Measuring the Marketplace: Diversity and Editorial Page Content
Michael W. Drager
1614 N. Beech Street
Normal, IL 61761
[log in to unmask]
A paper submitted to the Newspaper Division of AEJMC for consideration for
presentation at the 1999 convention.
Drager is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication at Illinois
Measuring the Marketplace
Measuring the Marketplace: Diversity and Editorial Page Content
The diversity of content provided by newspapers has been the subject of
numerous scholarly studies. Some researchers have included editorial page
content in their analysis of diversity and some have not. However, much of the
diversity research that has included editorial page content has studied that
diversity from an economic standpoint. While their results have been somewhat
mixed, the use of economic measures in determining content diversity of
editorial pages could provide valuable insight into the editorial package.
This study attempts to provide an analysis of diversity on editorial pages by
looking at standard constructs such as topic, source, and geographic location,
as well as opinion and ideological diversity. In addition, it draws upon an
established economic measure of market concentration as a means to establish a
benchmark of diversity for editorial page content.
There are several definitions of diversity that can have meaning within a news
organization. There can be a diversity of news sources - individuals and
organizations that provide the information for stories that fill a newspaper's
pages each day. There can be a diversity of employees, reflected in the
racial, ethnic, or gender characteristics of the news organization.
There also is diversity of content. Much research on diversity of content has
been based on the theoretical foundation of John Milton and John Stuart Mill's
concept of the marketplace of ideas. Although Milton and Mill first gave life
to the concept of a diverse exchange of ideas, it wasn't until the 20th century
that Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes gave life to the modern phrase
in a case before the court. While never abandoning the concept of the
"marketplace of ideas," the Hutchins Commission in 1947 charged the media to be
"socially responsible" in the conduct of its business. In his study of the
marketplace of ideas, Schwarzlose claims that the theory has evolved from one of
true individualism to one that serves society's needs.
The concept of the marketplace of ideas as espoused by Holmes is grounded in a
theoretical economic background that competition and a free market of goods and
services are beneficial to the public and economic health of a society.
Economic theories of competition note that the more goods and services people
have available, the more choices they have. Prices will go down and the quality
of the products and services will increase because competition forces companies
to be innovative and provide consumers with what they want, or go out of
business. When a monopoly exists, goods and services can be of poor quality and
prices can be artificially high because customers have no other choice - there
are no alternative products or services available.
The marketplace of ideas functions in a similar fashion. When there are a
variety of ideas and a variety of sources for those ideas, the "customers" can
"shop" for the best ideas available. There is competition among the various
ideas created by a diverse society to be accepted. The ideas of "equality" and
"equal rights under the law," which the public eventually accepted as "high
quality" ideas, led to support for the civil rights movement, while the ideas of
"state-sponsored segregation" and "separate but equal" eventually were
considered "poor quality" ideas. It was a free flow of ideas in the marketplace
that allowed the public to compare and determine the better course of social and
racial history. If there is a monopoly over ideas held by one entity - usually a
government or other ruling body - there may be little variety of new thought and
diversity suffers. In that case, new ideas are considered threatening and are
either subverted through propaganda or never brought before the public at all.
Much like an economic market, the marketplace of ideas is fluid - it is
constantly changing to fit the needs of society. New products (ideas) are
brought forth to stand the tests of society and time. Ideas and the diversity
they support are inseparable. As a free market economic system relies on
competition to function efficiently, so does the marketplace of ideas.
However, where do newspaper editorial pages fit into that marketplace?
Newspapers are not the only source of information and ideas. Magazines, books,
movies, television, the Internet, as well as interpersonal communication, are
all sources of ideas. Newspaper editorial pages are but one of the venues that
provide a daily commentary on events and issues facing their communities.
However, not every community has access to other venues of commentary; in some,
the newspaper may be the most reliable venue simply because the editorial page
and its contents appear every day. In addition, not everyone who comes into
contact with a newspaper editorial page may read a book, listen to all-news
radio, or watch television commentary programs. They may use the information and
ideas provided by the newspaper as a means of gaining further knowledge on an
issue or confirming an already held opinion. This process of "confirmation
enhancement" or "confirmation reduction," or raising doubts about a stand on an
issue, is sustained in society by the marketplace of ideas.
Historically, as the number of newspapers declined and the number of competing
dailies in large and medium-sized cities shrank, news organizations faced the
problem of providing diverse opinions in their editorial package. The advent of
the op-ed page enabled many monopoly newspapers to avoid alienating a large
segment of the newspaper-buying population that may not get the paper for
reasons related to politics or ideology espoused in its editorial positions. The
op-ed page supposedly provided room for other voices - a diversity of ideas -
for those who otherwise might not have a voice. In many cases the op-ed page
gave a voice to citizens opposed to the news organization's "institutional
Research drawing on economic and structural theories that has been conducted on
editorial pages, whether directly or as part of the entire newspaper package,
often looked at the marketplace of ideas and diversity as being affected by
economic variables such as ownership patterns, including joint operating
agreements, competition, monopoly news organizations, and
circulation. Many of these studies found little or limited support for the
influence of such variables, leading Picard to hypothesize that professional
norms, industry standards, and tradition, which often is internalized by a news
organization, may have a greater impact on content than external factors.
