Conversations about algorithmic curation of news, whether on Facebook, Twitter, or Reddit, typically happen between industry experts: publishers, journalists, and tech companies. Less is known about how everyday news consumers understand news curation. It turns out they have a lot to say.
The Tow Center for Digital Journalism conducted 13 focus groups about media diet with news consumers aged 18 to 65 from four cities around the US: Bowling Green, Kentucky; Elkhart, Indiana; New York; and San Francisco. Full results from the focus groups are available here.
Participants repeatedly and organically brought up algorithms—the little black boxes that control which news they receive via social platforms. One participant in Elkhart described the moment she awakened to Facebook’s algorithm: “I found out they were following me enough that they only sent me the stuff that I clicked on. I wasn’t getting both sides of the story… They were just following me and giving me sugar when I was really looking for more… They were skewing the news to what I had picked. They personalized it… and that’s not why I was there. I was there to get information that was different or a different viewpoint than I was getting, and I’m very mad at Mark Zuckerberg.”
The researchers came away convinced that algorithmic transparency is more urgent than ever. Another key takeaway for platforms, highlighted by Tow Director Emily Bell, is that “respondents did not see the spread of misinformation as the fault of those who shared it, but as the responsibility of the platforms that showed it to them.”
Your weekly digest on social platforms:
- Bell sums up recent attempts by tech companies to heal the scars of local news, including Google’s move to fund reporting positions.
- Twitter’s new Advertising Transparency Center will, among other things, disclose who bought political ads and how much they spent.
- Facebook provides a modicum of transparency on its algorithm. But even this tiny glimpse sends a message to publishers; as Laura Hazard Owen writes, “In other words, do this or we’ll bump your stuff to the secondary feed. Haha! Just kidding.”
- Fascinating analysis from analytics company Parse.ly compares volume of search on news topics over the past year (from a collab between Google and Axios) to Parse.ly’s data on attention.
- Bloomberg’s profile of Google CEO Sundar Pichai provides valuable insight into how the company is dealing with Trump’s policies, fake news, and the Damore memo.
Other notable stories
- “It’s not even the nature of the question, it’s the way a question is asked,” Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders reacts to a negative tone the administration perceives in coverage.
- Brian Williams talked to Vanity Fair about regaining trust with viewers after leaving NBC’s Nightly News in 2015, and returning to TV last year with The 11th Hour on MSNBC.
- An update on the LA Times from WSJ’s Ben Mullin has Ross Levinsohn focusing on entertainment coverage and growing digital subscriptions. Meanwhile, a majority of newsroom members are supporting unionization, the campaign reports.
- “Fewer and fewer journalists use their beats to report on the natural intersection between climate change, agriculture, and food. This is especially true on the local and regional levels where, much like the environmental beat, the ag beat has largely disappeared.” The latest in CJR’s climate-dispatch series.