Is Propaganda Front-Page News?

78 Pages Posted: 17 Jan 2024

Date Written: January 7, 2024


In the online age, autocracies' censors must manage abundant information. At the same time, they face consumers with varying valuations for investigative content. This paper reveals a strategic pattern in the placement of news within Chinese online newspapers (2020-22). Studying over a million articles from 53 news outlets, I show that front-page articles are more likely to feature content favored by the government relative to articles published in other locations of news websites. Different text-based measures are employed to determine each article's alignment with the government's preferred content: Citing the government's press agency, Xinhua, makes an article approximately eight percentage points more likely to feature on the front-page. Similarly, a one-standard-deviation decrease in the resemblance with foreign content on China increases the front-page placement probability by 1.1 percentage points. Both theoretical and empirical evidence suggest that foreign information sources -- costly but not impossible to access for an investigative minority of readers -- influence domestic censorship strategies.

Keywords: Media, China, Political Economy, Censorship, Propaganda, Text as Data, Natural Language Processing

JEL Classification: D73, D74, L82, L86

Suggested Citation

Widmer, Philine, Is Propaganda Front-Page News? (January 7, 2024). Available at SSRN: or

Philine Widmer (Contact Author)

University of St.Gallen ( email )

Bodanstrasse 8
St.Gallen, 9000

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics