The Paradox of Editorial Diversity:
A Content Analysis of the Cincinnati Enquirer and Cincinnati Post
Steve Hallock and Ron Rodgers
Mike Gennaria and Fei Wei
Master's Degree Students
E.W. Scripps School of Journalism
Athens, OH 45701
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Paper Submitted to the Newspaper Division of the
Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication
July 31-Aug. 2, 2003
Kansas City, Missouri
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A content analysis of editorials over a one-month period of two newspapers
operating under a joint operating agreement in Cincinnati found that while
the two papers did not differ ideologically, they did offer a high degree
of diversity in editorial topics. The study also found that with the few
editorials in which the two papers wrote on common topics, disagreement
involved areas of focus within the editorials rather than opinions or
A common assumption about newspaper markets is that the competition brought
about by the existence of two or more daily newspapers in a market fosters
diversity and competition of ideas and news coverage (Lasorsa 1991, 38).
This competition would include different types of stories covered by the
separate editorial staffs, different emphasis given to stories of similar
topics, different approaches to those stories, and the existence of varying
ideologies and topics on the editorial page. Such competition is vital to
maintain democratic government, as Glasser argued in his defense of a free
First Amendment protection ... is desirable because it fosters a robust
and uninhibited press; a robust and uninhibited press is desirable because
a press able and presumably willing to accommodate divergent points of
view; divergent points of view are desirable because they sustain public
debate; public debate is desirable because it nurtures an informed citizenry;
and an informed citizenry is desirable because it brings about a more
perfect polity and, in the end, legitimates the very idea of self
The joint operating agreement (JOA) phenomenon began during the Depression
as a means of easing the financial stresses of competition (Adams 1996,
195). After the first formalized agreement was formed in Albuquerque, New
Mexico, in 1933, joint operating agreements continued to be formed until
1969, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled such agencies were illegal. The
next year, Congress passed and President Richard Nixon signed the Newspaper
Preservation Act. The act allows a joint operating agreement, in which "two
separate newspapers form an operating agency which allows a common printing
plant, coordinates method and field of publication, allocates production
facilities, plans distribution, conducts advertising solicitation, provides
a shared business department, establishes advertising and circulation
rates, and determines revenue distribution" (Pratte 1986-87, 31). However,
it must be demonstrated that one of the two newspapers is in "probable
danger of failing" (Pember 1990, 591). A 1972 federal district court
ruling, while pointing out that joint operating agreements were not
intended to foster monopolies, said such agreements serve to preserve
editorial independence and the Newspaper Preservation Act meets
constitutional muster. In that ruling, Judge Oliver Carter wrote:
Here the act was designed to preserve independent editorial voices.
Regardless of the economic or social wisdom of such a course, it does
not violate the freedom of the press. Rather, it is merely a selective
repeal of the antitrust laws. It merely looses the same shady market forces
which existed before the passage of the Sherman, Clayton and other antitrust
laws. Such a repeal, even when applicable only to the newspaper industry,
does not violate the First Amendment (Pember 1990, 591-92).
The argument on behalf of editorial diversity rises from the belief
– voiced by such philosophers as John Milton and John Stuart Mill – that
from a marketplace of ideas the truth will make itself known. However,
Busterna and Picard (1993) argued there is very little editorial diversity
among newspapers in the United States, and both authors questioned how
joint operating agreements would maintain a diversity of voices that did
not already exist. "The American public is substantially
middle-of-the-road, and so are its mainstream newspapers – those same
newspapers that form JOAs" (89).
In his exploration of the philosophical and ethical issues surrounding the
question of newspapers in a joint operating agreement, Pratte suggested
that the dynamics of such agreements can pose ethical and economic
questions for the owner, including these: allowing an outside agency to
dictate such decisions as news hole, the allotted space for editorial
departments, a newspaper's sections and when they run, and publication
deadlines. Other issues related to joint operating agreements include
domination of the failing newspaper by the more successful newspaper in the
agreement and the added issue of autonomy if one or both of the newspapers
are owned by newspaper chains or media conglomerates.
