by Bradley James Wilson
PhD student, North Carolina State University
Presented at the Western Political Science Association conference, April 21-23, 2011, San Antonio
Agenda-setting studies are abundant in mass media literature. Since the early 1970s the methodology conceived by Don Shaw and Max McCombs has been used to study everything from environmental issues to race relations. Their theories correlated media coverage and public opinion, mostly at the national level. Fewer studies have examined whether agenda-setting concepts can be used to correlate media coverage with policy outcomes. Still fewer studies have been used at the level of local government. This study shows a limited relationship in cities and towns between policy changes and media coverage by looking at changes in budgeted allocations and a content analysis of local newspapers.
The headlines in local newspapers throughout the nation would lead an outside observer to believe that America was undergoing a revolution against its local governments at the extreme and holding city councils and town managers accountable at least. “Lane Filler did not set out to start a revolution or to change the direction in which the country is moving when he wrote an article about the city government’s projected shortfall. “Standing in front of a 4-foot-tall wish list for the city of Spartanburg Monday night, City Manager Mark Scott told the City Council he has not figured out how to pay the baseline bills in 2006-2007 (June 13, 2006),” Filler wrote. Such articles don’t spark revolutions, but they certainly are examples of content that keeps most citizens informed about the actions of their local governments.
Even with such seemingly benign issues, what the citizens learn from the media turns into a desire for action by politicians and, ultimately, into policy change, the focus of this research. “[T]o the extent that the mass media play a role in agenda setting and thus also in problem framing, they are participants in the policy-making process as well as transmitters of news and information” (Milio, 1985). David Nexon, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s (D-MA) health policy specialist, said: “The media senses the public is interested in or unhappy about something and so they write about it. Then the public starts telling pollsters and writing congressmen that there’s a big problem. It takes the media to legitimate an issue as an issue of public concern” (Otten, 1992).
This research builds on familiar concepts. “Every agency or congressional staffer knows how often the boss starts the day demanding to know more about an item in that morning’s paper or on the previous night’s news. The press puts the information into the policy-making process” (Otten, 1992). Jack McLeod (1999) found that individuals partaking of institutional activities read hard, local news and became more knowledgeable about local politics as a result. Their knowledge, in turn, gave the local political system a higher level of efficacy. Politicians and administrators alike use the media to improve the efficiency of their agencies and to show that they are responsive to the concerns of the citizens.
For reporting to be useful —Holder and Treno (1997) showed that such reporting was more effective than a paid public information campaign — the salience of the issue must translate into policy change. News attention alone is insufficient without specific policy goals and community organization to support these goals. To that end, his research and this research examine how the media report on the issues of local government and how that reporting influences the policy outcomes of local government officials.
Does agenda setting work at the local level? Can the media influence policy outcomes at the local level? These are not questions without any prior exploration in the literature surrounding agenda setting, but they are questions without substantive examination in the history of politics-journalism interaction. The exploration of the answers to these questions is a logical extension of the work done at the national level and provides insights into the factors that influence the passage of law and policy at the local level. Because it is not clear whether local-level agenda setting works or works in the same way, this research looks specifically at the impact of the media on policy outcomes. While paying less attention to the intervening public and political agendas, it concentrates on what aspects of the media seem to be the greatest predictors of policy change.
AGENDA SETTING THEORY
The studies of agenda setting show that the news media play an important role in what the public thinks about and the policy outcomes that result from changes in public opinion. In a 1993 review of literature, Everett Rogers, James Dearing and Dorine Bregman found 223 publications that explicitly or implicitly concerned agenda setting, a concept popularized during the last three decades to document whether news coverage is a significant predictor of shifts in public opinion. Of the publications they examined, 59 percent concerned mainly the relationship between the media and its corresponding public agenda. In 1996, Dearing and Rogers discussed the results of more than 350 “publications” on agenda setting. In 2004, Max McCombs discussed more than 400 “empirical studies” of agenda setting. While the research on agenda setting continues to grow, both in breadth and depth, the majority of it still focuses, as the original research did, on the relationship between the media and public opinion with little research on policy outcomes.
