Abstract: Social media platforms have increasingly become an important way for news organizations to distribute content to their audiences. As news organizations relinquish control over distribution, they may feel the need to optimize their content to align with platform logics to ensure economic sustainability. However, the opaque and often proprietary nature of platform algorithms makes it hard for news organizations to truly know what kinds of content are preferred and will perform well. Invoking the concept of algorithmic ‘folk theories,’ this article presents a study of in-depth, semi-structured interviews with 18 U.S.-based news journalists and editors to understand how they make sense of social media algorithms, and to what extent this influences editorial decision making. Our findings suggest that while journalists’ understandings of platform algorithms create new considerations for gatekeeping practices, the extent to which it influences those practices is often negotiated against traditional journalistic conceptions of newsworthiness and journalistic autonomy.
Keywords: algorithms; gatekeeping; journalism; newsworthiness; social media