Pratte noted that editorial independence implies freedom from constraint
from such entities as governments, religions, political parties and
businesses. "Independent newspapers may also be described as those
publications that are self reliant and whose employees are able to think
and act for themselves with a minimum of arbitrary outside authority" (31).
There are few studies that deal explicitly with the effects of joint
operating agreements, especially on the editorial diversity of the
agreement's member newspapers. Mass communication literature includes
studies that deal with how chain-owned newspapers affect the quality and
diversity of the news and editorial pages of their newspapers. However,
the evidence in the totality of those studies does not lend itself to any
clear-cut conclusions. In fact, Lacy (1991), in his review of the
literature, found that studies conflict about ownership's effect on content.
For example, on the non-effect side of the equation, Hicks and
Featherstone (1978), in a study of two sets of chain newspapers, found no
evidence of significant duplication of content. Wagenburg and Soderland's
(1975) analysis of seven Canadian newspapers belonging to the same chain
found no evidence that any of the papers colluded in the writing of their
editorials. Borstel (1956) found little consistent difference in editorial
comment linked to ownership or competition, but he found that chain
newspapers emphasized more local economic issues. Beam (1993), in a study
of the professional practices of 58 daily newspapers, found few differences
in professional practices between independent and group-owned newspapers.
Drager (1999), in a study of the editorial page content of 105 newspapers,
found very little diversity among the papers. Ardoin (1973), in an analysis
of 36 newspapers involved in joint operating agreements, found that
news-hole allocations in 10 categories often were much the same for the
pairs of newspapers. And in a study in which results were consistent with
most earlier research, Busterna, Hansen, and Ward (1991) found that whether
a newspaper of over 100,000 in circulation was a competitive, joint
operating agreement, chain or independent newspaper had no significant
effect on the size of news and library staffs, the number of wire services
or the number of databases used and monthly search costs.
On the other hand, Thrift's (1977) study of 16 group-owned newspapers and
eight control-group newspapers showed that the group-owned papers tended to
have fewer editorials of a controversial nature after purchase by a chain.
Also, Akhavan-Majid, Rife, and Gopinath (1991) found evidence to suggest
that chain ownership can have a homogenizing effect on editorial position
and policy. Nixon and Jones (1956) found that competitive daily newspapers
devote more space to news than non-competitive dailies. Glasser, Allen, and
Blanks (1989) found conformity among Knight-Ridder newspapers in the "news
play" of the coverage of former presidential candidate Gary Hart.
In addition, Wackman, Gillmore, Gaziano, and Dennis (1975) analyzed
endorsements for four election cycles – 1960, 1964, 1968, and 1972 – and
found that chain newspapers were more likely to endorse presidential
candidates than were independently owned papers and that the degree of
homogeneity among chain newspapers was high for all four elections. Gaziano
(1989) replicated this degree of homogeneity while examining elections in
1976, 1980, 1984, and 1988. However, Busterna and Hansen (1990) were unable
to find the same trend in a study of presidential endorsements in the
1976-1984 presidential elections. In fact, comparing their findings with
earlier studies, Busterna and Hansen found that chain-owned newspapers
displayed more autonomy than other newspapers. In addition, Demers (1996)
found a relationship between the content of editorial pages and chain
ownership. He concluded that corporate newspapers publish more local
editorials, more letters to the editor and more letters considered critical
of groups in the mainstream.
Similarly, Akhavan-Majid and Boudreau (1995) found in a national study of
258 daily newspaper editors that the chain-owned editors were more likely
than their independent counterparts to perceive their role as one of
activist and that as the size of the newspaper chain increased, so did this
perception. In fact, an earlier survey by the American Society of Newspaper
Editors (1980) found that editors at chain-owned newspapers were more
likely than editors at independently owned newspapers to oppose their
publishers and to have much more editorial freedom in endorsements in
national elections and in making decisions on controversial
issues. However, Demers (1993), in a study comparing chain-owned and large
newspapers with independent and small newspapers regarding top editors'
autonomy and ability to improve editorial content, found little difference
between chain-owned and independent newspapers; editors at larger
newspapers did report they had more autonomy in deciding upon editorial
content, but the author noted that may be an effect of decentralization.
