“I Just Google It”: Folk Theories of Distributed Discovery

Benjamin J Toff, Rasmus Kleis Nielsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

130 Scopus citations


A significant minority of people do not follow news regularly, and a growing number rely on distributed discovery (especially social media and search engines) to stay informed. Here, we analyze folk theories of news consumption. On the basis of an inductive analysis of 43 in-depth interviews with infrequent users of conventional news, we identify three complementary folk theories ("news finds me," "the information is out there," and "I don't know what to believe") that consumers draw on when making sense of their information environment. We show that the notion of folk theories help unpack the different, complementary, sometimes contradictory cultural resources people rely on as they navigate digital media and public affairs, and we argue that studying those who rarely engage directly with news media but do access information via social media and search provides a critical case study of the dynamics of an environment increasingly defined by platforms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)636–657
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Communication
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by a grant from Google UK as part of the Digital News Initiative (CTR00220).

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2018.


  • Audience research
  • Journalism
  • Media literacy.
  • News media
  • Political knowledge
  • Search engines
  • Social media


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