Contemporary agenda-setting research, including this study, synthesizes ideas based largely on communication about decisions in agenda setting and draws on theories within public administration, such as the institutional theory Garbage Can Model of Michael Cohen, James March and Johan Olsen and the public-sector evolution of that model by John Kingdon in the development of his Multiple Streams Framework. Kingdon said the media, one of the vehicles for policy change, are important because (1) they are communicators within policy community; (2) they can magnifying movements that have already started elsewhere; (3) to the extent that public opinion affects some of the participants, they might have an indirect effect.
It is this third aspect, the impact of the media on public opinion, which most research regarding media agenda setting examines. That the media can influence public opinion has been clearly established through agenda-setting studies. Max McCombs and Donald Shaw (1972), showed that, at least when it comes to national issues, by ignoring some problems and attending to others, the mass media profoundly affect which problems readers, viewers and listeners take seriously. Problems prominently positioned inevitably loom large in the minds of potential voters. Case studies, content analyses, quasi-experiments and other studies have shown that, at least to some degree, news coverage is a significant predictor of shifts in public opinion (Funkhouser, 1973; McCombs and Shaw, 1993; Page and Shapiro, 1992; Weaver, McCombs and Spellman, 1975).
In addition to the theoretical relevance, the research also derives from political science in the application of work done in public opinion, particularly the use of public opinion polls. As Page and Shapiro (1983) said,” the responsiveness of governmental policy to public opinion is a central concern and there is no shortage of theories regarding the extent to which policy does or does not respond to public opinion. “[O]pinion changes are important causes of policy change. When Americans’ policy preferences shift, it is likely that congruent changes in policy will follow.”
The vast majority of this research, including the McCombs and Shaw study, made use of the answer to the question: “What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today?” (Smith, 1980). Little, if any, data with the answer to that question at the local level exists making it impossible to replicate national research regarding the correlation between public opinion and media coverage at the local level.
Figure 1 represents a model of agenda setting used in this research, a model representing key advancements beyond previous models. Based originally on a model by Everett Rogers and James Dearing (1988), figure 1 maintains their concept that interpersonal communication and real-word indicators can have an influence upon the agenda at any level and to varying degrees. Media outlets do not operate in a vacuum. Nor do media outlets operate in a statistically valid, unidirectional world where information would flow only in one direction.
Like models used by researchers such as Thomas Johnson, Wayne Wanta and Timothy Boudreau (2004), the model used for this research (figure 1) also maintains the linear relationship between the varying agendas, which are also loosely comparable to the streams mentioned in John Kingdon’s model. The diagram adds the political element, which clearly is an influential factor in getting policies or laws changed.
Finally, the model in figure 1 adds a definitive feedback loop between the policy response and media agenda, a loop at which other researchers have speculated but rarely articulated. To show that the model is indeed complex and employs a variety of feedback mechanisms, Johnson, et. al. (2004) determined that the path from presidential statements to subsequent media coverage was as strong as the one from media coverage to subsequent presidential statements. Also, Kim Smith (1984) noted that the media are likely both to affect and to be affected by public opinion.
When McCombs and Shaw completed their original study, they found extremely high intercorrelations, +0.967, between main campaign issues carried by the media and voter’s independent judgments of what were the important issues. In their time-analysis study of Danish municipalities over a 13-year period, Mortensen and Serritzlew (2006) went one step further and assessed changes in spending per citizen and media coverage, getting at causation as much as correlation. They found little significant impact of the media on local government budgets over a 13-year period. So, clearly, at least at the national level, there is a difference between media impact on public opinion and media impact on policy outcomes. The longitudinal nature of their study allowed Mortensen and Serritzlew to look at causation which routine examination of correlation does not.
Local Media and Policy Outcomes
While McCombs (2006, e-mail) notes, “There is very little work in the entire field of political communication on state and local elections and public opinion,” some of the work in agenda setting at the local level, where this research has its focus, is revealing and rewarding. For example, John Schweitzer and Billy Smith (1991) set out to determine which had more impact on the selection of a site for a nuclear waste-dump site in extreme West Texas. Although limited to one controversial issue, the cities included were isolated and received little coverage from large, metropolitan media so the impact of the local newspapers could be examined. They found that in small communities the public tends to set the agenda for media coverage. “[C]ommunity newspapers in the middle of a local controversy are subject to many more pressures to report from the point of view of the community rather than from some professional standard of ‘objectivity,’” Schweitzer and Smith wrote. “Larger newspapers, located in communities of greater pluralism or more removed from the heat of the controversy, are freer from pressure and thus may practice the ideas of objective journalism.” In this case, pressure from local citizens and local media was among the factors that ultimately led to the selection of a dump in another location. The research typifies the significant body of literature that shows that local, community newspapers are different from newspapers in larger communities. Small newspapers act as the voice for community consensus and metropolitan newspapers act as the voice for community dissent (K. Smith, 1984).