Three phenomena in newspaper markets lend importance to the determination
of the effects of newspaper ownership and competition on newspaper
editorial independence and diversity. They are the increase in joint
operating agreements (the number had grown, since the first formalized
agreement in Albuquerque in 1933, to newspapers in 22 cities by the time of
congressional adoption of the Newspaper Preservation Act in 1970 (Pember,
591); the decrease in the number of daily U.S. newspapers over the last
half of the 20th century – from 1,772 in 1950 to 1,745 thirty years later
despite a U.S. population increase from 150,000,000 to 220,000,000 during
the same period (Skylar 1984, 14); and the decrease in the number of cities
that have daily newspaper competition – the number of such cities had
declined, from 288 in 1930 (20.6 percent of all daily U.S. newspapers), to
39 (2.5 percent) in 1976 (Sobel and Emery 1978, 146). In 1986, 47 U.S.
cities had two or more separately owned newspapers that were not
chain-owned or newspaper operations in which the two newspapers were owned
by the same company, a number that had declined to 20 by 2000.
This study focuses on editorial similarities and differences through an
analysis of newspaper editorials of two daily newspapers operating in JOA
in a metropolitan area. The study is intended to determine if the competing
editorials of these newspapers offer evidence of diversity and independence
and whether two newspapers that are part of a joint operating agreement
meet the Newspaper Preservation Act's goals of maintaining editorial
competition and diversity. The research questions were:
? Do the two newspapers offer daily editorials on similar topics?
? If they do offer daily editorials on similar topics, do these editorials
? Do the two newspapers offer editorial diversity on such variables as
total numbers of editorials published; geographic preference of topics
(local, state/region, national and international); frequency of editorials
published of a controversial nature; and variety and frequency of editorial
The researchers hypothesized that (1) editorial diversity would be found
and (2) that the newspaper editorials would differ in their conclusions
when offering opinions on like topics.
Researchers conducted a content analysis of a month's worth of daily
editorials of The Cincinnati Post, an afternoon newspaper with a
Monday-Saturday circulation of 55,807, and The Cincinnati Enquirer, a
morning newspaper that circulates 195,360-218,667 daily during the week and
311,425 on Sundays (Editor & Publisher 2000). The Post, owned by the
Scripps-Howard group, and the Enquirer, owned by the Gannett group, belong
to a joint operating agreement, formed in 1979 (Pember, 592), in which the
Post publishes every day but Sunday and the Enquirer publishes every day,
enjoying sole Sunday publication. Editorials for this study were defined as
unsigned columns that represent the official opinions of the newspaper's
editorial board and that appear on the editorial page, which is clearly
identified as the editorial or opinion page. Other material on the same
page – letters to the editor, columns identified by an author who is a
syndicated columnist, a writer from the community who is not employed by
the newspaper, a writer who is not one of the newspaper's stable of
editorial writers for the newspaper's opinion page – were not counted as
editorials. Once a week, Enquirer editorial writers offer editorial
notebook items that are signed by initials. Study researchers counted these
as editorials, because they appeared in the same location on the page as
the newspaper editorials and because they were authored by members of the
newspaper's editorial writing staff. The researchers reasoned it unlikely
that the general public would see a difference between these commentaries
and the newspaper's unsigned editorials. All such editorials published
during the first month of 2003 were analyzed. This month was selected
because it represents a time period in which local, state, and national
legislative and political agendas for the coming year are being formulated
and in which mayors, governors, and presidents give their annual
assessments (State of the Union and State of the State addresses) and offer
major proposals for the coming year. Because this period is one likely to
produce ideological differences among governmental factions, the
researchers reasoned that topical diversity in editorials would be
prevalent. Thus, newspapers published during this time period would be more
likely to offer editorials on similar subjects.
