Designing What’s News: An Ethnography of a Personalization Algorithm and the Data-Driven (Re)Assembling of the News

Anna Schjøtt Hansen*, Jannie Møller Hartley

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


This article presents the results of an in-depth ethnographic study of the development of a personalization algorithm in a large regional news organization in Denmark. Drawing on the concept of sociotechnical assemblage, we argue that in the process the news organization moves from distributing news to the users as segments of consuming collectives to algorithmically constructing individual users as aggregated data points. Second, we show how personalization disassembles the constitution of “the news” as a finite arrangement of articles, replacing one structural organization and routinization of news distribution with an algorithmic and numeric form of organizing the distribution. This disassembling leads to negotiations over loss of control, as editors realize that their publicist and democratic mission is at stake and as they struggle building news values such as timeliness and localness into the algorithm, thus “translating back” the agency from the algorithm to the journalistic staff. Finally, we discuss how the negotiations involved in this concrete case study has far reaching implications for the future of journalism, as this transformation further emphasizes the economic value of news for the individual, while putting the societal value of new journalism and audiences as democratic collectives at stake.

Original languageEnglish
JournalDigital Journalism
VolumeLatest Articles
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Algorithms
  • ethnographic fieldwork
  • news
  • newsroom studies
  • personalization
  • reccomender systems

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