The Rise of the Fourth Estate: How Newspapers Became Informative and Why it Mattered

56 Pages Posted: 6 Oct 2004 Last revised: 28 Jun 2010

See all articles by Matthew Gentzkow

Matthew Gentzkow

University of Chicago - Booth School of Business; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Edward L. Glaeser

Harvard University - Department of Economics; Brookings Institution; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Claudia Goldin

Harvard University - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: September 2004

Abstract

A free and informative press is widely agreed to be crucial to the democratic process today. But throughout much of the nineteenth century U.S. newspapers were often public relations tools funded by politicians, and newspaper independence was a rarity. The newspaper industry underwent fundamental changes between 1870 and 1920 as the press became more informative and less partisan. Whereas 11 percent of urban dailies were "independent" in 1870, 62 percent were in 1920. The rise of the informative press was the result of increased scale and competitiveness in the newspaper industry caused by technological progress in the newsprint and newspaper industries. We examine the press coverage surrounding two major political scandals -- Credit Mobilier in the early 1870s and Teapot Dome in the 1920s. The analysis demonstrates a sharp reduction in bias and charged language in the half century after 1870.From 1870 to 1920, when corruption appears to have declined significantly within the United States, the press became more informative, less partisan, and expanded its circulation considerably. It seems a reasonable hypothesis that the rise of the informative press was one of the reasons why the corruption of the Gilded Age was sharply reduced during the subsequent Progressive Era.

Suggested Citation

Gentzkow, Matthew Aaron and Glaeser, Edward L. and Goldin, Claudia, The Rise of the Fourth Estate: How Newspapers Became Informative and Why it Mattered (September 2004). NBER Working Paper No. w10791. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=595190

Matthew Aaron Gentzkow

University of Chicago - Booth School of Business ( email )

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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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Edward L. Glaeser (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Department of Economics ( email )

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Brookings Institution

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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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Claudia Goldin

Harvard University - Department of Economics ( email )

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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

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