How the news media activate public expression and influence national agendas

Presentation Date: 

Friday, January 12, 2018


University of Toronto

Presentation Slides: 

This talk reports on the results of first large scale randomized news media experiment. We demonstrate that even small news media outlets can cause large numbers of Americans to take public stands on specific issues, join national policy conversations, and express themselves publicly—all key components of democratic politics—more often than they would otherwise. After recruiting 48 mostly small media outlets, and working with them over 5 years, we chose groups of these outlets to write and publish articles on subjects we approved, on dates we randomly assigned. We estimate the causal effect on proximal measures, such as website pageviews and Twitter discussion of the articles’ specific subjects, and distal ones, such as national conversation in broad policy areas. Our intervention increased discussion in each broad policy area by a substantial ~62.7% (relative to a day’s volume), accounting for 13,166 additional posts over the treatment week, with similar large effects across population subgroups. We also discuss the normative implications of this for individual journalists, the national ecosystem of media outlets, and democratic politics. This talk is based on work recently published in Science with Benjamin Schneer and Ariel White; for more information, see