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All the News That's Fit to Sell

All the News That's Fit to Sell: How the Market Transforms Information into News

James T. Hamilton
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    All the News That's Fit to Sell
    Book Description:

    That market forces drive the news is not news. Whether a story appears in print, on television, or on the Internet depends on who is interested, its value to advertisers, the costs of assembling the details, and competitors' products. But inAll the News That's Fit to Sell, economist James Hamilton shows just how this happens. Furthermore, many complaints about journalism--media bias, soft news, and pundits as celebrities--arise from the impact of this economic logic on news judgments.

    This is the first book to develop an economic theory of news, analyze evidence across a wide range of media markets on how incentives affect news content, and offer policy conclusions. Media bias, for instance, was long a staple of the news. Hamilton's analysis of newspapers from 1870 to 1900 reveals how nonpartisan reporting became the norm. A hundred years later, some partisan elements reemerged as, for example, evening news broadcasts tried to retain young female viewers with stories aimed at their (Democratic) political interests. Examination of story selection on the network evening news programs from 1969 to 1998 shows how cable competition, deregulation, and ownership changes encouraged a shift from hard news about politics toward more soft news about entertainers.

    Hamilton concludes by calling for lower costs of access to government information, a greater role for nonprofits in funding journalism, the development of norms that stress hard news reporting, and the defining of digital and Internet property rights to encourage the flow of news. Ultimately, this book shows that by more fully understanding the economics behind the news, we will be better positioned to ensure that the news serves the public good.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4141-7
    Subjects: Business, Economics, Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    “Who Killed Hard News?” IfDatelineor theDaily Newswere covering the demise of serious reporting about public affairs, this might be the headline. The question evokes many elements of a good story—an air of mystery, a tinge of violence, a hunt for a perpetrator. Reporters writing about problems with the news media like to focus on such human interest angles. Tales of greed, stupidity, and conspiracy make good copy. Yet as intriguing as profiles of media moguls and network anchors may be, they ultimately miss defining the main determinants of news. This book shows that the news...

  2. Chapter 1 Economic Theories of News
    (pp. 7-36)

    News is a commodity, not a mirror image of reality. To say that the news is a product shaped by forces of supply and demand is hardly surprising today. Discussions of journalists as celebrities or of the role of entertainment in news coverage all end up pointing to the market as a likely explanation for media outcomes. Debates about a marketplace of ideas reinforce the notion that exchange drives expression. Yet most people simply use the market as a metaphor for self-interest. This book explores the degree that market models can actually be used to predict the content of news...

  3. Chapter 2 A Market for Press Independence: The Evolution of Nonpartisan Newspapers in the Nineteenth Century
    (pp. 37-70)

    Imagine a world where patronage drives news coverage. Editors seeking favors from political parties slant the discussion of government policies. Newspapers trying to sell space to advertisers tailor the way they cover politics in order to gain more readers to market. News coverage is sold to the highest bidders—including readers, advertisers, and politicians. To the media’s harshest critics, this imaginary world exists today in the biased way that politics is covered in the United States. Most readers and viewers would reject this as a current description of journalism in America, where objectivity is seen as a guiding principle in...

  4. Chapter 3 News Audiences: How Strong Are the Public’s Interests in the Public Interest?
    (pp. 71-120)

    It is an old debate: Do the media provide people with the information they want or the information they need? This familiar question ignores the wide content variations in the publications and programs that make up “the media” and the large differences in interests among the demographic groups that constitute “the people.” This chapter analyzes the variations in demand for news about government and politics across different types of media outlets and different sets of individuals.¹ The analysis focuses on the implications of the first of the five Ws: Who cares about a particular piece of information?

    The basic logic...

  5. Chapter 4 Information Programs on Network Television
    (pp. 121-136)

    60 Minutesis appointment viewing. At 7 P.M. on Sunday evenings millions of viewers tune in to watch this venerable CBS news magazine. Nielsen data for the fall 1999 sweeps period tell a familiar tale about the show’s popularity. During November 1999 Nielsen tracked a total of ninety-six informational programs on the broadcast television networks.60 Minutesattracted the largest average audience among these programs by many measures. The program garnered the most viewing households (12,397,000), most adult women (9,073,000), and most adult men (7,679,000). For some categories of viewers, however,60 Minutesdid not even make the top ten...

  6. Chapter 5 What Is News on Local Television Stations and in Local Newspapers
    (pp. 137-159)

    Local news is often crafted and marketed as a personalized product. Local television stations promise to be “your eyewitness news team,” to be “on your side,” or to deliver “news you can use.” Local newspapers stress their ties to the community in statements or slogans on their mastheads and editorial pages. Internet versions of these papers often invite readers to “personalize” the newspaper by selecting the types of news they wish to see. The large fixed costs of creating a news story means that individuals will not find a story to match their every interest. The likelihood that you are...

  7. Chapter 6 The Changing Nature of the Network Evening News Programs
    (pp. 160-189)

    In 1969, the daily debates among network news executives and reporters about what stories to include in the evening news broadcasts centered around which domestic politics and foreign policy stories to cover. Each television network was part of a media company. For each of the three networks, the founder or early leader was still involved and was identified with the organization’s operations. Network news operations were expected to generate prestige, part of which reflected back on the owners and broadcasters. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) routinely examined the number of hours of public affairs programming stations provided when they had...

  8. Chapter 7 News on the Net
    (pp. 190-214)

    The Internet reconfigures space and time. Geographic space shrinks. Readers can access local papers from around the world, while companies can aggregate interested consumers across many different communities. Product space expands. No longer constrained by shelf space on newsstands or the costs of print, individuals and organizations can offer their take on events to millions by starting a website. Instant communication contracts the time news organizations have to do research before publishing and expands the demand for more news now. The changes in technology make novelty a constant, with the distribution of data over the Internet dubbed the “New New...

  9. Chapter 8 Journalists as Goods
    (pp. 215-234)

    To learn what’s new in the world, you have to start with what’s old. This is the paradox that explains why journalists are increasingly becoming part of the news goods they deliver. In a world of multiplying news outlets, journalists can be the familiar faces or trusted sources that draw consumers to a program or publication. News products are experience goods, which means that you need to use the good to judge its attributes. Once you investigate and examine a news product, however, you have in effect consumed it. In trying to attract your attention to their version of the...

  10. Chapter 9 Content, Consequences, and Policy Choices
    (pp. 235-264)

    If the First Amendment were interpreted literally, this would be a short chapter. Though the amendment says “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press,” Congress makes many laws that affect the flow of media information. Consider how the property rights governing the production, distribution, and consumption of news depend upon how an image reaches your screen. For broadcast television, FCC ownership regulations limit the number of stations a company can own in a local television market, prohibit the ownership of a television (or radio) station and a major local daily...