Despite that, the economic analogy of the marketplace of ideas and the diversity
it supports may be a valid one. And using an economic measure of market share
may be a valid way to develop an index of diversity that will allow newspapers
to determine how diverse their editorial pages are.
RQ1. Is there diversity in the content of the editorial page package?
RQ2. If diversity exists, in which aspect of the editorial package is there the
RQ3. Can an economic measure be used to determine the level of diversity of a
newspaper's editorial package?
Since this study was an attempt to determine if daily newspapers present a
diversity of content on their editorial pages, it was assumed that larger
newspapers with an editorial page staff size of more than one person would have
the means, both financially and physically, to produce an editorial page
adequate for observation. It was also assumed that more than one person in an
editorial page department would possibly allow for more diversity in the
decision making process regarding editorial page content. The papers used in
this study were drawn from a previous study on organizational structure and
culture in large news organizations. A population of 302 dailies in the
circulation range of 23,000 to more than 1 million were identified through
Editor and Publisher Yearbook as having more than one editorial page staff
The editorial departments of each of the 302 newspapers were contacted and
asked to provide a one-week, consecutive-day sample of editorial and op-ed
pages. A total of 152 newspapers responded, but only 105 of the newspapers were
used for the content analysis because a number of them did not supply complete
weeks or did not include their op-ed pages. The one-week, consecutive-day
sampling criterion was used to facilitate the acquisition of newspapers. Getting
editorial or circulation departments to gather a constructed weekly or monthly
sample from over a one-year period would have been difficult, and it was
considered more appropriate to have the actual pages for measurement rather than
photocopies of the pages. Although Riffe et. al. note that constructed sampling
and random sampling may be more accurate, it was assumed that the consecutive
sample would provide an adequate glimpse of the focus and content of each
paper's editorial and op-ed page.
The content analysis was conducted on the editorial and op-ed pages (if the
newspaper had an op-ed page) as a package and on each individual item on the
page. The content analysis was used to construct an index of diversity from the
six elements of diversity identified for the study - source, topic, opinion,
ideology, geography, and presentation. Coding for the content analysis involved
not only a mathematical counting of components of all six elements used to
determine diversity, but also a contextual analysis of content for two of the
six elements, opinion and ideology. Editorial page content was defined as
written content, cartoons, illustrations, or graphs appearing on pages clearly
identified and set aside as commentary or opinion. Editorials, syndicated
columns, guest columns, letters to the editor, editorial cartoons, and
illustrations all were considered editorial page content. The editorial page
package was measured to determine the amount of space given to the editorial
page. All content on the editorial and op-ed pages - editorials, syndicated
columns, letters to the editor, cartoons, and illustrations - was measured as a
complete package. The total square inches of the editorial package was used as a
gauge of the commitment of the newspaper to the editorial product. Items were
measured in square inches rather than column inches because of the differences
in column formats of the various newspapers sampled.
Content was coded according to the following six diversity categories:
Presentation concerned the appearance of the content on the editorial page -
whether it appeared as a staff-written editorial, bylined staff commentary,
syndicated column, guest editorial/individual, guest editorial/newspaper, letter
to the editor, or editorial cartoon or illustration. Staff-written editorials
were unsigned commentaries produced by editorial staff members. Bylined
staff commentaries were signed opinion pieces written by staff members, such as
reporters or news managers. Syndicated columns were produced outside the news
organization and identified with the authors' byline and the names of the
syndicates through which they were distributed, generally on a national level.
Guest editorials/individual were commentaries produced outside the news
organization but generally within the local community, such as a local resident,
government official, or politician. Guest editorials/newspaper were commentaries
produced by a news service or written by the editorial staff of another
newspaper. Letters to the editor were commentaries set aside on the page and
identified as "letters to the editor." Finally, editorial cartoon/illustrations
were commentaries in the form of pictures or art.
Source concerned the author of the material presented on the editorial page -
staff writer, syndicated writer, guest editorialist, or letter writer. In
addition to determining the source of the material, the gender of the source was
established by using the name of the source. Gender was listed as "male,"
"female," or "unknown." In the case of unsigned staff-written editorials, the
gender of the source was coded as "unknown," as was situations in which names,
such as Pat or Leslie, could be construed as genderless.
Topic Categories -
Topic concerned the editorial content's subject matter. The categories were
based on those developed by Windhauser, but modified for this study. The
categories were business and economics, education, environment, government and
politics, media, religion, social issues, and other. For the most part, the
categories are self-explanatory regarding the context of editorial content;
however, some clarification is needed for a couple of them. In their study of
editorial page diversity at two Shreveport, La., newspapers, Sylvie and Mueller
separated political parties and elections from political institutions in order
to separate political activity from government decisionmaking. It was
decided to combine them as one category for this study because many commentaries
about governmental activity included references to political parties. Also, the
media category included commentaries about any medium (newspapers, television,
movies, etc.) and people directly involved in them.