Local newspapers are stable, cover a specific community and are likely to cover fiscal issues in that community, making them the ideal candidates for research. “If it walks, talks or spits on the concrete in our area, we cover it,” said John D. Montgomery Jr., editor and publisher of the weekly The Purcell Register in Oklahoma, based about 40 minutes south of Oklahoma City with a circulation of about 5,000 focusing on Purcell and four nearby towns with a combined population of about 17,000 (Liedtke, 2009). Indeed, as David Simon, a reporter for the Baltimore Sun for 13 years and former executive producer of HBO’s “The Wire” (a drama that concluded in early 2008), said in his commentary, “A good newspaper covers its city and acquires not just the quantitative account of a day’s events but the qualitative truth and meaning behind those events. A great newspaper does this routinely on a multitude of issues, across its entire region.”
Further, while daily, largely regional and national newspapers have seen a significant decline in circulation, smaller towns and cities without the benefits of numerous television stations or regional media still find value in their local newspaper. In a 2009 article by Michael Liedtke for the Associated Press, Robert M. Williams Jr., editor and publisher of The Blackshear Times in Georgia said, “CNN is not coming to my town to cover the news, and there aren’t a whole lot of bloggers here either. Community newspapers are still a great investment because we provide something you can’t get anywhere else.” As Michael Liedtke (2009) reported, local newspapers such as The Times do not draw the attention of the larger newspapers or television stations or Craigslist or even the World Wide Web.
In 2002, researchers such as Steven Chaffee, Stacey Frank, Sei-Hill Kim, Dielram A. Scheufele, James Shanahan, applied agenda-setting theories to show that mass media not only play a key role in informing the citizenry about local issues (Chaffee and Frank, 1996) but also, by covering certain issues more prominently, the media increase the salience of those issues among citizens. In their research about the development of a controversial commercial development in Ithaca, New York, Kim and associates (2002) showed that by covering specific decisions about an issue prominently, the mass media influenced how salient the issue was among citizens. “The media play a key role in indirectly shaping public opinions for a wide variety of issues on a day-to-day basis, especially in small communities with a limited number of media outlets for citizens to choose from.”
Robert Spitzer (1993) found that media outlets play a pivotal role in influencing policy because they regulate the flow of communication between policymakers and others in the political system. Haven Simmons also found that a series of 120 news articles, 21 editorials, five opinion articles and one sports article made a difference in one policy outcome. Pointing out that the coverage may have been beyond what was normal, the mayor of the town said, “I’ve never witnessed this much coverage on a story. They didn’t write this much about World War II. With enough brainwashing and printing one side of the story, people will believe it” (Simmons, 1999, p. 88). A city council member, after losing his re-election campaign at least in part due to the issue surrounding the location for the complex, said, “We couldn’t counteract the newspaper’s coverage of the public safety complex. It was overwhelming” (Simmons, 1999, p. 89). The publisher said the Bradenton Herald’s agenda was to stimulate public discourse about the proposal rather than influence public opinion concerning a preferred location for the complex. Certainly the paper influenced public opinion, the political agenda and the policy agenda. City policymakers ultimately scheduled a town meeting to receive more citizen input, altered the timetable for the complex and deleted the fire station from the proposed plans. In the election, voters rejected all three city council members who voted for the complex. It was clear, as Simmons concluded, that the newspaper set an agenda, which became the agenda, for public discourse and subsequent policy outcomes.
Still, there is room for skepticism regarding the importance of the media in agenda setting. Primarily, this skepticism revolves around citizen involvement at the local level. Voters are already likely to be engaged in the activities of their local communities, and therefore more informed on issues of local importance (Schweitzer and Smith, 1991; Palmgreen and Clarke, 1977; K. Smith, 1984). While a debate on terrorism, unemployment, the trade deficit or inflation undoubtedly will incite a lively discussion nationally, the impact that a single individual can have during the discussion is minimal. However, propose an increase in property taxes or fail to plan for traffic and not only will the outcry be loud, if from only a few people, but also the individuals involved are more likely to impact change. “Many national political issues may be perceived by individuals to have little direct impact on their personal affairs. … A local plan for the busing of students, however, may inspire vigorous personal concern and participation in the political process” (Palmgreen and Clarke, 1977).
