emma 5liveOn November 9 2014 I launched my new BBC radio show: The 5 Live Hit List – in which I chart the nation’s top 40 news stories. It’s a fast and brilliant process – marshalled by my superb producer Husain Husaini and the awesome team at Wired Free. Here’s what I wrote about it for The Telegraph – and here’s how to catch up with the latest programme. 

The news agenda for the whole country used to be set by just a few people. These gatekeepers decided what stories were the biggest of the day and the most important. A small group, working across newspapers, radio and TV, dictated how much prominence a story received. They still do, of course, but now they have company: you.

The internet and, more specifically, social media, has increasingly allowed us to channel the news through our own filters; to decide which stories deserve our attention and matter enough to be shared. And it’s precisely this new lawless agenda that my new radio show, The 5 Hit List, seeks to monitor and reflect as I countdown the top 40 news stories shared online and across sites such as Facebook and Twitter from the past seven days in the UK.

It’s the first time a British radio station has created a comprehensive news chart and, crucially, reversed the power structure. Normally producers and presenters have to come up with the items for a programme. That’s their power – to decide what you hear and, crucially, what you don’t. However, on my new show the public’s news tastes will always dictate what I discuss.

The chart is being made by a team of sociologists and computer scientists from a cross-section of universities (St Andrews, Warwick, Cardiff and Edinburgh). This group, collectively known as Cosmos (Collaborative Online Social Media Observatory) has developed an algorithm to analyse keywords and hashtags and rank the impact of each story that week.

A few worried Telegraph colleagues have asked what I will do if the chart only features confused cats on skateboards. Well everyone of little faith can now sleep easy for, having recorded two pilots, I can happily report that Britain’s digital news appetite is far more nuanced and entertaining than my pals had feared.

I have found myself delighted at the prominence of foreign affairs, from protests against the Dalai Lama to the myth of Rehana, a female Kurdish fighter waging war on Islamic State militants.

Of course, stories about happenings closer to home also feature heavily in the chart, such as the most recent Ukip racism row (Mike Read – I’m looking at you), but the high level of engagement with international news has been a heartening insight.

Another insight is that, when a mainstream story has made the Hit List, the angle that’s hooked people in has been slightly left-field. Take the Ebola epidemic. Of all the possible stories, it was a campaign from a woman, Shoana Solomon, entitled “I am a Liberian not a virus” – intended to counter discrimination – that featured prominently in the chart.

However, during the pilots, I have been surprised by some of the black holes in the nation’s interests – namely the lack of politics. To date, Ukip and the Greens are the only political parties to rank. I suspect this isn’t because people aren’t interested in politics but because they aren’t obsessed with the Westminster bubble. Business is also a black hole to date (The Apprentice doesn’t count!).

Aside from the more serious issues, the chart is obviously peppered with a healthy interest in major YouTube stars such as Cameron Dallas (a 20-year-old Californian man who makes relatively uneventful videos about his everyday existence, yet has an audience of millions) and pop bands like One Direction. Too often, however, I think we in the media sound as if we are holding our noses when we discuss these fun subjects – which dominate more of our collective lives than we care to publicly admit.

But why? Even if you don’t care for them, someone in your family will. Shouldn’t we just confess our curiosity?

Plus, these new players and their millions of digital groupies throw up some of the most fabulous characters. For example, last week I spoke to a Justin Bieber fan, Bryanna Debinder, who lost half her body weight (nearly 10 stone) in the hope of impressing her idol. She was a fantastic interviewee because her obsession provided a proper insight into the realities of modern girlhood in the digital age.

So it’s time to unpeg our noses and dive into the stories we are genuinely interested in. It’s going to be an unpredictable ride.

Emma Barnett presents The 5 Live Hit List every Sunday evening at 7.30pm

This article first appeared in The Telegraph on November 7 2014.