Pulitzer Prizes, an occasion to consider links between newspaper quality and economic success

Written by Dr. Hugh J. Martin Monday, 14 April 2014 19:30 PDF Print E-mail

The Pulitzer Prizes announced today offer a chance to consider three studies of the links between journalistic quality and economic success. The Pulitzers, newspaper journalism’s most prestigious awards for excellence, go to a small number of newspapers and websites each year.


Brian Logan and Daniel Sutter found newspapers that had won Pulitzer Prizes also had “significantly higher circulation [than newspapers without Pulitzers], even when controlling for the economic and demographic characteristics and media competition of the metropolitan area” where the newspaper circulated.


Publishers will only spend money to produce prize-winning journalism if the journalism pays for itself by increasing circulation and generating extra revenue. Increases in circulation at Pulitzer winning papers were probably large enough to generate that extra revenue, the study concluded.

  Logan and Sutter argued that Pulitzer Prizes are an important “signal of quality” for consumers. News is what economists call a credence good. Consumers cannot evaluate the true quality of a credence good even after they have consumed the good. For example, consumers have no way to tell if the information in a news article is accurate. This forces consumers to evaluate quality based on a newspaper’s reputation, including the prizes it has won.
This was a careful study, but it used circulation data from 1997. Newer studies that account for the shift of audiences to the Internet are needed before we can be sure the Pulitzers are still associated with significantly larger audiences. The second and third studies are from a line of research that examines the overall quality of news instead of focusing on Pulitzer Prizes.   These studies  use the financial commitment model. This model states newspapers facing competition will increase their newsroom spending, or financial commitment to news. Increased spending results in a larger newspaper staff and/or an increase in the variety and depth of news that is published. As the quality of news increases, consumers receive more utility from reading the newspaper. This in turn leads to increases in the newspaper’s circulation and/or advertising revenues.   In the second study Stephen Lacy and I reviewed decades of research that supports the financial commitment model. We focused on newspaper reactions to declines in circulation as readers and advertisers shifted to news published on the Internet.   Papers might use any of three strategies to maintain profits when circulation declines. First, newspapers might try to offset circulation declines by increasing advertising prices. Second, newspapers might leave ad prices unchanged, which amounts to an increase since advertisers are paying to reach fewer readers. Third, newspapers might cut their newsroom costs and reduce the quality of their news.
We concluded newspapers that raised ad prices or reduced quality would probably accelerate the loss of circulation. However, newspapers that published quality content might stabilize or slow declines in circulation.

The third study had unusual access to 12 years of  internal revenue and circulation data from an individual newspaper. The study looked at newsroom spending, subscription revenue, and advertising revenue from the print and online editions of the newspaper.   The study used subscription revenue instead of circulation because advertisers value subscribers more than they value readers who don’t pay for the paper. Subscribers are more likely to read the paper carefully and register advertising messages, argued authors Yihui Tang, Shrihari Sridhar, Esther Thorson and Murali K. Mantrala.   Results showed increased newsroom spending resulted in increased subscriptions to the newspaper.  The subscription increases then resulted in increased print and online advertising revenues. A simulation showed opposite effects – reductions in newsroom spending could lead to reductions in subscriptions, resulting in reductions in both online and print advertising revenues.   These last two studies accounted for the Internet. However, the three studies are just a beginning.   Many newspapers still rely on print editions to generate the bulk of their advertising and subscription revenues. Online revenue is a distant second when it comes to generating profits. More empirical research is needed to produce additional recommendations that can help newspaper managers who are trying to survive in this difficult environment.

Source http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/EconomicsOfMedia/~3/vxllYFkCaX4/pulitzer-prizes-occasion-to-consider.html