Local issues are not remote. They are part of the practical concerns that occur every day as people navigate down potholed roads to the grocery store, observe crime on the streets, visit with firefighters in their hometown or pay local property taxes. A person does not need the media to inform him that there are potholes in the road or trash piling up on the curb or that it takes 10 minutes for an ambulance to arrive at their house instead of five. “Neighborhood interpersonal networks are often heavily laden with content arising from personal observation. … Every citizen of the community is a potential initial source for such local political ‘news’ ” (Palmgreen and Clarke, 1977, p. 437).
David Demers (1996) validated the agenda-setting ideals by showing that, at least for weekly community newspapers, the greater the personal experience in the community, the greater the reading. While agenda-setting studies tend to show correlation, not causation, Demers shows that community experience leads to greater media consumption. While most agenda-setting studies focus on media consumption leading to community involvement, Demer’s work supports having bi-directional arrows in the model of agenda setting leading to policy outcomes.
Not all studies at the local level showed the positive relationship between the media and public opinion or the media and public policy outcomes. In a quantitative, longitudinal study, Peter Mortensen and Søren Serritzlew (2006) concluded that the media may affect political discussions and certain political decisions, but the budgets and broader policy priorities remain largely unaffected. Their quantitative study used yearly net operating expenditures during 13 years in 191 municipalities to examine whether media pressure had an impact on budgetary decisions. “Almost no observable effects of media pressure are found, either generally or in favorable political, economic or institutional settings” (Mortensen and Serritzlew, 2006, p. 236). While the effect may not have been proven to be strong in their study, as a result of a survey also conducted as part of the study, they also found that, in municipalities with intense coverage, politicians tend to consider the media influence strong. It seems that local politicians feel the impact of the media, but they do not act on those feelings. They conclude, “The media may be important for understanding the political agenda and the framing of and decisions about special or sometimes sensational issues, but the broader policy priorities remain largely unaffected” (Mortensen and Serritzlew, 2006, p. 253).
Indeed, limited but significant research on local governments shows that local governments are almost immune to change despite the fact that local budgets drive policy decisions. As part of his movement on Reinventing Government, David Osborne (1993), among others, pointed out the waste built in to the system. He pointed out, however, that budgets can be responsive to external forces such as the media.
While it seems the media may impact the passage of some legislation or change in policy, the magnitude of the media’s impact is unclear. Also, the media are not the only instigators of change. Jordan examined police, fire, sanitation, public buildings, parks and recreation and highways using local government budgets obtained as part of the U.S. Census. She concluded that policy influences the shape of the agenda by directing what policies local governments will implement. “Most budget changes are small increases because policy entrepreneurs are working to maintain their interests on the agenda.” For public administrators, the research raises a desire for caution. Normally, budgeting relies heavily on normal curves and linear growth. However, breaks from the status quo demand adjustment and trade-off. “Therefore, understanding and participating in the agenda-setting process is an important and necessary skill.” (Jordan, 2003, p. 357-358)
Still, the budget is an appropriate choice for use as a dependent variable not only because it is substantiated in the literature but also because the budget is extremely sensitive to political, economic, social and legal environments. The proximity of local governments to citizens means that public opinion will play a key role in shaping spending decisions. Previous research has clearly shown that media coverage can affect public opinion. A logical next step is to establish the link between media coverage and policy outcomes. As Robert Bland (2007) says in his budgeting guide produced for the International City/County Management Association, the budget has evolved from being a tool for accounting to being a tool for strategically and logistically positioning a community to capitalize on historical strengths and emerging opportunities. Knowing the role of the media in capitalizing on those opportunities will be an asset for administrators.