To determine frequency of editorials published, researchers tallied
editorials in the two newspapers for the month of January – 27 days for the
Post and 31 days for the Enquirer. Editorials then were separated and
counted according to geographical topic – local, state/region, national,
international and other (the latter category for topics that were too
general to be limited by geographic boundary). To determine frequency of
editorials on same subjects, the researchers then identified the editorials
by subject and separated them into those that addressed common topics and
those that did not. To determine whether opinions differed on these
subjects, the four researchers read the editorials and determined, based on
the editorials' recommendations and conclusions, if they differed,
separating the editorials into those that agreed and those that did not agree.
The researchers devised coding to determine frequency of editorials that
dealt with controversial topics. The following coding was used: Editorials
were separated into two types, those defined as editorials of a
general/non-controversial nature (typified by a broadness of topic, lacking
a discussion of specific policies, decisions, proposals or actions and/or
offering discussions of topics that are one-sided or without general
opposition); and editorials of a specific/controversial nature (typified by
a discussion of specific policies, decisions, proposals or actions and/or
offering discussions of topics that have more than one side or that have
general opposition. An example of a general/non-controversial editorial
would be one lamenting the death of editorial cartoonist Bill Mauldin or
one welcoming the new Cincinnati Bengals head coach to town. An example of
a specific/controversial editorial would be one discussing a tax-increase
proposal put forth by the state governor or one commenting on how the
United States should respond to the North Korea nuclear-proliferation
crisis. These editorials were then separated and counted accordingly.
To determine the range of editorial topics, researchers used categories
devised by Deutschmann. These categories are: war and defense, popular
amusements, general human interest, economic activity, education and
classic arts, politics and government, crime, accident and disaster, public
health and welfare, science and invention, and public moral problems
(Deutschmann 1959, 92-95). These editorials were then separated and counted
accordingly. To test for inter-coder reliability, the coders, who had
separated into groups of two, one group for each newspaper, traded
newspapers and repeated coding. This resulted in five cases of
disagreement, for a reliability percentage of 96.5 percent.
The Post published 56 editorials during 27 days (an average of two per
day). The Enquirer published 86 editorials during 31 days – nearly three
per day (see Table 1). Researchers found a noticeable difference in the
percentage of local editorials published by each newspaper. The Post
published 12 editorials dealing with local topics, about a fifth of its
total editorials during the period studied, while the Enquirer published 34
editorials on local topics, nearly two-fifths of its total (see Table 2).
Other geographical breakdown totals and the newspapers' percentages of
total editorials for each were: State/Regional – Post 10 (18 percent),
Enquirer 14 (16 percent); National – Post 27 (48 percent), Enquirer 30 (35
percent); International – Post 5 (9 percent), Enquirer 6 (7 percent); and
Other – Post 2 (3.5 percent), Enquirer 2 (2.3 percent). The chi-square for
geographic breakdown was 5.3374, with 4 degrees of freedom and a
significance level of 0.25.
Of al1 142 editorials published by the two newspapers during January,
those on common topics, such as the president's State of the Union speech
or the governor's State of the State speech, totaled only 17 (see Table 3).
Of these 17, the newspapers drew similar conclusions, or agreed, on 11 (see
The Post editorialized on specific/controversial topics 44 times – 78.6
percent of its total editorials (see Table 5). The Enquirer's
specific/controversial editorials totaled 65, for a percentage of 75.6
percent. The chi-square for the specific/controversial category was 0.17,
with 1 degree of freedom and a significance level of 0.6801.
The two newspapers demonstrated little diversity in emphasis placed on
editorial topics. Politics and government, and war and defense were the two
categories receiving the largest number of editorials by both newspapers.
The politics and government category was noticeably the most popular one
for both newspapers (see Table 6), while other categories and frequencies
varied broadly. Spearman's Rho for these findings was 0.7523, with a
significance level of 0.0038.
The researchers determined that the results of the study support the first
hypothesis, that editorial diversity exists between the two major daily
newspapers in Cincinnati. But the second hypothesis, that the newspaper
editorials would differ ideologically in their conclusions when offering
opinions on like topics, was not supported, for reasons discussed below.
