Friday, January 15, 2010

A commenter asks about Murdoch newspapers

Anonymous asks about If TV doesn't kill you...

Have they done the same analysis for people who read murdoch newspapers?"

Good question A.

There's been quite a lot of research

Murdoch fascinates people...

Here's where things stood a few years back:

Two Chicago University economists Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse Shapiro attempted to examine whether newspapers influenced people or whether people influenced newspapers by putting their dollars with the papers whose slant they agreed with.

They constructed what is probably the world’s most objective measure of newspaper bias. First they used the Congressional Record and a computer to identify the phrases most uttered by Republican and by Democratic politicians. They found for example that Republicans kept repeating the phrases “tax relief” and “war on terror”. Democrats by contrast talked about “tax breaks” and the “war in Iraq”.

Then they examined the phrases most used in the news pages of 400 American papers during 2005. Some preferred Democratic terminology, others Republican. The Washington Post for instance referred to the “estate tax”. The Washington Times was more likely to call it the “death tax”.

They assigned each newspaper a point on a Republican to Democrat scale. And then they examined whether or not the papers were merely serving up the slant the readers wanted.

Zip code by zip code they examined demographic data, political donations and even information about church going in order to determine how Democratic or Republican its citizens were likely to be. They worked out what would be ideal slant for the papers serving each zip code if they were merely trying to reinforce local prejudices.

Their results explained roughly 20 per cent of the slant that the papers actually had. In other words, to a large extent those papers appeared to be telling their readers what they wanted to hear for commercial reasons. (And it seemed that the more they told their readers what they wanted to hear the higher the newspaper price they could charge.)

The views of the proprietors, as measured by their political donations, appeared to be unrelated to their papers’ slants. Indeed, many proprietors ran papers with different slants in different cities.

If we are to believe Gentzhow and Shapiro it doesn’t matter much what Rupert Murdoch thinks. For commercial reasons the slant in his papers won’t move too much out of whack with the views of his readers.

But Gentzhow and Shapiro don’t have the last word.

An even more ingenious piece of research by economists from the University of California Berkley and Stockholm University has taken advantage of one of the most dramatic natural experiments in media bias of modern times.

Rupert Murdoch’s blatantly pro-Republican Fox News Channel burst onto the US scene in 1996 - but not to everywhere at once. Some towns were still without it by the time of the Al Gore – George Bush contest in the year 2000.

Fortunately for the researchers, Stefano DellaVigna and Ethan Kaplan, there was no rhyme or reason as to which towns had Fox and which did not – it wasn’t related to their likely politics.

They found the overall vote for George Bush was 0.4 to 0.7 per cent higher in those towns that had introduced Fox News. Fox had persuaded 3 to 8 per cent of the individuals watching it to change their vote.

DellaVigna and Kaplan conclude that “a vote shift of this magnitude is likely to have been decisive”.

And two more recent studies:

Media and Political Persuasion: Evidence from Russia

Ruben Enikolopov , Maria Petrova , Ekaterina Zhuravskaya

April 2009

How do media affect voting behavior? What difference can an independent media outlet make in a country with state-controlled media? Our paper addresses these questions by comparing electoral outcomes and votes reported by survey respondents during the 1999 parliamentary elections in Russia for those geographical areas that had access and those that had no access to the only national TV channel independent from the government ("NTV"). The effect is identified from exogenous variation in the availability of the signal, which appears to be mostly idiosyncratic, conditional on controls. The findings are as follows. 1) The presence of the independent TV channel decreased the aggregate vote for the government party by 2.5 percentage points and increased the combined vote for major opposition parties by 2.1 percentage points. 2) The probability of voting for opposition parties increased for individuals who watched NTV even controlling for voting intentions measured one month prior to the elections. 3) NTV had a smaller effect on votes of people with higher political knowledge and those using alternative sources of political news and a larger effect on retired persons who watch TV substantially more than working individuals.

Do Newspapers Matter? Evidence from the Closure of The Cincinnati Post

Sam Schulhofer-Wohl, Miguel Garrido

NBER Working Paper 14817 March 2009

The Cincinnati Post published its last edition on New Year's Eve 2007, leaving the Cincinnati Enquirer as the only daily newspaper in the market. The next year, fewer candidates ran for municipal office in the suburbs most reliant on the Post, incumbents became more likely to win re-election, and voter turnout and campaign spending fell. We exploit a difference-in-differences strategy and the fact that the Post's closing date was fixed 30 years in advance to rule out some non-causal explanations for these results. We show that local politics changed even though the Enquirer increased its coverage of the Post's former strongholds. Although our findings are statistically imprecise, they demonstrate that newspapers — even underdogs such as the Post, which had a circulation of just 27,000 when it closed — can have a substantial and measurable impact on public life.

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