The budget, however, is not a perfect tool. As Aaron Wildavsky (1964) showed in his extensive look at the budget as a proxy for politics, the budget changes tend to be incremental, changing more often as part of an annual re-evaluation than as a response to changes in local laws or policies. Budgets provide a condensed measure. If the media presence generally expands the scope of conflicts, then more media coverage and competition should lead to more punctuated conflicts and more dramatic shifts in the composition of the political agenda. As a consequence, budgetary decisions will be more volatile over time. Local media coverage will add to the spending (or budget cutting) pressure on politicians. “[F]rom a policy-output perspective, public budgets provide a condensed measure of policy with several advantages compared to most other policy indicators. If public spending is not affected by the media, then this is an empirical finding that tells us something important about the outer limits of media effects” (Mortensen and Serritzlew, 2006, p. 241).
However, as Joseph White (2001, p. xiv) maintains that no one, including Aaron Wildavsky, would seriously maintain that all budgeting was totally predictable from a combination of last year’s spending and some economic and political summary variables. Indeed, Wildavsky (2001) maintains that budgets are responsive over the long run. Priorities and levels of spending change through incrementalism, the accumulation of numerous small decisions. Still, he notes that sometimes changes may be more abrupt and deliberate. Although neither Jordan nor Wildavsky state the concept, it could be that the media provide the punctuation for the non-incremental changes. A budget punctuation represents a shift in priorities.
Organizational variables: online presence, local ownership, market saturation
Of course, it would be naïve to think that the local newspaper is the only factor having an impact on the change in the budget. Even the basic model shows outside factors influence changes in the budget. Newspaper circulation, the paper’s presence on the World Wide Web and use of social media and local ownership are also hypothesized to influence changes in the budget, even if indirectly as measures of the paper’s credibility and quality.
According to the Newspaper Association of America (NAA), circulation in 2007 was as low as it was in 1977, having peaked in the early 1990s — before the World Wide Web became commonplace (NAA, 2008). The NAA is not the only group to report the demise of the printed newspaper in favor of online media. Philip Meyer predicts that by 2043, daily newspapers will run out of readers. He cites lack of timeliness as the primary cause of declining readership. “The Internet…(gives) seekers of specialized information an increasingly efficient source. Why would you look up yesterday’s closing price of your favorite stock in the newspaper when you can find the last half-hour’s price on the Internet. (The newspaper)…is no longer the most efficient way to appeal to those interests” (Meyer, 2004, p. 6).
It was not until around 2000, nearly a decade after newspapers began producing online, that the average weekly newspaper began publishing online, according to one study (Adams, 2007). Only a few years later, by 2004, according to the NAA, more than 5,000 daily, weekly and newspapers had an online presence. To that end, the Web presence of a newspaper cannot be ignored. While the online edition may not count in Audit Bureau of Circulation figures, a Web presence gives readers another significant opportunity to learn about the happenings in their community.
In addition, examination of the literature shows that whether or not the paper is locally owned or not may also be relevant. Only a few cities left in America have competitive newspapers. In fact, 99.9 percent of morning papers are monopolies in their own cities and face competition largely from television stations, not other print media. Five chains own the majority of daily newspapers in America and many smaller papers: Gannett, McClatchy, Advance Publications (Newhouse) and the New York Times Company. Smaller group such as Morris Communications, Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc., Freedom Communications, Lee Enterprise, Belo and Scripps, Cox Newspapers, the MediaNews Group and Hearst own hundreds of mid-sized and small papers. Fewer than 275 of the nation’s 1,500 daily newspapers remain independently owned (Bagdikian, 2004; Free Press Action Fund, 2008).
Consumers tend to trust entities that are locally based more than those that are nationally based (Sinclair and Löfstedt, 2001). While it would seem rational for a nation with a vast diversity of people and places, local civic decision-making and a multiplicity of local self-governing units, it would also seem reasonable that the locally owned media in America would foster trust. However, the vast majority of media are not locally owned. Time Warner, The Walt Disney Company, Murdoch’s News Corporation, Viacom and Bertelsmann dominate ownership of the world’s media from small-town newspapers to massive, 24-hour television stations. The more detached owners are from journalistic practice, the greater pressure they will apply on management for consistently high and growing profits (Chang and William, 2002; Blankenburg and Ozanich, 1993; Lacy, Shaver and St. Cyr, 1996).
