Google News prioritizes national media over local

When searching for news online, most people probably assume they are receiving the best results. But what if the search engine is prioritizing certain types of content over others, even when it isn’t the best source for the information you’re looking for?

Closeup of person holding a smartphone with a news article on the screen.

A new study in Nature Human Behavior from the Annenberg School for Communication found that Google News prioritizes national media outlets over local media outlets in search results, even when users are searching for local topics. This means that you’re less likely to see local news results in your search, and the local news results you do receive will be lower on the list, appearing after national news results.

“Google News has been regulated in countries around the world regarding how it directs users’ attention,” says lead author Sean Fischer, doctoral candidate at Annenberg. “But it isn’t currently regulated in the United States, and we felt that it was important to conduct a study to audit its algorithm and determine exactly what’s happening when you search for news.”

The researchers say that the prioritization of national media on Google News is concerning for a number of reasons. First, 15% of Americans use Google News as their primary or only source of information about current events. Second, our current model of journalism necessitates that media outlets get pageviews to drive their advertising, and it is detrimental to the future of local media, which is already struggling to survive, if a major driver of web traffic is deprioritizing it. Third, studies have shown that local news increases civic and social engagement within communities and lessens the polarization of local elections, but only if people are able to access and read the coverage.

Read more at Annenberg School For Communication.