Geographic Locale -
Geographic locale concerned the focus of an editorial page item's "topic"
location. The topic of an editorial or commentary could be a local community
issue, or a statewide, regional, national, or international one. The regional
geographic category was added since in some cases a commentary could deal with a
topic or issue affecting a several-state geographic area, such as the Northeast
or West. The U.S. Census Bureau's definition of regional designations was
Opinion was concerned with the stand that an editorial, column, or letter to
the editor took on a topic or issue. Opinion was coded as "pro," "con,"
"balanced," or "neutral." "Pro" positions were identified as positive statements
in support of a topic or issue expressed in an editorial or commentary. "Con"
positions were identified as negative statements opposed to a topic or issue.
"Balanced" positions were identified as an approximately equal (within 10
percentage points) number of pro and con statements. "Neutral" commentaries were
those that basically took no stand on a topic or issue. Each editorial page item
was read and each was assessed and marked as to whether it was pro, con,
balanced, or neutral.
Ideology as defined for this study was not limited to a political context,
although a "spectrum" of six ideological positions based on a European model was
used for coding. Ideology can be defined as a formal and articulated system
of meanings, values, and beliefs that can be abstracted as a "world view" or
"class outlook." Shoemaker and Reese note that ideology can be studied as an
individual or societal-level belief system, but ideology as presented in the
media often is tied with the concept of deviance. Becker notes that
individuals use their ideology to test the world around them to see if it is
"natural." As Shoemaker notes, deviance often equates to the newsworthiness
of individuals, groups, and events for news organizations. Coverage of deviant
people, organizations, or events by the media functions as a warning system for
those who wish to control social change.
The positions on the ideological spectrum used for this study were extreme left
(i.e., Communists and Marxists), non-mainstream liberal (i.e., socialists and
social democrats), mainstream liberal (Democrats and the Democratic Party),
mainstream conservative (i.e., Republicans and the Republican Party),
non-mainstream conservative (i.e., the Christian Coalition and the New Christian
Right), and extreme right (i.e., the Ku Klux Klan, Aryan Nation, and Nazis). If
a commentary featured no ideological context, it was coded as non-ideological.
In addition to coding the content for its position on an ideological spectrum,
those items that were deemed ideological also were coded as to the treatment of
the individual or organization in the commentary. Was the subject of the
commentary portrayed in a positive or negative manner? Positive statements were
supportive of the individual or organization, while negative statements were
critical. Such portrayals of individuals and organizations along the spectrum
could reflect the news organization's own institutional position along that
spectrum in terms of its commentary.
Index of Diversity
After each edition of a sampled newspaper had been coded, an index of diversity
was determined for each newspaper. An index for each of the six elements
comprising diversity for this study was created by using the
Herfindahl-Hirschman Index. The Herfindahl-Hirschman Index has been used in
economic research to determine the level of competition in a specific market. It
allows economic researchers to establish the amount of market share a firm has
and arrive at a number that represents the amount of competition in a market.
The index looks at the number of firms in the market and each one's share of the
market to arrive at an index number based on summing the squares of the
percentage of market share. Economic theory demonstrates that the greater the
number of firms and the more equal the market shares among the firms, the more
competitive, or diverse, the market is.
In keeping with the economic analogy that is the basis of the marketplace of
ideas, the diversity index for this study was based on the Herfindahl-Hirschman
Index. An index of diversity was calculated for each coded category for each
edition of a newspaper by summing each diversity category for the sampled week.
The weekly total in each category then was divided by the total number of items
presented on the editorial pages for that week to arrive at a representative
percentage of that particular category. The percentages were squared and summed
to produce an "index of diversity" for each category. The six diversity
categories for each newspaper were summed and averaged to produce a total
diversity figure for each paper. The index could range from 0 to 1.00. The
lower the diversity index, the more diverse the content was, while the higher
the index, the less diverse the content.
Three people, the author and two additional coders, coded the sampled editorial
pages. A one-week, composite sample of editorial pages from the sample
population was created for tests of intercoder reliability by randomly selecting
a Sunday-through-Saturday sample from among the 105 newspapers. Cohen's Kappa
was used to determine intercoder and intracoder reliability to ensure accuracy
of coding. Reliability figures were determined between the author and the other
two coders, as well as intracoder reliability for the author. Average intercoder
reliability between the three coders across the six categories in the content
analysis was .91, .92, and .94, respectively.
(Table 1 about here)
This study attempted to determine how diverse the editorial page content is at
the 105 newspapers sampled. While it appears there is support for the editorial
product, most papers are not as diverse in some areas of their editorial package
as was expected.
The one-week sample of editorial pages for the 105 newspapers selected for this
study produced a total of 9,191 editorial page items for content analysis. While
each item was counted for each edition of the newspaper, every category was
totaled for that day's edition, then totaled for the week to arrive at a total
number of items in each category for the sample week. That total then was
entered into SPSS to produce the descriptive statistics reported below.