Critique of Agenda-Setting Theory
As McCombs and Shaw (1993) said 25 years after they first began studying agenda-setting, the fruitfulness of the agenda-setting metaphor is documented by three features: (a) the steady historical growth of the literature; (b) its ability to integrate a number of communication research subfields under a single theoretical umbrella …; and (c) continuing ability to generate new research problems in a variety of communication settings. However, the success of agenda setting in those areas has not left it without its critics.
Criticism of agenda-setting theory tends to revolve around one of three primary areas: (1) using correlation, a technique that can examine only a relationship, not causation; (2) the lack of longitudinal data, focusing instead on cross-sectional data; and (3) overuse of “the media” and “public opinion” as research components.
One of the intuitive problems with agenda setting — and with any study based on correlation — is the direction of the causality: Does the media cause the public agenda or vice versa?
W. Russell Neuman (1990) showed that there is a relationship between the relative quantity of media coverage and the percentage of the population identifying the issue as salient, at least when examining large national issues such as racial unrest and the Vietnam War. However, he also discovered notable exceptions, such as Watergate. While there was substantial media coverage, there was not a corresponding peak in public concern. At its peak, only 21 percent of the population identified Watergate as one of the most important problems facing the country. Issues such as inflation and unemployment have received relatively little coverage in the media, but the public continually recognizes them as important issues. His study was also problematic for the concept of agenda setting. Not only did it find that sometimes the media coverage would precede the public opinion, as coverage of the energy crisis did during the 1970s, but also it revealed that sometimes media coverage lagged behind public opinion. Although seemingly inconclusive compared to other studies, as he said, in some cases, the public appears to have a much steeper “response function” in reacting to real-world cues than the media does. In other cases, the media seem to be more responsive.
While Neuman’s study began to look a direction of influence, to examine causality in practice, Shanto Iyengar and his colleagues devised an experiment, using national issues such as energy, defense, inflation, pollution, unemployment, civil rights and drug addiction. In their study, they allowed randomly selected residents of New Haven, Conn., to view an altered nightly national newscast to discover whether the amount of time devoted to a particular subject altered the participants’ rating of the problem’s importance, of the need for governmental action, of their personal concern or of the extent to which they discussed each subject with friends. Their experiment proved the agenda-setting hypothesis. In the group that viewed a newscast with altered content regarding defense preparedness, the participants grew more concerned about defense during the six-day experiment as did the group examining coverage of pollution. A third group that had expanded coverage of inflation saw no significant increase in the importance of that item to the viewers. “With a single and, we think, forgivable exception, viewers exposed to news devoted to a particular problem become more convinced of its importance. Network news programs seem to possess a powerful capacity to shape the public’s agenda” (Iyengar, Peters and Kinder, 1982, p. 852).
Erbring, Goldenberg and Miller (1980, p. 20) make another important point that is also cited as a weakness of many agenda-setting studies: “The process of agenda-setting obviously takes place over time, not across regions, states, localities or individuals.” The insight has methodological implications for other agenda-setting studies that use cross-sectional design or case-study design. There can be little doubt that a cross-sectional design conducted at a specific date or dates is the least appropriate for the study of agenda-setting effects. Others made the same point and noted how the literature lacks the temporal emphasis. “Time … is a crucial matter in agenda setting. But, like many other matters, it is insufficiently theorized and underspecified” (Kosicki, 1993, p. 107). In an abbreviated meta-analysis, Wayne Wanta and Salma Ghanem (2007) concurred that longitudinal studies were more successful than cross-sectional studies. They said it is possible that agenda setting is more of a long-term effect and does not show up in a one-shot survey.
Another weakness in the literature is the emphasis on the role of the media in agenda setting. Issue concerns can and do arise from sources other than the media, including personal experience, group perspectives and real-world conditions. Differential media treatment is simply one factor that determines the salience of issues. The absence of correlation between media coverage may conceal actual media impact if that impact is offset by prior audience differences and the appearance of correlation may be spurious if it merely reflects parallel audience and/or contextual differences. The lack of certainty, they acknowledge, makes the determination of the role of the media in agenda setting difficult at best, and they find that diffusion of problem salience through networks of informal social communication overrides early news media impact (Erbring, Goldenberg and Miller, 1980).
