News digger decides what millions read online

By Robert K. Elder

Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — Not even Henry Wang’s mother understands what he does.

But he’s paid $1,000 a month to do it.

Wang, a 17-year-old from DeKalb, Ill., has been called a digger, a seeder, a navigator — even a filter.


But Wang calls himself "dirtyfratboy" — his online nickname on and, for which he recommends articles to millions of potential readers.

Wang describes what he does simply: "I find interesting things online, post it and share with other people."

"Other people," in this context, could mean upward of 2 millions readers of’s home page.

His sign-in name is just "an inside joke that went too far," Wang says, leaving it at that.

The high school senior at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy in Aurora isn’t old enough for fraternity life. But as a "navigator" for, Wang belongs to an exclusive group of 33 tastemakers who, with a few clicks, can direct millions of eyeballs to stories they find, post and vote on. The more votes, the higher the story can be ranked and displayed to attract more readers. The navigators seed with stories from all over the Internet, from established news sites such as and to bloggers, though Wang stays away from blogs.

"They usually have some agenda, and they can get facts wrong," he says.

Navigators, says James Marcus, senior editor and lead anchor for, can come from all walks of life but have one thing in common.

"They’re all news junkies," Marcus says. "You have to be someone with enormous curiosity."


Wang seems to fit the profile. He reads, on average, 25 articles a day (750 monthly) and publishes 150 of those each month, under contract with Most news seeders, or diggers, are unpaid, posting articles on news-aggregate sites such as, or At one point, Wang was Digg’s No. 2 user until a relaunched wooed him away last July when it began recruiting navigators.

"Before it was a just a bunch of editors who decided what was going to be big. Now it’s anyone," Wang says. "We are the people. It’s not a single person. It’s well-rounded."

Sitting in an Aurora cafe with his mother near his high school academy (students are not allowed off-campus unescorted), he demonstrates. Using a wireless Internet connection, he logs onto his laptop computer and surfs from site to site, picking up stories on other aggregate sites such as and, then pastes links and descriptions of them into a form on

Articles get the most votes when they are accurately described, not gussied up with buzz words or capitalization. One of his most popular posts on was just a photo carrying the simple caption: "Picture of Dubai in the Fog." It got 1,585 votes.

Length doesn’t matter either, Wang says. "As long as it’s interesting, people will read it."

"I’ve never seen him talk so much. He’s so quiet," says his mother, Lin Huo, a beautician.

A typical teenager, Wang leads an interior life, especially since his father passed away three years ago. At least it seems so to his mother.

But Wang says he’s just busy — rigorous study, practice for the varsity tennis team, hanging out with friends and a few hours posting articles online can make for a full day. His monthly $1,000 from Netscape goes not to cars or girls or other teenage concerns. Wang puts it toward his school tuition.


Officially, posting on is his first paying job, and he’s already put his experiences on college applications.

"We’ll see how they react," Wang says. "I don’t know if I’ll continue doing this forever, but I want to go into business. This is a good way to network and make contacts."


(c) 2007, Chicago Tribune.

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Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.


PHOTO (from MCT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): newsdigger

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