The Invisible Infrastructures of Online Visibility: An Analysis of the Platform-Facing Markup Used by U.S.-Based Digital News Organizations

Bernat Ivancsics, Eve Washington, Helen Yang, Emily Sidnam-Mauch, Ayana Monroe, Errol Francis, Joseph Bonneau, Kelly Caine, Susan E. McGregor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

This study analyzes and compares how the digital semantic infrastructure of U.S. based digital news varies according to certain characteristics of the media outlet, including the community it serves, the content management system (CMS) it uses, and its institutional affiliation (or lack thereof). Through a multi-stage analysis of the actual markup found on news outlets’ online text articles, we reveal how multiple factors may be limiting the discoverability and reach of online media organizations focused on serving specific communities. Conceptually, we identify markup and metadata as aspects of the semantic infrastructure underpinning platforms’ mechanisms of distributing online news. Given the significant role that these platforms play in shaping the broader visibility of news content, we further contend that this markup therefore constitutes a kind of infrastructure of visibility by which news sources and voices are rendered accessible—or, conversely—invisible in the wider platform economy of journalism. We accomplish our analysis by first identifying key forms of digital markup whose structured data is designed to make online news articles more readily discoverable by search engines and social media platforms. We then analyze 2,226 digital news stories gathered from the main pages of 742 national, local, Black, and other identity-based news organizations in mid-2021, and analyze each for the presence of specific tags reflecting the Schema.org, OpenGraph, and Twitter metadata structures. We then evaluate the relationship between audience focus and the robustness of this digital semantic infrastructure. While we find only a weak relationship between the markup and the community served, additional analysis revealed a much stronger association between these metadata tags and content management system (CMS), in which 80% of the attributes appearing on an article were the same for a given CMS, regardless of publisher, market, or audience focus. Based on this finding, we identify the organizational characteristics that may influence the specific CMS used for digital publishing, and, therefore, the robustness of the digital semantic infrastructure deployed by the organization. Finally, we reflect on the potential implications of the highly disparate tag use we observe, particularly with respect to the broader visibility of online news designed to serve particular US communities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1432-1455
Number of pages24
JournalDigital Journalism
Volume11
Issue number8
DOIs
StatePublished - 2023

Keywords

  • Digital journalism
  • Schema.org
  • ethnic news
  • infrastructure
  • local news
  • metadata
  • platforms

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication

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