In fact, the biggest challenge to agenda-setting theory remains to be seen — the change in the mass media itself. As Steven Chaffee and Miriam Metzger (2001) have said and others (including Delwiche, 2005) have confirmed, the key problem for agenda-setting theory will change from what issues the media tell people to think about to what issues people tell the media they want to think about. They also pointed out that the change will bring challenges to agenda-setting research itself.
A wide array of research strategies characterize the literature surrounding agenda setting, literature that includes everything from the qualitative case study to the longitudinal study to the classical cross-sectional study such as the one used by McCombs and Shaw in their groundbreaking work. The cross-sectional study is widely used in agenda-setting studies. It expands upon a case-study approach while still looking at a snapshot in time. It provides a more doable option than the time-consuming and more expensive longitudinal studies by Smith (1987), Jordan (2003) and Mortensen and Serrizlew (2006). This study uses a cross-sectional approach as its primary focus. Peter Mortensen and Søren Serrtizlew (2006) noted that most prior studies have focused on the initial phases of decision-making, the agenda-setting phases such as influencing public opinion, without investigating the media impact on outcomes. It may well be that political discussion and public opinion reflect the media agenda. However, while public opinion is critical to the process of policy change and agenda setting, it is not the outcome. Policy change is. To that end, this study examines both ends of the agenda-setting spectrum, media and policy. The intervening public opinion and the political agenda which may easily be swayed by public opinion (but possibly not swayed far enough to make lasting changes) are not the focus here.
The dependent variable: budget change
If it is policy change that is really important, then, it becomes necessary to determine how to look at policy change. Aaron Wildavsky (1979) agreed that the budget is a representation of who gets what government has to give. The budget is the focus of the government’s efforts. The budget is a representation in monetary terms of governmental activity. If politics is, in part, a conflict over who gets what, then the budget records the outcomes of this struggle.
While a good measure of policy outcomes, finding actual budget figures has proven to be a challenge. No source compiles the disaggregated budgets of local governments. The U.S. Census Bureau provides online links to many of the cities, towns, counties and other forms of the 89,527 governments (everything from cities to school districts). The inaccessibility of such data is perhaps one primary work for scarcity of work in local budgeting. Hence, each local government included in this research had to provide their budget for the last several years (usually available to anyone through online resources). The individual items had to be pulled and compared with previous years from each individual budget. The aggregate budget was not useful because the total allocation for a municipality has more to do with population growth than any policy change. The easiest way to examine the budget is to subtract the previous year’s budget from the following year’s budget. The dollar amount obtained would represent the change from the previous year. However, it would not account for increases or decreases in the overall budget that might be due to factors such as routine adjustments, tax increases or population changes. On the other hand, the percentage change used in this study, as opposed to the actual dollar amount, will make routine adjustment easier to identify and non-routine changes stand out.
Choosing four distinct factors in the budget, items that appear in most, if not all, local municipality budgets in one form or another helps to ensure internal validity. Because the number and scope of governmental functions influence both revenues and expenditures, only factors common to all regions have been chosen for this study. Much of the statistical data presented here must also be understood within the context of cross-state variation in tax authority, functional responsibility and state laws (Hoene and Pagano, 2009).
Most cities included lines for public safety, parks/recreation, economic development and public works, lines that tended to be much larger, more controversial and which generated media coverage. The pieces that made up these aggregate items can also be informative in terms of what news coverage they generated. In public safety, for example, sometimes coverage of police and fire individually may generate coverage while “public safety” per se does not. So, the areas selected for this study partially mirror Meagan Jordan’s work (2003) and partially reflect the accessibility of modern local budgets, obtained from the governments themselves through online resources, and the line items they contain.
The cities or counties chosen for research need to vary in size, geographic region and other characteristics to ensure some generalizability. As Steve Barkin (1987) said in his study of local television news, the emphasis is not on the distinctive characteristics of the cities chosen but on the generalizability of the local issues and concerns. Further, the cities are primarily served by one newspaper, avoiding the confounding present in a major metropolitan town served by multiple newspapers, television stations and other media. Finally, the town’s budget information must be readily accessible, preferably online, making it easy to access not only for researchers but to media outlets and citizens.
The first step in the selection of cities, town, townships, boroughs and villages (to use the terminology of the U.S. Census Bureau) was that they were included in the list of “local governments” — as opposed to states and federal entities. This included 19,494 municipalities in the 2007 list. Of them, 5,221 (26.8 percent) filed their Web site URL with the Bureau. This pool of 5,221 serves as the initial sample of local governments. The cities with URLs on file with the Bureau of the Census represented all sizes of municipalities (from populations ranging from 37 to 8,214,426) and all geographic regions of each state.
