Independent Journalism

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The Indiana University survey of journalists the Dish flagged earlier this week asked respondents about their political affiliations. Mollie Hemingway, echoing several commentators on the right, worries about the dearth of self-identified Republicans:

So what we see is that the percentage of journalists who identify as Democrat is roughly the same as what you see in the general population. And the percentage who identify as independent is even greater than the general population. But whoa check out that GOP figure. Only 7 percent self-identify as Republican, nowhere near what you might expect from the general population.

Let’s first pause to just note the danger of having a corps of journalists so far removed and even hostile to the views of the general population. If a newsroom has a good chance of not even having someone of the Republican variety within its confines, it’s a newsroom that probably struggles to even come close to understanding the perspective of GOP voters. It’s a newsroom that might struggle to fairly cover or might completely ignore stories about tax burdens on families, systemic failures of the welfare state, the benefits of gun ownership, or the evils of a serial-murdering abortion doctor in Philadelphia (just speaking hypothetically here).

Cillizza isn’t so sure that response is justified:

These numbers will likely affirm the belief in conservative circles that “all” reporters are secretly Democrats. (The study was conducted via online interviews with 1,080 reporters.)  While I am not in the business of disputing the study’s finding, I would note two caveats:

1. This is among all reporters not just political reporters. While that may seem like a minor issue, it’s worth noting that assuming these party ID numbers are true for those of us — like me — who cover politics day in and day out may not be entirely accurate.

2. The movement toward independent status among reporters is in keeping with a similar move in the broader electorate as they find the two parties increasingly rigid and, therefore, less welcoming.

Mankiw examines other research on the political slant of newspapers. What it found:

If a paper serves a liberal community, it is likely to lean left, and if it serves a conservative community, it is likely to lean right. In addition, once its political slant is set, a paper is more likely to be read by households who share its perspective.

Religiosity also plays a role in the story, and it helps [economist Mathew] Gentzkow and [co-author Jesse] Shapiro sort out cause and effect. They find that in regions where a high percentage of the population attends church regularly, there are more conservatives, and newspapers have a conservative slant. They argue that because newspapers probably don’t influence how religious a community is, the best explanation is that causation runs from the community’s politics to the newspaper’s slant, rather than the other way around.

The bottom line is simple: Media owners generally do not try to mold the population to their own brand of politics. Instead, like other business owners, they maximize profit by giving customers what they want.