For the most part, the newspapers' commitment to their editorial pages, as
measured by space provided for the editorial package, appeared to be quite
significant (see Table 2). The average editorial space per day ranged from 223
square inches to 780 square inches. The median amount of space was 444 inches.
If one were to standardize a news page at 13 by 21 inches, it would represent
273 square inches of editorial space per page. On any given day, most large
newspapers are providing one and a half to two pages of their newspaper to the
editorial department. The number of items on those editorial pages ranged from a
low of 43 for the week to a high of 159. The average number of items on the
editorial page of the sampled week was 87.
(Insert Table 2 about here)
The main research question (RQ 1) this study attempted to address was
establishing whether or not newspapers present a diverse marketplace of ideas -
a diversity of content - on their editorial pages. The findings are mixed in
that regard since some diversity elements indicated a relatively diverse nature
and others did not. Specifically, two of the six diversity elements created for
the study showed some overall diversity, but the other four did not appear to be
diverse in terms of content (see Table 3). Presentation and source appeared to
fit the marketplace model with an average diversity index for the 105 newspapers
of .27 and .32, respectively. This answered the second research question (RQ 2)
regarding which aspects of the editorial package were the most diverse.
Presentation appeared to have the greatest amount of diversity with an index
mean of .27 and a range from .19 to .42. That may reflect a desire of newspapers
to provide as much variety in their editorial page content as possible to
attract readers, as well as provide room for as many voices on the page as
The diversity indices for topic, geographic, opinion, and ideology ranged from
.36 to .45. The cutoff point for minimal diversity had been set at .30 for this
study. The diversity index could range from 0 (extreme diversity) to 1.00 (no
diversity). As was expected, the range of content diversity across the six
elements of diversity was fairly broad, reflecting the fact that the editorial
pages of some newspapers are going to be very diverse while others are not. The
minimum and maximum diversity indices for the six diversity elements for the 105
newspapers ranged from .19 for presentation to .82 for ideology. The mean
diversity index for all 105 newspapers was .38.
(Insert Table 3 about here)
Editorial page editors have a number of standard sources from which to draw
content to present on their pages. Presentation for this study dealt with the
manner in which the content appeared on the editorial page - staff-written
editorials, bylined staff commentaries, syndicated columns, guest editorials by
individuals and other news organizations, letters to the editor, and editorial
cartoons. The source of the content was represented by who produced the content
- staff writers and cartoonists, guest editorials, syndicated columnists and
cartoonists, or letter writers.
Nearly all of the newspapers in this study presented staff-written editorials
on their pages. More than 15 percent presented from 20 to 25 staff-written
editorials for the week, while only two newspapers, or 1.9 percent, provided no
unsigned staff-written editorials for the week. The average number of editorials
produced for the week was nearly 13. However, few newspapers in the sample made
use of bylined staff commentaries on a daily basis. While the number of bylined
staff commentaries ranged from none to 13 during the week, the majority of
newspapers, 62 percent, presented one or two a week in their editorial package
(see Table 4).
(Insert Table 4 about here)
The findings indicated that, like news pages, editorial pages rely heavily on
syndicated material (see Table 5). The average number of syndicated columns used
during the week was, like the staff-written editorials, nearly 13. But when
syndicated cartoons and illustrations were added, the average number of
syndicated items used for the week jumped to nearly 25. More than 12 percent of
the newspapers in the study carried between 20 and 27 syndicated columns on
their pages for the week. Nearly 50 percent carried between 11 and 19 syndicated
columns. And all made use of editorial cartoons and illustrations, whether
syndicated or produced by a staff cartoonist or artist. The number of cartoons
and illustrations used for the week ranged between three and 31. The average
number of cartoons and illustrations used was 14 a week.
(Insert Table 5 about here)
Another way to present diversity in content is the guest editorial, whether
produced by a member of the local community or another news organization. It
appears that many of the newspapers in the sample present guest editorials on
their pages, although not on a daily basis. The average number of guest
editorials for the week written by individuals was nearly six, while those
provided by another news organization was between three and four (see Table 6).
While there was some support for guest editorials, there appears to be strong
support for letters to the editor. The average number of letters to the editor
presented in the editorial package for the sample week was 36, with one
newspaper printing a high of 81 letters.
(Insert Table 6 about here)
For the most part, the sources of the content reflected the varying degrees of
the presentation of the content. Staff writers and syndicated sources provided
much of the "professional" editorial content, but letter writers were highly
represented, with more than 35 percent of the newspapers using 41 or more
letters a week (see Table 7). Guest editorialists provided less content than
expected, with more than 66 percent of the newspapers using 10 or fewer guest
editorials a week. Nearly 75 percent of the staff writers produced between 11
and 30 editorials or bylined staff commentaries for the week, while 74 percent
of the syndicated sources produced the same number of items (see Table 7).
