYT’s online readership is likely growing relatively slowly, and Digg is still climbing like a rocket.

Scott notes that filters and aggregators such as Digg.com are “leeches” on traditional media such as the New York Times, and he is right to a certain extent, although I think the word leech is a little over-the-top. It’s true that aggregators don’t do original reporting, which is why they will never replace the journalist who goes to cover a battle in Afghanistan or uncovers corporate fraud at Enron or whatever. But here’s a little secret: many newspapers and media organizations, including the NYT, don’t do as much original reporting as people might think. In many cases, they make extensive use of wire reports and other material — does that make them leeches too?

Digg and others like it (I like Reddit.com and Rojo’s filter too) are not going to replace investigative journalism — that’s a giant red herring. But they can still replace much of what newspapers do, and it would be stupid to ignore that.

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