[lbo-talk] life after newspapers

Michael Pollak mpollak at panix.com
Mon Mar 30 12:07:01 PDT 2009

On Mon, 30 Mar 2009, Doug quoted:

NBER Working Paper No. w14817 SAM SCHULHOFER-WOHL, Princeton University - Department of Economics and Woodrow Wilson School MIGUEL GARRIDO, Princeton University

to the effect that:

> 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 fell. We exploit a
> difference-in-differences strategy - comparing changes in outcomes
> before and after the Post's closure in suburbs where the newspaper
> offered more or less intensive coverage - 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. 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.

FWIW, I think this is the non-fantasy origin of the tenacious idea that media consolidation narrows political debate: the effect of closing small town newspapers. I think this entire trope (of consolidation limiting opposition) largely beings in the 1920s with AJ Liebling, in his column "The Wondering Pressman" in the New Yorker (which he kept going for decades). And in that era (and the 3 decades just before, which he used as reference), media consolidation meant the rise of newspaper chains, and with them, the shutting down of many small papers so that one (or two chain-competing) papers could split the resulting monopoly or duopoly advertising revenues.

The argument has mutated since then into many forms that simply don't make sense on their face in our modern era, and which seem nostalgic for a golden era that never was. But Liebling had no illusions at all about venality of press owners in his day; he was quite hilariously scathing about it, and about the cretinizing effect of the profit-motive. But still, it seems that in his era of newspapers, he might have had decent grounds for considering consolidation an extra evil on top.


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