What Drives Media Slant? Evidence from U.S. Daily Newspapers

Media and Content, Internet and Networks, the Internet, and Cloud Computing

Article Snapshot

Author(s)

Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse Shapiro

Source

Econometrica, Vol. 78, No. 1, pp. 35-71, 2010

Summary

Several factors might affect whether a news outlet slants “Republican” or “Democrat.” Strong consumer demand for news that reflects their own ideology is the most important factor. The identity of the outlet’s owner is much less important.

Policy Relevance

Regulation of media ownership may be unnecessary.

Main Points

  • In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission regulates the ownership of news media, with the intent of supporting diverse viewpoints.
     
  • Measuring the frequency that key phrases appear in a newspaper helps measure whether it slants Republican or Democrat; the Washington Times uses “death tax” far more often than the Washington Post, which prefers “estate tax.”
     
  • If slant is based on consumer demand and papers desire to maximize profits, one can predict the slant a paper will adopt using data about political preferences within a zip code and newspaper circulation data.
     
  • In practice, papers adopt the amount of slant needed to respond to demand and maximize profits.
     
  • Nonpecuniary motives that might affect slant include reporter’s preferences and pressure from politicians, but there is no evidence that these factors affect slant.
     
  • The average “slant” of newspapers is about that of a left-of-center Congressman.
     
  • The ownership of a news outlet has only a slight effect on slant.
     
    • Changes in ownership do not seem to result in significant changes in slant.
       
    • There is no evidence that owners of papers shift their slant before key political battles.
       
  • Markets with more than one paper show slightly more slant than markets with just a single paper.
     
  • These findings might not apply in countries with little protection for free speech, or very limited media markets.
     

 

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