Content Differences between Daily Newspapers with Strong and Weak Market Orientations

By Beam, Randal A. | Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Summer 2003 | Go to article overview

Content Differences between Daily Newspapers with Strong and Weak Market Orientations


Beam, Randal A., Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly


A content analysis of more than 13,000 items on the main display pages in twelve daily newspapers finds that publications with a strong market orientation publish fewer items about government and public affairs and more items about lifestyle and sports than newspapers with a weak market orientation. But it also finds that content for the public sphere continues to dominate the main display pages of both newspapers that embrace market-driven journalism and those that do not.

A 2000 article in American Journalism Review describes a new culture that permeates the newsrooms of U.S. daily newspapers. It is a culture in which papers "court audiences with a gusto ranging from simple courtesy ... to potential pandering."1 Media scholars and critics call this market-driven or market-oriented journalism.2 Today, the newsrooms of hundreds of U.S. newspapers, magazines, and television stations have embraced, to greater or lesser extents, this approach to making news.3 Typically, a market-driven organization selects target markets for its product, identifies the wants and needs of potential customers in its target markets, and seeks to satisfy those wants and needs as efficiently as possible.4 For a news organization, a strong market orientation implies that the newspaper, magazine, or television station will aggressively seek to determine the kinds of information that readers or viewers say they want or need and will provide it.

This change in organizational culture has been unsettling to many journalists.5 Critics of market-driven journalism have argued that it leads to the trivialization of media content, and they assert that one long-term consequence is to deprive readers or viewers of the traditional public-affairs content they need to function effectively as citizens.6 Supporters counter that market-driven journalism will help save newspapers, news magazines, and newscasts from marketplace irrelevance, and they say it does not necessarily lead to abandoning of public-service commitments.7

This article examines the implications of market-driven journalism for daily newspaper content. It begins by examining previous research on market-driven journalism and by offering a framework for considering the debate about its impact on U.S. news organizations. That framework is grounded in scholarly work on professionalization. The article then reports results of a content analysis of twelve daily newspapers, six that have newsrooms with a relatively strong market orientation and six that have a relatively weak market orientation. More than 13,000 articles and photos were examined in the content analysis. Its results offer support for both critics and proponents of market-driven journalism. Information about government and the public sphere dominates the content published on the main display pages of the twelve newspapers that were studied. But the findings also suggest that market-driven newspapers publish proportionally fewer items about public life and proportionally more items about lifestyle issues and sports.

Market-Oriented Newspapers

Although the trend toward market-driven journalism began in the early 1980s, industry trade publications suggested that it gained momentum during the recession of the early 1990s.8 That recession and its aftermath seemed to underscore the gravity of two long-term trends for daily newspapers:

* Persistent declines in per capita circulation and readership. In 2001, average weekday readership was about 54% of adults over 18 compared with about 81% in 1964.9

* Continual loss of advertising share to other media. The daily newspaper industry's share of all ad revenue had declined to 19% by 2001, a drop of 9 percentage points from 1980.10

In this increasingly hostile operating environment, market-driven journalism was touted as a way for daily newspapers to counter these trends.11 Market-driven organizations focus on identifying and fulfilling customers' and potential customers' wants and needs. …

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Content Differences between Daily Newspapers with Strong and Weak Market Orientations
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