Knewz, News Corp.’s recently launched news aggregator—not to be confused with the polka band of the same name—debuted with a grand promise: “News will be transformed by Knewz. The launch of Knewz.com today means that readers can find the latest news from the widest variety of sources, free of filter bubbles and narrow-minded nonsense.” The Sun—News Corp.’s own UK tabloid, and the country’s least trusted news brand—reported that Knewz would deliver “news that’s unbiased, unfiltered [and] untainted.” A Knewz press release pledged “headlines from publishers large & small, left & right, here, there & everywhere.”
According to the New York Post, another News Corp. tabloid, Knewz would “compete against Big Tech, which is decried for selling ads against news stories—and for profiting off the work of journalists they don’t pay.” Knewz, it added, “features stories from 400 publishers seeking to take back their content from Silicon Valley powerhouses such as Google and Facebook.” The Wall Street Journal, also a News Corp. property, reported that “News Corp. said it developed the site, in part, to give exposure to media outlets that the company felt were often demoted in Google’s search results and Facebook Inc.’s social feed.”
Unlike the opaque algorithms that control what users of technology platforms see, Knewz “is being operated by a team of editors and technical experts at News Corp., working in conjunction with the company’s Strategy team as well as its Storyful unit, ” the company said in its press release.
But humans editors, like algorithms, can be prone to habit. Analysis by the Tow Center for Digital Journalism demonstrates that Knewz is not just heavily reliant on major news outlets, but frequently defaults to Murdoch titles and the conservative Daily Mail. Our findings suggest that Rupert Murdoch’s Knewz feels that the media outlets getting some of the roughest treatment from Google and Facebook are Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post and Fox News, and social-media king the Mail.
Stories were scraped from the Knewz homepage (knewz.com) as well as from the topic pages listed in the main navigation menu: Politics, National, World, Business, Life, and Coronavirus. (The last of these added February 28, 2020.)
Beginning on Tuesday, February 4, 2020, and ending Monday, March 2, 2020 (inclusive), stories were scraped four times daily. Unique stories were identified by their URLs. Our goal was to get a snapshot of the range of links promoted on the main pages of Knewz on any given day. Stories present across multiple data-collection periods were only counted once per day. (If the same story was found on Knewz.com at 8am ET and 12pm ET on the same day, it was only counted once. If the same story was featured across multiple days, it was counted once per day.) This resulted in a sample of 13,501 stories, an average of 482 per day.
During our analysis, we counted links to 339 different news outlets. The average (mean) number of links to each outlet was 40; the median was 13. There were some clear favorites among the outlets to which the Knewz editors repeatedly returned: the New York Post (617 links) and Fox News (588 links).
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Despite touting the “range of views and perspectives in the stories it showcases,” one in every eight stories came from three conservative sources: the New York Post, Fox News, or the Daily Mail, which combined for 1,645 links. That number tops the combined total from the 212 least-linked-to outlets (1,635 links). Thus, the top one percent of outlets received more promotion than the bottom 63 percent.
We separated News Corp.’s UK tabloid The Sun (189 links) from its US arm, The U.S. Sun (113 links) in our analysis. Combined, these 302 links would have made The Sun the eighth most cited source. Likewise, the Post’s celebrity gossip site, Page Six (174 links)— itself the 23rd most cited source— and entertainment site, Decider (18 links), were separated from the New York Post. Combined, the New York Post’s total increases from 617 to 809.
The Knewz landing page contains the most links out to news sites of any of the main pages. At the top of the page there is a Top Story and a developing story atop boxes for sixty or so stories, each containing 4-5 links out to news sites. The front page also contains dedicated boxes titled Crime Scene, Real Estate, Entertainment and Business, which typically contain 6-10 links.
Our dataset contained 11,431 links from the Knewz.com homepage. Of these, three conservative outlets were out in front by a long way—the New York Post (543 links), Fox News (515 links) and the Daily Mail (380 links).