(Insert Table 7 about here)
The sources who produced the editorial page content tended for the most part to
be male. The average number of items produced by male authors - whether bylined
staff commentaries, syndicated material, or letters to the editor - was nearly
41 items, while for female authors, the average was 18 items for the week. Most
of the syndicated columns were written by males as were the letters to the
As with other studies that have looked at editorial page diversity, this study
looked at the topics covered by the editorial page. In his 1990 longitudinal
study of three newspapers, Hynds found that the papers wrote more editorials
about politics and government than any other topic area. Similar
circumstances were found in this study. There was little overall topic diversity
for the 105 newspapers in the sample. Editorial content dealing with the topic
of government and politics accounted for an average of nearly 48 items for the
week (see Table 8). Social issue topics came in a distant second with an
average of nearly 17 items for the week, while business and economics had an
average of nearly five items for the week. Editorials and commentaries about
education and media topics were tied with about six items per week each.
Religious topics averaged about three items each week, while environmental
topics came in last with an average of about two items for the week. The "other"
topic category was used in this study as a category for any items that did not
fit into the seven defined categories. On average there were about 12 editorial
page items during the sample week that could not be classified in one of the
defined categories. These items were often letters to the editor to thank
members of the community for a fund-raising effort or support for a community or
(Insert Table 8 about here)
While the topic categories are an important aspect of diversity, so too are the
geographic locations of the content. Does the content deal with local issues or
only those from a distance that will not, as some critics claim, offend the
local advertisers or government officials - a concept that has been given the
name "Afghanistanism." Research by Lacy; Rarick and Hartman; and Weaver and
Mullins, though based on economics of and competition between newspapers, showed
that newspapers tend to devote less editorial space on local issues and more on
national or international issues. The findings of this study reflected a
similar pattern of geographic location. A national geographic focus took the
lion's share of the spotlight with an average of nearly 42 items (51 percent of
the total average of all five geographic locations used in the study) for the
week's sample (see Table 9). Commentary about local issues had the second
highest average number of items with 25 for the week, or 31 percent. Content
with a state focus averaged almost nine items, while an international geographic
focus was found in an average of six items for the week.
(Insert Table 9 about here)
Editorial page content, unlike content on the news pages, does not have to
carry a burden of objectivity or fairness and balance. Editorial commentary is
often argumentative and sometimes one-sided in an effort to provoke discussion
and promote debate. As Hynds has noted in previous research, the vitality of the
editorial page is perhaps reflected in the fact that it continues to raise
issues and take stands on those issues. For this study, opinion was coded as
"pro," "con," "balanced," or "neutral." When stands were taken on issues in the
editorial content of the sampled newspapers in this study, they tended to take a
con stance, or be against something (see Table 10). Of the editorial content
that took a stand on a topic, an average of 52 items for the week took con
stances, while 21 items took a pro stance on an issue. A balanced stance was
taken in an average of four items, and an average of nine items took no stand on
Ideological diversity was determined by identifying individuals and groups
mentioned in the editorial content and placing them on an ideological spectrum
that ranged from extreme left to extreme right. The editorial content also was
contextually analyzed to determine how each group was treated - positively or
negatively. As other studies have found, when ideology is a factor, newspaper
editorial pages appear to continue to focus on the two major mainstream
ideological groups in the country - the mainstream liberal part of the spectrum
dominated by the Democrats and the mainstream conservative part of the spectrum
dominated by the Republicans. However, ideology was not a factor in much of the
editorial content presented in the sample newspapers. Of the average of 87 items
per week that appeared on the editorial pages of the sample newspapers, an
average of 60 of the items were non-ideological. In other words, there was no
identifiable ideological context to the content. Of the remainder that were
considered ideological content, an average of 18 items per week mentioned
mainstream liberal groups and organizations, while an average of 14 items per
week mentioned mainstream conservative groups and organizations (see Table 10).
Other groups along the spectrum were basically ignored.
(Insert Table 10 about here)
How the mainstream liberal and mainstream conservative groups were treated in
the editorial page content was similar - both received more negative than
positive treatment in the editorial content. This finding may reflect the fact
that the majority of the stands taken on issues were against, or con (see Table
11). Of the average 18 items per week that mentioned a mainstream liberal
individual or organization, four of the items featured a positive treatment,
while 14 of the items were negative. Of the average 14 items per week that
mentioned a mainstream conservative individual or organization, three of the
items featured a positive treatment and 11 were negative.
(Insert Table 11 about here)
The third question this study attempted to answer was whether an "index of
diversity" using an economic measurement as the basis to determine content
diversity could be created for newspapers (see Table 3). The
Herfindahl-Hirschman Index is used by economic researchers to gauge the relative
strength of competition in a market by determining the percentage of market
share a firm has. Economists find that it is a reliable measure of concentration
because it takes into account the differences in the number of firms, as well as
the differences in relative market shares. The index was chosen for this study
for the same reason. It is sensitive to the number of categories making up any
of the six diversity elements used in this study, whether the element is made up
of four categories or 10 categories. The closer the index is to 1.00, the less
diversity there is in the market. The closer the index is to zero, the greater
the diversity. Once the relative diversity of the content for each of the six
elements was determined, a composite diversity index was able to be created by
averaging the indices of the six elements and creating a general diversity index
for each of the 105 newspapers sampled. A mean diversity index value for all 105
newspapers was then able to be created.
