Scrutinizing Algorithms: Assessing Journalistic Role Performance in Chinese News Media’s Coverage of Artificial Intelligence


Coverage of artificial intelligence and algorithms has been largely examined by scholars studying countries in the Global North that have historically supported conditions for critical journalism and watchdog journalistic role performances. However, it is unclear if the findings from such work would be applicable to authoritarian contexts that do not share those conditions. This study addresses this gap through a textual analysis of 23 journalistic investigations of AI and algorithmic systems published in Chinese news media between 2019 and 2023. We found that Chinese journalists were critical of multiple aspects of algorithmic systems and called for urgent AI governance at the nation-state level. Despite the technical nature of the issue, those journalists overwhelmingly employed traditional reporting techniques to uncover political and economic intersections—namely those resulting from the rise of tech companies and the algorithms they implement. Chinese journalists simultaneously performed the roles of being watchdogs and loyal facilitators by highlighting the risks posed by private platforms and their algorithms while casting the state as a protector and responsible steward of technological development. The study thus highlights the intricate roles necessary to perform critical journalism in authoritarian contexts, and the possibilities that the case of AI permits.

Journalism Practice
Rodrigo Zamith
Rodrigo Zamith
Associate Professor

My research and teaching interests lie at the intersection of journalism and technology, with a focus on the reconfiguration of journalism in a changing media environment and the development of digital research methods for social scientists.