Media Slant is Contagious

68 Pages Posted: 2 Dec 2020 Last revised: 15 Feb 2022

Date Written: February 15, 2022

Abstract

This paper analyzes the influence of partisan content from national cable TV news on local reporting in U.S. newspapers. We provide a new machine-learning-based measure of cable news slant, trained on a corpus of 40K transcribed TV episodes from Fox News Channel (FNC), CNN, and MSNBC (2005-2008). Applying the method to a corpus of 24M local newspaper articles, we find that in response to an exogenous increase in local viewership of FNC relative to CNN/MSNBC, local newspaper articles become more similar to FNC transcripts (and vice versa). Consistent with newspapers responding to changes in reader preferences, we see a shift in the framing of local news coverage rather than just direct borrowing of cable news content. Further, cable news slant polarizes local news content: right-leaning newspapers tend to adopt right-wing FNC language, while left-leaning newspapers tend to become more left-wing. Media slant is contagious.

Keywords: media slant, text as data, local news markets

JEL Classification: L82, C53, D72, D23, O33, Z13

Suggested Citation

Widmer, Philine and Galletta, Sergio and Ash, Elliott, Media Slant is Contagious (February 15, 2022). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3712218 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3712218

Philine Widmer (Contact Author)

University of St.Gallen ( email )

Bodanstrasse 8
SIAW-HSG
St.Gallen, 9000
Switzerland

Sergio Galletta

ETH Zürich ( email )

Rämistrasse 101
ZUE F7
Zürich, 8092
Switzerland

Elliott Ash

ETH Zürich ( email )

Rämistrasse 101
ZUE F7
Zürich, 8092
Switzerland

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