This study attempted to determine how diverse newspaper editorial pages are and
establish an index of diversity that editorial page editors could use to gauge
how much diversity they have on their pages. However, that assumes that
newspaper publishers or owners want their editorial pages to be diverse. And
from the range of diversity found in the newspapers sampled in this study, that
may be assuming a great deal. While there continues to be a commitment to the
editorial page as Hynds has noted, and that editorial page content continues
to be vigorous and critical of the status quo to some degree as Demers and Hynds
both have found, editorial page content is not quite as diverse as the
marketplace perhaps would like it to be. While editorial page editors may strive
to put a great many voices on their editorial pages in terms of the variety of
material and sources presented on the page, if they are basically saying the
same thing or covering pretty much the same ground, there is going to be little
diversity for the marketplace.
As others have found, topic diversity tends to be somewhat limited to politics
and government with social issues a distant second. Other topics that may be of
interest, whether local or national in nature, don't appear on the radar screen,
perhaps leaving some readers with little incentive to turn to the editorial page
in the first place. When an average of 48 editorial page items per week
discuss government and politics, but only six discuss education and five discuss
business, a lot of space is being taken up by only one topic.
Another area of concern for the marketplace of ideas is the lack of ideological
diversity on the editorial page, reflecting perhaps the contention that
newspapers, as most media organizations do, protect the status quo. There
were very few mentions of individuals or organizations located on the
ideological spectrum other than those in the mainstream liberal or conservative
part of the spectrum. Republicans and Democrats were mentioned overwhelmingly.
That may be expected since we are by and large a two-party system. However,
there are other voices on the spectrum, including independents and new political
parties, such as the Reform Party, that are being marginalized or ignored
completely by the mainstream press.
The use of economic measures may be able to provide insight into the diversity
of editorial page content, but whether the editorial pages truly fit the
definition of the marketplace of ideas will depend on those who are selecting
and producing the content. As White found in his gatekeeper analysis of
editorial decisionmaking in the newsroom, personal biases may provide much of
the influence on the selection of editorial page content. Further research
into personal biases and behavioral variables of editors rather than studying
structural variables may be able to determine what influences the diversity of
editorial page content. However, economic measures remain a way to gauge the
"strength of the market" when it comes to diversity and the marketplace of
 See for example: Kathleen A. Hansen, "Source Diversity and Newspaper
Enterprise Journalism," Journalism Quarterly 68 (Fall 1991): 474-482; Jane
Delano Brown, Carl R. Bybee, Stanley T. Wearden, and Dulcie Murdock Straughan,
"Invisible Power: Newspaper News Sources and the Limits of Diversity,"
Journalism Quarterly 64 (Spring 1987): 45-54.
 Ted Pease, "Ducking the Diversity Issue: Newspapers' Real Failure is
Performance," Newspaper Research Journal 11 (Summer 1990): 24-37; Evelyn Trapp
Goodrick, "Editorial Writers' Approaches to Selected Women's Issues," Newspaper
Research Journal 12 (Summer 1991): 20-31.
 J. Herbert Altschull, From Milton to McLuhan: The Ideas Behind American
Journalism (New York: Longman, 1990), 36-42.
 In Abrams v. United States (1919), Holmes wrote, "But when men have
realized that time has upset many fighting faiths, they may come to believe even
more than they believe the very foundations of their own conduct that the
ultimate good desired is better reached by a free trade in ideas - that the best
test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the
competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their
wishes safely can be carried out."
 The Commission on Freedom of the Press, A Free and Responsible Press
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1947), 130-131.
 Richard A. Schwarzlose, "Marketplace of Ideas: A Measure of Free
Expression," Journalism Monographs 118 (December 1989): 33-34. Schwarzlose
identifies three stages in the philosophical development of the marketplace
concept. Milton's marketplace was the place for individuals to seek rational,
absolute truth and required liberation from government oppression. Mill's
marketplace was one in which the opinions of the majority could be tempered in a
spirit of compromise between mass society and the individual. Finally, the
Hutchins Commission's marketplace was one in which perpetuating public debate in
response to social need rather than to find truth or give voice to the
individual was paramount.
 Robert G. Picard, Media Economics: Concepts and Issues (Newbury Park,
Calif.: Sage, 1989), 11-15.
 Kenneth Rystrom, The Why, Who, and How of the Editorial Page (State
College, Pa.: Strata Publishing Co., 1994), 290-293.
