Universit├Ąt Z├╝rich

IKMZ - Department of Communication and Media Research

Media Change & Innovation Division

Andreasstrasse 15
CH-8050 Zurich
Phone +41 (0)44 635 20 92
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Online Gatekeeping Theory

PhD project Julian Wallace


The media change induced by the proliferation of the internet has challenged the role of journalism as the gatekeeper to the public sphere. Whereas journalistic actors are still the influential selectors, highlighters and shapers of news, non-journalistic individuals and algorithms on social networks and news aggregators become creators and powerful intermediaries of digital news. This project aims to include these new actors and their influence on a digital public sphere by developing a new online gatekeeping theory that is better suited to explain multiple and distinct selection processes in networked news diffusion.


Based on traditional and contemporary gatekeeping approaches, the first part of the project focusses on the discrepancies between theory and practice, thereby redefining central terms such as “Gate”, “Gatekeeper” or “Gatekeeping”. Based on the perspectives of Actor-Network Theory (ANT), technological artefacts such as algorithms and individuals with specific sets of attributes and relations are conceived as actors in networks, allowing for a classification of gatekeepers based on their attributes and their role in the news diffusion process. Moreover, gates as the central hubs of networked communication serve as the physical platforms on which actors execute gatekeeping, thereby administrating the rules and modes of communication. 


The second part of the project applies online gatekeeping to a networked diffusion process of news that is modelled after the diffusion of innovations by Rogers (2003). Online gatekeeping as a process is dependent on the news itself, its communication by members (gatekeepers) of a social system, the used and possible channels (gates) and time. The influence of different gatekeepers, gates and social systems on the news diffusion process is hypothesized and empirically tested.


This research project is based on theoretical and empirical work on gatekeeping theory, news diffusion studies, actor-network theory, social media and participatory journalism research.


Publications & Conferences

  • Wallace, Julian (2017): Modelling Contemporary Gatekeeping. The rise of individuals, algorithms and platforms in digital news dissemination. In: Digital Journalism, online first. doi: 10.1080/21670811.2017.1343648.
  • Wallace, J. (2015): Producing News in Digital Spaces. New Gatekeeping Processes and the Role of Algorithms and Users. Paper presented at the IAMCR15 preconference CRICIS, Montreal, CA.
  • Wallace J. (2015): Towards a Theory of Online Gatekeeping. Understanding the Role of Users and Algorithms as Gatekeepers in Digital News Diffusion. Paper presented at the IAMCR15, Montreal, CA.
  • Wallace, Julian/Dörr, Konstantin (2014): Beyond Traditional Gatekeeping. How Algorithms and Users Restructure the Online Gatekeeping Process. Presentation at Digital Disruption to Journalism and Mass Communication Theory Conference, 2-3 October 2014, Brussels, Belgium.
  • Wallace, J.(2014): Online Gatekeeper. Theoretische Überlegungen hin zu einem neuen Gatekeeper-Modell. Presentation at the DGPuK Conference, Passau, DE.