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What actually is media bias?


Economics of Media Bias - under this title an international research workshop was held at the HMS last week. For two days, economists from New York, Barcelona, ​​Hong Kong and other cities discussed the forms, causes and consequences of distorted reporting. Andreas Wrede asked the initiator of the workshop, Marcel Garz, about this.

Marcel, the subject has been studied in communication and media studies for a hundred years. Why have economists been dealing with it recently?

The realization that the news spreads untruths, that important events are not mentioned, or that reporting has a political tinge is of course not new. However, we are dealing with a market where supply and demand, i.e. news makers and news consumers, meet. And this is where economists come into play: with the help of economic analysis techniques, completely new insights can be gained.

For example?

A good example is the measurement, i.e. quantification of media bias. For this purpose, American economists first evaluated the minutes of the meetings of the Senate and House of Representatives with the help of text mining programs and searched them for characteristic phrases. Republicans speak of “war on terror” much more often, while Democrats talk more often about “health care”. The next step was to determine how often certain media use the same phrases in their reporting. On this basis, rankings of the ideological positioning of the media could be created; it shows how liberal the New York Times is or how conservative the Wall Street Journal is.

And where exactly do the tools of economists start?

Especially when it comes to the question of cause and effect. Does the New York Times have a liberal bias because the political views of journalists, editors or company owners are reflected in the reporting? Or does it have something to do with the fact that the New York Times readership is considered liberal? Unfortunately, a look at statistical correlations or regression coefficients is not enough to unequivocally identify the causal relationship. Instead, economists resort to things like natural experimentation or placebo estimates. And then it turns out that political tints in reporting often have to be explained by consumer sovereignty: If you want to be successful as a news medium, you have to write what your readers want to hear.

Do such studies also exist for the German media landscape?

Barely. At least in empirical terms, the USA is once again a pioneer in this area. But it is also comparatively easy there, in principle there are only two parties. In most European countries, however, multi-party systems have become established. This makes research a bit difficult, but we are working on it.