 See for example: Philip Meyer and Stanley T. Wearden, "The Effects of
Public Ownership on Newspaper Companies: A Preliminary Inquiry," Public Opinion
Quarterly 48 (1984): 564-577; John C. Busterna and Kathleen A. Hansen,
"Presidential Endorsement Patterns By Chain-Owned Papers, 1976-84," Journalism
Quarterly 67 (Summer 1990): 286-294; Roya Akhavan-Majid, Anita Rife, and Sheila
Gopinath, "Chain Ownership and Editorial Independence: A Case Study of Gannett
Newspapers," Journalism Quarterly 68 (Spring/Summer 1991): 59-66; Stephen Lacy,
"Effects of Group Ownership on Daily Newspaper Content," Journal of Media
Economics 4 (Spring 1991): 35-47; George Sylvie and James Mueller, "The
Shreveport Solution: Preserving Editorial Page Diversity When a JOA Fails," Mass
Comm Review 22 (1995): 129-146; David Demers, "Corporate Newspaper Structure,
Editorial Page Vigor, and Social Change," Journalism and Mass Communication
Quarterly 73 (Winter 1996): 857-877.
 See for example: Stephen Lacy, "The Effects of Intracity Competition on
Daily Newspaper Content," Journalism Quarterly 64 (Summer/Autumn 1987): 281-290;
Stephen Lacy, "The Effect of Intermedia Competition on Daily Newspaper Content,"
Journalism Quarterly 65 (Spring 1988): 95-99.
 See for example: M.E. McCombs, "Concentration, Monopoly, and Content," in
Press Concentration and Monopoly: New Perspectives on Newspaper Ownership and
Operation, eds. R.G. Picard, J.P. Winter, M. McCombs, and S. Lacy (Norwood,
N.J.: Ablex, 1988), 129-137.
 See for example, Stephen Lacy and James M. Bernstein, "Daily Newspaper
Content's Relationship to Publication Cycle and Circulation Size," Newspaper
Research Journal 9 (Winter 1988): 49-57.
 Robert G. Picard, Media Economics: Concepts and Issues (Newbury Park,
Calif.: Sage, 1989), 79-80.
 The number of daily newspapers listed by Editor and Publisher Yearbook
that fit the representative circulation range of 23,000 to 1 million totaled
577. However, not all 577 fit the criteria of having more than one editorial
page staff member; those that didn't were dropped from the study. Most of the
newspapers that were dropped because they either had only one full-time or
part-time person working on the editorial page were in the 23,000 to 35,000
 Daniel Riffe, Charles F. Aust, and Stephen R. Lacy, "The Effectiveness of
Random, Consecutive Day and Constructed Week Sampling in Newspaper Content
Analysis," Journalism Quarterly 70 (Spring 1993): 133-139.
 Sylvie and Mueller, "The Shreveport Solution," 129-146. Sylvie and Mueller
used a similar measurement technique in their study of Shreveport, La.,
newspapers because it gave a more accurate indication of the extent to which
subjects were covered on the editorial page. In this study it was assumed that
such a measure would reflect the newspaper's financial commitment for the
 Two newspapers in the sample had signed editorials written by the
editorial page editor. These were counted as staff-written editorials.
 John W. Windhauser, "Content Patterns of Editorials in Ohio Metropolitan
Dailies," Journalism Quarterly 50 (1973): 562-567.
 Sylvie and Mueller, "The Shreveport Solution," 134-135.
 Although most editorials, commentaries, or letters to the editor had only
one major theme, in some cases it was possible that a commentary could mention
several of the topic categories. The commentary of most editorial page content
was devoted to a single subject. In those cases in which two themes may be
presented (i.e., a discussion of abortion policy in the United States and a
particular political candidate's stand on the issue) would be coded as both
"social issue" and "government/politics." A minimum of 20 percent of the
commentary, based on a per line ratio, was required for a topic category to be
 The U.S. Census Bureau regional designations were Northeast, North
Central, South, and West.
 See Herbert J. Gans, Deciding What's News (New York: Pantheon, 1979), 30.
Gans notes that the spectrum is made up of far left radicals, democratic
socialists, Communists, and revolutionaries who advocate public ownership of the
means of production; the "left leaning" ultraliberals who favor an egalitarian
welfare state; "New Deal" liberals; moderates; conservatives who defend private
enterprise with some government regulation; ultraconservatives who are strict
adherents to the free market with no government interference; and the far right
populated by extremists such as the Nazis or Ku Klux Klan. The six positions on
the ideological spectrum used for this study were drawn from that model.
 Raymond Williams, Marxism and Literature (New York: Oxford University
Press, 1977), 109.
 Pamela J. Shoemaker and Stephen D. Reese, Mediating the Message: Theories
of Influences on Mass Media Content (New York: Longman, 1991), 183-188; Pamela
J. Shoemaker, "The Communication of Deviance," in Progress in Communication
Sciences vol. 8, ed. Brenda Dervin and Melvin J. Voight (Norwood, N.J.: Ablex
Publishing Corp., 1987): 151-175.
 Samuel Becker, "Marxist Approaches to Media Studies: The British
Experience," Critical Studies in Mass Communications 1 (1984): 66-80.
