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Search Engine Use and Diversity in News Consumption

The next speaker in this Future of Journalism 2017 study is Richard Fletcher, who begins by noting the role of incidental exposure to news on social media, but now seeks to extend this research to also encompass the impact of search engines in connecting users with news stories. Search engines are one of the most prominent Web applications, and are also used to a significant extent to access news; the focus here is on users who specifically seek out a given news topic by searching for relevant key terms.

This research proceeds from a four-country study of search engine use for the news, and shows that people who use search engines access a considerably larger number of different news sources – but more news sources may not necessarily mean more diverse news, of course. The study therefore also explored which news sources people accessed through search engines; news sources were categorised on a political spectrum by examining the audiences who usually access these sources.

People who used search engines turned out to be somewhat more likely to access both left- and right-leaning news outlets (even if use of diverse news sources was comparatively low overall); additionally, a weighted score that takes into account the total number of left- as well as right-leaning sources also shows that people who used search engines for news had a more balanced diet between sources of different political orientations. This means that search engine use does not seem to create echo chambers or filter bubbles, and that search algorithms do not necessarily lead to a greater homogeneity of nes consumption.