Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Outsourcing conservative commentary 

A new study says that because George Will is in more newspapers than any other columnist, "conservative voices such as his dominate editorial pages."

"He reaches half of the newspaper readers in America," said Paul Waldman, the study's author. "He has a huge megaphone, probably bigger than anybody else in America."

His group found that 60 percent of the daily newspapers print more conservative syndicated columnists each week than liberals. Twenty percent of the papers are dominated by liberals and 20 percent are balanced. Media Matters had no information on local columnists.

Let me emphasize that last line. Media Matters had no information on local columnists. It's remarkable how little one thinks before writing such an article.

Suppose you run a paper that runs five op/ed columns a day. Four will be written by liberal commentators, one by conservatives in the interest of "balance". The market for liberal commentators flourishes and the j-schools flood with young liberals seeking entry into that market. The j-schools discourage conservatives from applying for admission, and as a results the market for conservative commentary contracts into a small oligopoly of a few writers. Each oligopolist is syndicated broadly; many of the liberal writers end up being columnists for a major city newspaper and not syndicated. Editors will eventually not carry local conservative writers, because a few columnists can dominate the industry and provide the conservative view at low cost. They, in short, outsource the right side of their "balanced" newspapers.

Then some guy gets the bright idea to test for media bias and chooses, as his measure, the number of papers each columnist appears in. What will he find?

What he finds is a great trove of small cottage liberal writing industry, and a few grizzled veterans of conservative commentary providing one column placed on the far side of hundreds of papers. And will report it as a success ... for conservatives.

And the newspapers will smugly report same, and the j-schools will tut-tut and go back to admitting more liberals.