In the most general and obvious measure of diversity – total numbers of
editorials – the Enquirer published a greater number of editorials during
the period studied, averaging nearly three editorials a day to the Post's
two. This likely is due at least in part to the limitations on the
publication days allowed to the Post under terms of the joint operating
agreement. The study also found diversity in the analysis of geographical
topicality. The Enquirer offered more editorials on local subjects – nearly
double the percentage of its total editorials (39.5 percent, compared to
the Post's 21.4 percent). This suggests a difference in the importance each
newspaper places on editorializing on local subjects – a conclusion
supported by comparing each newspaper's frequency of editorials on national
and international topics combined (about 57 percent for the Post and nearly
42 percent for the Enquirer). Combining the total editorial commitment to
local and state/regional topics also suggests that the Enquirer places more
importance on editorials dealing with subjects closer to home – nearly 56
percent of its editorials of the period studied were devoted to local,
state and regional topics, compared to the Post's approximately 39 percent.
As pointed out, the findings did not strongly support evidence of
differing conclusions in editorials of common topics. This lack of support
was based on at least two discoveries. One is that the relatively few
editorials addressing common topics (17 of a total editorial count of 142)
generally did not offer specific suggestions, criticism or support, or
conclusions; they tended instead to analyze and to offer broad or
generalized observations, such as concluding that an issue or problem
merits serious attention from lawmakers or officials. The second reason is
that in the majority of editorials in which disagreement was found for
common topics, the disagreement was on areas of focus within the editorials
rather than on editorial opinions or conclusions. Specifically, the two
newspapers took differing positions only on President George W. Bush's
economic plan and on Ohio Governor Bob Taft's proposed tax increases. In
the other editorials of disagreement, the differences were in areas of
discussion, or focus, within the editorials. For example, while both
newspapers offered editorials that proposed important policy agendas in the
city of Cincinnati for the coming year, they did not agree on specific
areas of need, other than transportation. And on that topic of
transportation, the two newspapers were in general agreement about areas of
need regarding transportation. Also, common-topic editorials on the
president's State of the Union speech, on policies toward Iraq and its
president, Saddam Hussein, and on the Super Bowl, did not agree when it
came to the specific focus of those editorials. So researchers found scant
ideological diversity in the January 2003 editorials of these two
newspapers. Diversity of ideological positions in the arena was limited by
the fact that the two newspapers were in the same arena just 17 of 142 times.
However, the issue of editorial focus also lends itself to support of a
different kind of diversity – that of subject. That these two newspapers
editorialized on only 17 like topics suggests that they offer the
Cincinnati daily newspaper market diversity in editorial topics. Nearly 70
percent of the Post's editorials and nearly 80 percent of the Enquirer's
editorials were on subjects that were not discussed by the other newspaper
during the month studied. This suggests that rather than competing
ideologically, the newspapers complement each other in terms of editorial
This inference is supported by the broad range of topics addressed by the
two newspapers and by the large difference in percentage of total
editorials each devoted to the most popular general topic of politics and
government – even though the two newspapers' overall topic emphasis ranks
were correlated (Rho = 0.7523, and p = 0.0038). The Post published nearly
61 percent of its editorials on subjects within this category, while the
Enquirer editorials on political/governmental topics comprised about 49
percent of its total number of editorials in January. The next most popular
editorial category for the Post was subjects of war and defense, 16
percent, while Enquirer editorials within this category comprised 9.3
percent of its total. Frequency of Enquirer editorials on crime (9.3
percent), education and classical arts (8.1 percent), general human
interest (8.1 percent) and popular amusements (7 percent) indicate a
stronger preference for these topics than does the frequency of Post
editorials in the same subject categories – crime (1.8 percent), education
and classical arts (1.8 percent) and general human interest (7.1 percent).