 Shoemaker, "The Communication of Deviance," 151-175.
 See for example: Stephen A. Rhoades, "The Herfindahl-Hirschman Index,"
Federal Reserve Bulletin 79, no. 3 (March 1993): 188-189; Charles R. Laine,"The
Herfindahl-Hirschman Index: A Concentration Measure Taking the Consumer's Point
of View," Antitrust Bulletin, 40, no. 2 (Summer 1995): 423-432; Bruce M. Owen
and Steven S. Wildman, Video Economics (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University
Press, 1992), 54-57; Stephen A. Rhoades, "Market Share Inequality, the HHI, and
Other Measures of the Firm-Composition of a Market," Review of Industrial
Organization, 10, no. 6 (December 1995): 657-674.
 Some economic texts multiply the percentage share by 100 before summing
the squares of the market shares. In that case, the index could range from 0 to
 While the economic application of the Herfindahl-Hirschman Index states
that an index number above .18 indicates a highly concentrated market with
little competition, with moderate concentration between .10 and .18, and
unconcentrated, or diverse, below .10, it was decided to be a bit more lenient
for this study. Since no standard for using the Herfindahl-Hirschman Index has
been set for measuring diversity, it was decided to establish a rule that a
newspaper with an index number above .30 would have little diversity in its
editorial page content. A newspaper with an index number between .20 and .30
would be considered moderately diverse, and a newspaper with an index below .20
would be considered to have a highly diverse editorial page.
 Ernest C. Hynds, "Changes in Editorials: A Study of Three Newspapers,
1955-1985," Journalism Quarterly 67 (Summer 1990): 302-312.
 A point to consider is that the editorial material for this study was
gathered during 1996, an election year, which may have influenced the number
items presented on government and politics. However, Hynds' sample of editorials
was not gathered during an election year and mirrored basically what was found
in this study.
 John H. McManus, Market-Driven Journalism: Let the Citizen Beware?
(Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage, 1994).
 Rarick and Hartman, "The Effects of Competition on One Daily Newspaper's
Content," 459-463; Weaver and Mullins, "Content Characteristics of Competing
Daily Newspapers," 257-264; Lacy, "The Effects of Intracity Competition,"
 Hynds, "Editorial Pages Are Taking Stands, Providing Forums," 532-535.
 Ernest C. Hynds, "Editors At Most U.S. Dailies See Vital Roles For
Editorial Page," Journalism Quarterly 71 (Autumn 1994): 573-582.
 See David Pearce Demers, The Menace of the Corporate Newspaper: Fact or
Fiction (Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press, 1996); Hynds, "Editorial Pages
Are Taking Stands, Providing Forums," 532-535; Demers, "Corporate Newspaper
Structure, Editorial Page Vigor, and Social Change," 857-877.
 Sylvie and Mueller, "The Shreveport Solution," 129-146.
 Shoemaker and Reese, Mediating the Message, 183-207.
 David M. White, "The Gatekeeper: A Case Study in the Selection of News,"
Journalism Quarterly 27 (Fall 1950): 383-390.
Measuring the Marketplace: Diversity and Editorial Page Content
In this study of editorial page content, 105 newspapers were content analyzed to
determine their diversity. An economic measure, the Herfindahl-Hirschman Index,
was used to develop a composite index of diversity for each newspaper. Results
found that while some aspects of editorial content were somewhat diverse in
nature, overall diversity of content for the sample was lacking.
Cohen's Kappas of Intercoder and Intracoder Reliability
*Cohen's Kappas for intracoder reliability for author, who was Coder 1.
**Cohen's Kappas for intercoder reliability between Coder 1 and Coders 2 and 3.
Average Editorial Page Square Inches Per Day
(N = 105)
Content Diversity Indices
(N = 105)
Presentation of Staff-Written Editorials
and Bylined Commentaries for the Week
9 or more
(N = 105)
(N = 105)
Presentation of Syndicated Columns
and Editorial Cartoons for the Week
5 or fewer
21 or more
(N = 105)
Presentation of Guest Editorials
(N = 105)
(N = 105)
Distribution of Content by Source for the Week
51 or more
(N = 105)
(N = 105)
(N = 105)
(N = 105)
Distribution of Topic Categories for the Week
Frequency of Item
51 or more
(N = 105)
(N = 105)
(N = 105)
(N = 105)
(N = 105)
(N = 105)
Geographic Focus of Editorial Content for the Sample Week
51 or more
(N = 105)
(N = 105)
(N = 105)
(N = 105)
(N = 105)
Means and Standard Deviations of Ideological Content*
and of Stands Taken in Editorial Content
(N = 105)
*The table reflects the average number of editorials, commentaries, cartoons, or
letters to the editor mentioning a group or organization positioned on that
defined location of the spectrum.
Means and Standard Deviations
of Positive/Negative Treatment of Ideological Groups*
Location on Spectrum and
(N = 105)
*The mean reflects the average number of items per week portraying the
individual or organization in a positive or negative manner.