Varieties of online gatekeeping: A comparative analysis of news media websites, search engines, and social networking sites as gateways to news

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen

Publikation: KonferencebidragKonferenceabstrakt til konferenceForskning


News media organizations like newspapers and broadcasters have long functioned as gatekeepers between news and audiences, but with the rise of digital media, the search engines and social networking sites that are central to how most people find news online increasingly complement news media organizations as gatekeepers shaping our political information environments.
Political communication scholars have traditionally focused on the role of journalists and news media as gatekeepers (see e.g. Livingston and Bennett, 2003; Shoemaker et al, 2009). But a growing number of researchers (e.g. Barzilai-Nahon, 2008; Introna and Nissenbaum, 2000; Thorston and Wells, 2012) have highlighted the need for a broader approach to gatekeeping in wider networked information environments where digital technologies are increasingly integral to traditional gatekeeping practices and where non-journalistic actors increasingly serve as gates between news and audiences (Anderson, 2011; Coddington and Holton, 2013; Meraz and Papacharissi, 2013).
In this paper, I adopt such a broader approach and outline three varieties of online gatekeeping that each integrate digital technologies in the gatekeeping process, but do so in different ways and for different purposes. The three varieties are (1) editorially-based gatekeeping processes (typically defining what information is displayed as news on news media websites), (2) link-based gatekeeping processes (the core of how search engines like Google select what information is displayed as news), and (3) affinity-based forms of gatekeeping (the operating principle behind how social networking sites like Facebook determine what information to display in users’ news feed).
On the basis of data from the Reuters Institute Digital News study (Newman and Levy, 2013), a representative survey of online news users conducted in 2013, I proceed from these three varieties of online gatekeeping to present a cross-national comparative analysis of their relative importance in seven developed democracies with different media systems (Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK and the US). I show that news media websites remain amongst the most important gateways to news online, but also demonstrate how they are supplemented by other “second-order gatekeepers” (Singer, 2013) like search engines and social networking sites. While these rarely produce original content defined as “news”, they increasingly serve as alternative and supplementary gateways shaping, through link-based or affinity-based gatekeeping processes, what information people come across as news online. Even as journalists and news media may feel they are being “dis-intermediated”, new digital intermediaries are arising (Pariser, 2011; Nielsen, 2013; Smyrnaios, 2012).
The comparative analysis demonstrates significant cross-national variation in the relative importance of each type of online gatekeeper as well as in-country variation by age, but also documents that search engines and social networking sites (overwhelmingly Google and Facebook) have in less than a decade come to rival news media websites in importance as gateways to news across all the seven countries covered, with potentially profound consequences for our digital political information environments.
Publikationsdato27 aug. 2014
StatusUdgivet - 27 aug. 2014
Begivenhed2014 APSA Annual Meeting & Exhibition: Political Communication Preconference - Washington, USA
Varighed: 28 aug. 201431 aug. 2014


Konference2014 APSA Annual Meeting & Exhibition

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