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Auditing local news presence on Google News

Abstract

Local news outlets have struggled to stay open in the more competitive market of digital media. Some have noted that this decline may be due to the ways in which digital platforms direct attention to some news outlets and not others. To test this theory, we collected 12.29 million responses to Google News searches within all US counties for a set of keywords. We compared the number of local outlets reported in the results against the number of national outlets. We find that, unless consumers are searching specifically for topics of local interest, national outlets dominate search results. Features correlated with local supply and demand, such as the number of local outlets and demographics associated with local news consumption, are not related to the likelihood of finding a local news outlet. Our findings imply that platforms may be diverting web traffic and desperately needed advertising dollars away from local news.

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Fig. 1: Gini index for individual searches.
Fig. 2: Relative frequency of local and national outlets for the top-n results of each search query.
Fig. 3: Estimated coefficients from the model with no interactions and standard errors clustered by county.
Fig. 4: Estimated effects on the number of appearances in scraped results with standard errors clustered by county.
Fig. 5: Google trends for locally oriented and general terms over time.

Data availability

The figures and analyses in this paper are based on original data collected by the authors. Raw data, as well as processed minimal datasets necessary for reproducing the analyses and figures, are available via the associated OSF repository for this project (https://osf.io/hwuxf/?view_only=3fa7499661df487689031e11b8ea20b4).

Code availability

Original code is available via the associated OSF repository for this project (https://osf.io/hwuxf/?view_only=3fa7499661df487689031e11b8ea20b4).

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Acknowledgements

We thank D. Lazer, G. Martin, R. Robertson, D. Trielli, N. Usher and the participants and reviewers at the Politics and Computational Social Science 2019 conference, the Michigan Symposium on Media and Politics and the International Communication Association 2020 conference for helpful comments. The authors received no specific funding for this work.

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S.F., K.J. and Y.L. designed the study, conducted the analysis and drafted and revised the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Yphtach Lelkes.

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Supplementary Figs. 1–3, Supplementary Tables 1–7, Supplementary Methods, Supplementary Results and Supplementary References.

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Fischer, S., Jaidka, K. & Lelkes, Y. Auditing local news presence on Google News. Nat Hum Behav 4, 1236–1244 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-020-00954-0

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