Comment 17038

By statius (registered) | Posted January 10, 2008 at 14:14:10

"This reflects not a "paranoid fringe perspective" but a basic understanding of how economics works. Newspapers make money by selling a product (eyeballs) to their customers (advertisers), and a paper will simply not stay in business if it alienates its customers."

I would like to agree with this proposition, as the logic of your argument is attractively simple, but the problem with allegations of editorial advertising partisanship in media (as opposed to political partisanship) is a surprisingly consistent inability of researchers to satisfactorily quantify such claims (i.e. to convincingly demonstrate bias through comprehensive content analysis) in such a way as to stand up to the sort of scrutiny necessary to ground empirical study. One of the major difficulties with the argument has been that major news organizations are rarely as consistent in their editorial line as detractors would like to believe. Another is the fact that a good number of very strong empirical analyses of media content actually display a marked anti-business, pro-regulation, consumer rights bias in contemporary media content. This fact, if it does not disprove, at least calls into question the proposition that the reliance on advertising by major media has a substantive effect on editorial content. Donald Sutter wrote a good article along the same lines a few years ago in the AJES. That being said, I tend to agree that it is hard to resist the inference that advertisers do have some impact on editorial decisions. But it is possible to respond to this inference by reference to the effective "division of powers" which exists (or at least appears to exist) in most solid media organizations. Certainly in the days of Hearst, Pulitzer and Luce the people who made the business decisions at major media organizations were also the ones who made the editorial decisions, but this is rarely the case today.

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