The Post showed a generally similar interest as the Enquirer in popular
amusements (about 7 percent). These findings suggest that the Post for this
period indicated greater interest in government, politics and issues of war
and defense (nearly 77 percent of its total editorials) than did the
Enquirer (about 58 percent), and that the Enquirer indicated a slightly
greater interest in a broader range of topics. This, along with the rank
correlation, the difference in editorials dealing with politics and
government and the complementary nature of the editorial diversity
represent an editorial paradox.
The greatest similarity in the two newspapers' editorials was found in the
categories of general/non-controversial and specific/controversial. The
Post published controversial editorials 78.6 percent of the time, compared
to the Enquirer's 75.6 percent. This suggests that both newspapers agree
that it is important to publish opinions about subjects that lend
themselves to public debate and on which there might be some disagreement.
But it also suggests that they agree there is room on an editorial page for
whimsy and for discussion of topics such as climate and entertainment and
other routine conversational topics of the day.
This study found newspaper editorial diversity in a metropolis that has
more than one daily newspaper as well as editorial diversity in two
newspapers that are participants in a joint operating agreement. Both
findings support the argument of Chaffee and Wilson:
Communities in which many different viewpoints on the same topic are
aired, and in which shifts in the total public perspective occur, would seem
to be functioning more in the manner of the Jeffersonian ideal than those
communities where few problems are perceived as important, and where
there is little diversity of opinion or change in perspective over time
Because of the nature of some variables in this study – particularly
controversial vs. non-controversial topics – the method necessitated a
relatively small number of coders and consensual agreement regarding the
shared reading of editorials.
Further study in this area would include similar analyses of joint
operating agreement newspapers in other communities to expand upon the
findings about diversity and types of diversity. It also would be useful to
conduct a similar study in a community where there is newspaper competition
but no joint operating agreement to ascertain if there is greater or less
ideological diversity and if such newspapers offer greater or fewer numbers
of editorials on like topics. Finally, it would be useful, in determining
the evolution of editorial policies over time, to compare the results of
this study to editorials of newspapers published during an era of greater
newspaper competition – that of the mid- to early twentieth century.
Table 1 – Total Number of Editorials
Frequency Days Average
Post 56 27 2.0741
Enquirer 86 31 2.7742
Table 2 – Geographic Concentration
Category Frequency Percentage
Post Enquirer Post Enquirer
Local 12 34 (2) 21.4286 (1) 39.5349
State/Regional 10 14 (3) 17.8571 (3) 16.2791
National 27 30 (1) 48.2143 (2) 34.8837
International 5 6 (4) 8.9286 (4) 6.9767
Other 2 2 (5) 3.5714 (5) 2.3256
TOTAL 56 86 100 % 100%
Chi-square=5.3374; 4 degrees of freedom; p=0.2544
Table 3 – Common Topics
Frequency Common Topic Percentage
Post 56 17 30.3571
Enquirer 86 17 19.7674
Table 4 – Agree/Disagree on Editorials of Common Topics
Agree 11 64.7059
Disagree 6 35.2941
TOTAL 17 100 %
Table 5 - General/Non-Controversial vs. Specific/Controversial
Category Frequency Percentage
Post Enquirer Post Enquirer
General/Non-Controversial 12 21 21.4286 24.4186
Specific/Controversial 44 65 78.5714 75.5814
TOTAL 56 86 100 % 100%
Chi-square=0.17; 1 degree of freedom; p=0.6801
Table 6 – Deutschmann Categories
Category Frequency Percentage
Post Enquirer Post Enquirer
War and Defense 9 8 16.0714 9.3023
Popular Amusements 4 6 7.1429 6.9767
General Human Interest 4 7 7.1429 8.1395
Economic Activity 1 4 1.7857 4.6512
Education and Classical Arts 1 7 1.7857 8.1395
Politics and Government 34 42 60.7143 48.8372
Crime 1 8 1.7857 9.3023
Accident and Disaster 0 0 0 0
Public Health and Welfare 2 1 3.5714 1.1628
Science and Invention 0 3 0 0
Public Moral Problems 0 0 0 0
TOTAL 56 86 100 % 99.9999 %
Spearman's Rho=0.7523; p=0.0038
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