From New Media & Society
This article argues that algorithmic judgment should be considered distinct from journalists’ professional judgment. Authors, both computer scientists, devised an algorithm that selects and orders news articles for the front page of a Web site based on article content instead of article meta-data or user information. Human editors, faced with the daunting task of news selection, may err either in picking news stories of a “worthless” character or by purposely manipulating news selection through subjective preferences. This article has argued that algorithmic judgment is not merely an extension of journalism’s existing professional logic, but a novel assemblage comprising networks of actors, sets of practices to produce news, arguments for why this is a legitimate form of judgment, and assumptions about the types of knowledge that can be legitimated. For scholars, attention needs to focus on how algorithmic judgment alters news production, the institutional arrangements that govern algorithmic processes and their outputs, and the discursive legitimization of algorithmic judgment.
Journalistic judgment is both a central and fraught function of journalism. The privileging of objectivity norms and the externalization of newsworthiness in discourses about journalism leave little room for the legitimation of journalists’ subjective judgment. This tension has become more apparent in the digital news era due to the growing use of algorithms in automated news distribution and production. This article argues that algorithmic judgment should be considered distinct from journalists’ professional judgment. Algorithmic judgment presents a fundamental challenge to news judgment based on the twin beliefs that human subjectivity is inherently suspect and in need of replacement, while algorithms are inherently objective and in need of implementation. The supplanting of human judgment with algorithmic judgment has significant consequences for both the shape of news and its legitimating discourses.
Automating judgment? Algorithmic judgment, news knowledge, and journalistic professionalism
Matt Carlson Saint Louis University, USA
First Published May 22, 2017
New Media & Society