Assessing the daily breakdowns of outlets whose links were chosen for front page stories, the New York Post received the most front-page links on seventeen of the twenty-eight eight days we analyzed. Fox News received the most on ten of those days. These figures include the three days on which these two outlets received the joint-highest number of links—February 17 and 22, and March 2.
The National page followed the same pattern as the front page, with the New York Post (139 links) and Fox News (126 links) leading the pack, just ahead of the Daily Mail (104 links).
Television networks made up half of the ten most-cited sources, with Fox News (138 links), NBC News (91 links), ABC News (74 links), CNN and CBS News (73 links each) all featuring. Among the biggest surprises was that Knewz aggregated more links to national stories from the New York Daily News than The New York Times.
Knewz has a dedicated section for politics. This page typically displays ten stories, providing four links to each. Our study returned 1,971 links to stories covered on the Politics page and spread across 153 news outlets. Again, certain outlets featured far more prominently than others.
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Links to Fox News (192) far outnumbered those to any other site—Fox News alone accounted for over 10% of links from the Politics page. Other outlets featured over 100 times were: The Washington Examiner (156), New York Post (107), The Washington Times (105) and Politico (104). Links to the four conservative outlets—Fox News, The Washington Examiner, New York Post and The Washington Times— accounted for over 28% of all stories promoted via the Politics page.
Elsewhere on the page, links to sites founded by prominent conservative personalities featured frequently. TheBlaze (founded by Glenn Beck), The Daily Wire (founded by Ben Shapiro), The Daily Caller (founded by Fox News host Tucker Carlson) all appeared on the politics page more frequently than News Corp.’s own Wall Street Journal.
In the Life section, five of the ten most-cited sources were from the Murdoch stable. The New York Post again came out on top (120 links), joined by Page Six (75 links), Fox News (57 links), The Sun (40 links) and The U.S. Sun (39 links).
When it came to the world news section, the New York Post and Fox News were further down the pecking order (though both were still in the top six). Instead, the most-cited outlet was the third member of the Knewz editors’ holy trinity, the Daily Mail, closely followed by Reuters. The Sun was joint third with The New York Times.
The two sections in which none of Knewz’s three conservative favorites featured among the five most-cited outlets were Business and Tech & Science.
Tech & Science
Another area in which the Knewz editors seemed less inclined to draw upon their conservative tabloid favorites was for coverage of the coronavirus crisis.
Coronavirus has been such a major story that Knewz added a dedicated page to its main navigation menu, placing it between Politics and National on the top menu. Our scraper first detected this page at 12pm on February 28, 2020.
Filtering our dataset for headlines (e.g. “Fatality rate of novel coronavirus drops to 2.1 percent: official”), section titles (e.g. “SF coronavirus emergency”) and pages (“Coronavirus”) containing “corona”, “virus” or “COVID” returned 1,276 links in the 28 days surveyed, just under ten percent of the entire dataset.
Analysis of this subset shows that Knewz editors turned most frequently to Reuters (85 links), the New York Times (72 links) and the South China Morning Post (66 links) for stories about coronavirus.
The New York Post placed sixth in its volume of coronavirus links (46 links), Fox News was ninth (37 links) and the Daily Mail was twenty-first (17 links).
At its launch, News Corp.’s chief executive Robert Thomson declared Knewz to be “not egregious aggregation but generous aggregation.”
In these early days it seems to have been particularly generous towards Rupert Murdoch.
Despite the complaints about Facebook and Google downranking, five of the six most-cited publishers on Knewz were among the seven most engaged publishers in NewsWhip’s Facebook rundown—Fox News, the Daily Mail, The New York Times, CNN and NBC News.
The NewsWhip figures show that the Daily Mail received by far the most Facebook engagement in January 2020 with Fox News second. The New York Post was fifteenth and had the most engaged story of the month.Pete Brown is the Research Director at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, and runs the Content Analysis Hub for the Publishers and Platforms project.