Distorting the News? The Mechanisms of Partisan Media Bias and Its Effects on News Production

Abstract

Integrating scholarship from several fields of study, this paper proposes a new model for understanding how partisan bias operates and how to measure its effects. We chart the factors that influence partisan bias over news production within news organizations that are simultaneously constrained and conditioned by factors of market competition, context considerations and journalistic norms. We argue that partisan media bias of a news-story is expressed in the manner that different news outlets cover the same political story within the same timeframe relative to one another. We find that description bias is a key parameter that is intertwined with selection bias mechanisms that highlight and downplay news items according to their content. We illustrate how partisan media coverage occurs in the context of a major political protest in Israel. We employ a dataset consisting of 1556 news products from all major newspapers. We find that partisan bias finds its strongest expression in the types of news products that the news outlets emphasize on their front-page and in the sizing of articles. These mechanisms of partisan bias can be generalized in the study of partisan bias in other types of news outlets.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Data available at https://doi.org/10.13140/rg.2.2.27066.24009.

  2. 2.

    See Appendix for coding details at https://doi.org/10.13140/rg.2.2.33777.12646.

  3. 3.

    The coders were trained and then tested for articles that were about the movement (i.e., coverage of, and opinions about, movement actions, movement participants and leaders, movement camps and camp culture, movement objectives, and direct responses of government and state officials to the movement) and those that were not directly about the movement (i.e., economic analyses of living costs and political matters which did not involve coverage of the movement). Inter-coder reliability of article inclusion is Krippendorff's α = 0.775.

  4. 4.

    Inter-coder reliability of article type is Krippendorff's α = 0.807.

  5. 5.

    If an article runs on several pages, only the first page is calculated.

  6. 6.

    Inter-coder reliability of description bias is Krippendorff's α = 0.792.

  7. 7.

    Page-number bias is calculated by the overall average of the first page on which each of the articles in the newspaper begins. The cross comparisons between the average page number of Haaretz, Yedioth Ahronoth and Maariv are statistically insignificant, but the difference between Israel Hayom and each of the other three outlets is statistically significant with over 95% confidence in a multiple-comparison Scheffe test.

  8. 8.

    For similar reasons, opinion spectrum bias is considered a sub-set of description bias.

  9. 9.

    In order to present the findings in a simpler and more accessible format, we conducted a logistic regression with positive versus neutral-negative. In a follow up research we conducted a multinomial logistic regression and reached similar finsings. Statistical code for replication is available at https://doi.org/10.13140/rg.2.2.30421.68327.

  10. 10.

    As this study illustrates, different variables yield different results, including non-findings and haphazard results. Findings and non-findings are highly susceptible to the type of PMB measure we employ.

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Shultziner, D., Stukalin, Y. Distorting the News? The Mechanisms of Partisan Media Bias and Its Effects on News Production. Polit Behav 43, 201–222 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11109-019-09551-y

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Keywords

  • Partisan media bias
  • Partisan coverage
  • News imbalance
  • News production
  • Protest coverage
  • Social movements and media