"Auditing Local News Presence on Google News." Nature Human Behaviour, 2020.

Sean Fischer, Kokil Jaidka, and Yphtach Lelkes

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.