Newspaper ownership and conservative dominance of op-ed pages

A couple of weeks ago, I commented on the Media Matters report on conservative dominance of newspaper op-ed pages.  At the time, I wrote that it could be possible for a liberal entrepreneur to establish an op-ed syndicate for progressive writers which competes with the titans of the opinion industry - Washington Post Writers Group, Tribune Media Service, and Creators Syndicate.  A progressive opinion syndicate could succeed by offering fresh and diverse voices, integrating social web technology with its offerings, tapping the variety of the blogosphere to package localized and national voices, and offering competitive prices.

At the heart of the Media Matters report, and crucial to establishing the viability of a liberal opinion syndicate, is the question of why conservatives dominate op-ed pages.  There are a few competing theories.  One theory holds that conservative dominance reflects the bias of newspaper owners; another theory suggests that a broad but right-leaning section of the population, like advertisers, newspaper subscribers, or conservative movement activists, pressures the papers to publish conservative writers; another suggests that the large syndicates, who distribute most of the large opinion columns, offer preferential treatment to conservatives.  Perhaps the most nuanced explanation I've seen was in the comment threads, where carter1 offered a three-part explanation which encompasses a number of different trends.

I recently found a very interesting resource which might help evaluate some of these theories (h/t to John Palfrey at the Berkman Center.)  The Center for Public Integrity maintains an online website which cross-references media ownership records with campaign finance records, called MediaTracker.  By typing in your zip code or city and state in the search form on the front page, you can discover which companies own the media in area - including TV, radio, cable, broadband and newspapers.  What's more, those companies are cross-referenced with campaign finance records, to give us some idea of the ideological bias of the media owners.  For example, here's the political influence of Clear Channel - unsurprisingly, employees and PACs of the company contribute much more to Republicans than to Democrats (nearly 70% to Republicans, and 30% to Democrats).  Unfortunately, neither Media Matters nor MediaTracker expose their raw data, so it's difficult to evaluate, in a systematic way, whether or not conservative ownership is correlated with conservative opinion pages.  Still, it's possible to get a snapshot of some media markets.

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Conservative dominance of the op-ed pages

Last week, Media Matters released a comprehensive report on the conservative bias of newspaper op-ed pages.  The report confirmed what media critics like Eric Alterman have charged for a long time: that there is a pronounced right-wing bias in newspaper op-ed pages, in particular, in the ranks of nationally-syndicated opinion columnists.  The bias is wide and deep: there are more conservative than progressive columnists in almost every region and state in the nation; three times as many newspapers have a conservative bias as those that have a progressive bias; and conservatives dominate in total readership as well.  This report highlights an important problem that is hampering the ability of the progressive movement to set the agenda in national political discourse.

There are a number of hypotheses swirling about to explain the emphatic conservative bias.  Alan Shearer, the editorial director of the Washington Post Writers Group (which syndicates many of the most prominent columnists) suggests that the bias is due to the conservative bias of newspaper owners.  I think that the answer may be a bit more complicated.

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Black and White and Re(a)d All Over

Cross posted at DailyKos.

When reading the op-ed pages in your local daily newspaper, have you noticed column after column written by conservatives? A new report released today by Media Matters for America confirms what many have suspected -- that for the majority of daily newspapers across the country, conservatives dominate the op-ed page.

Our new report, "Black and White and Re(a)d All Over: The Conservative Advantage in Syndicated Op-Ed Columns," is a comprehensive and unprecedented analysis of nationally syndicated columnists from nearly 1,400 newspapers -- or 96 percent of English-language daily U.S. newspapers.

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Help Me Respond to an Editorial by a Right-Winger

I have noticed recently that my local newspaper, The Daily Tribune-News (Cartersville, Georgia) runs only editorials from right-wing talking heads like Mike Reagan, a former chair of the county Republican Party, and the like.  A couple years ago, there was balance.  The chair of the county Democratic Party, Howard Dean, and a local Democratic activist all had columns at one time.  Now, that's changed.

But I digress.  The object of this diary is not to complain about the right-wing slant of my local paper.  It's to ask help in formulating a response to one column published recently.

More over the flip.

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Reality check and survey

Beltway insiders are often accused of being out of touch with the rest of the country.  Indeed Bush has been accused of being in a bubble.  However, bloggers often only attend to what is going on in Washington, and hence the WaPo and the Times usually carry the brunt of  a blogger's criticism.

Today, I am going to begin a new series that explores the editorial content of selected newspapers in selected cities.  Why?  Because the average Joe and Jane do not read the WaPo or the Times.  If the netroots is going to reflect the grassroots, then lets see what is going on inthe rest of the country!  These are the newspapers that I will be following from now until the end of the year.

Tampa Tribune (conservative) and St. Petersburg Times (liberal)
St. Paul Pioneer Press (conservative) and Minneapolis Star Tribune (liberal)

I chose these two metropolitan areas because they are located in competitive states (as of 2004) and because they contain at least two newspapers whose editorials typically come from different points of view.  I am interested in receiving suggestions about other newspapers that meet the same criteria.  Colorado?  Ohio?  Missouri?  Nevada?

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