The watchdog role in the age of Big Tech–how news media in the United States and Germany hold Big Tech corporations accountable

Alexandra Schwinges*, Toni G.L.A. van der Meer, Irina Lock, Rens Vliegenthart

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The unprecedented power of Big Tech corporations and the complexity of regulating them requires considering the role of news media as a corporate accountability mechanism. The aim of this article is to examine news media’s watchdog role through a performative lens, extending it to the corporate context by looking at three manifestations of performance: media visibility, way of coverage, and sourcing patterns. Based on a longitudinal quantitative content analysis of 920 news stories on Big Tech from four media outlets (2000–2021) in the United States and Germany, we explain variances in the watchdog role taking an over-time, cross-country, and cross-political leaning perspective. Our findings suggest that Big Tech corporations receive little but increasing media attention over the years that is driven by events. Similarly, news coverage contains an increasingly strong presence of a detached watchdog role performance. A more interventionist watchdog role is also on the rise–even though marginally–and political actors are increasingly given a voice in news coverage. From a comparative perspective, our results show that Big Tech corporations are more visible in the US and across right leaning news outlets. US journalists exhibit a more detached approach, while German journalists perform a significantly higher interventionist performance. Corporate sources are overall prominent in the media arena yet dominate more in the US. In conclusion, US and German news media are critical but passive observers over Big Tech corporations and can therefore be labeled a tame yet increasingly growling watchdog when it comes to holding Big Tech accountable.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInformation Communication and Society
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 17 Jul 2023

Keywords

  • big tech
  • content analysis
  • corporate accountability
  • Journalistic role performance
  • watchdog journalism

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