The most conventional agenda-setting studies (and many other studies) make use of content analysis of the media in question (Krippendorff, 2004). For this study, content analysis of the media will examine the number of stories devoted to the particular topic during the time in question. Therefore, all of the newspapers being studied must be searchable using the EBSCO Newspaper Source Plus database , a database that includes 906 media outlets. Because the database for newspapers allows for repetitive, repeatable searches of numerous local newspapers through a defined period of time, it will be used for this survey rather than searches of the individual newspaper’s Web sites. The method of determining media coverage will follow Baumgartner and Jones (1993), who say, “When we want to know whether an issue is news, therefore, it is not difficult; we simply count the number of articles published in an index of media attention for a given year.” All U.S., non-national newspapers in the database with coverage back at least three years will be included in the study. Use of this database provides a foundation for the validity of this research. Because researchers working at different points in time and under different circumstances should get the same results, the research should be more reliable (Krippendorff, 2004).
The Newspaper Association of America continues to report increases in daily newspaper readership as reported by Scarborough Research. Despite questions regarding the continued questionable viability of the newspaper, a readership of 150,674,000 adults on weekdays (NAA, 2005) makes the newspaper a valid medium for study. Local citizens still have few places to turn for news about their local governments except a local newspaper or local newspaper website. Therefore, testing specific hypotheses, this research focuses on what impact local newspapers can have on local governmental policy and what factors might increase or decrease that impact.
From the Newspaper Source Plus database of 906 media outlets media outlets outside the United States were removed, reducing the sample to 450 searchable media outlets. Any media outlet that had fewer than three years of data online was then eliminated, leaving 241 outlets. Finally, any duplicates or large, regional papers were removed, leaving 162 media outlets that met all the criteria. The percentage of the newspapers kept in the study closely reflected the percentage of the population in that region.
To identify the number of sources in each publication, the EBSCO database was searched for the terms in question. The online database allows searches for individual media within a defined time period. So, for each of the content analysis independent variables, the database will be searched using the appropriate terms, ensuring consistency between media for each fiscal year. For example, for the public safety independent variable, the database was searched using “police,” “fire,” “EMS,” “public safety” or “crime.” The number of stories found with any one of those terms will give the value for that variable to be correlated with the dependent variable, looking for the direction and amount of correlation.
With this study, the most interesting comparison is that between coverage and policy change. However, coverage, as indicated by the number of stories in that area, is not the only variable of interest. Other moderating variables help to account for the relationship between the policy outcome, the budget, and the coverage. They influence the strength of a relationship between the two other variables. These moderating variables, including staff size, market saturation, online presence, media ownership, and existing relationships with other local media, probably influence on policy outcomes (Baron and Kenny, 1986; Tabachnick, 2001). The relationship is not as simple as looking one dependent variable and one independent variable.
Threats to reliability and validity
To ensure the consistency of the measures in this study, and therefore to ensure reliability, each of the variables has been clearly defined and the method used to obtain the data detailed. By using the same databases and sources for the media data and for the budget of each town, potential random error will be minimized. That there is no single source for the local municipality budgets is a potential threat to reliability and could question whether the measurements of a test remain consistent over repeated tests. To minimize threats to reliability, this research uses one source for each town’s budget. This will also minimize the chance that future researchers would obtain different data.
There are five potential statistical threats to the study: selection bias, instrumentation changes, history, maturation and subject mortality. The first, and perhaps most significant, is selection bias. The towns and selection of the media are both subject to selection bias. The media outlets are chosen because they are a part of the EBSCO database, a selective, not-all-inclusive database. Although not apparent on the surface, those newspapers that choose to use EBSCO may have some commonalities biasing the sample.
From the available newspapers, then, the towns those newspapers serve were examined. Since department-level data was not available on municipal budgets from a single source such as the International City/County Managers Association, Census Bureau, the League of Municipalities or any other group, each budget was examined individually to obtain comparable data. Towns that had their budgets available electronically may share some common characteristics of openness that might influence the outcome of the study but that would be difficult to measure. While collecting budget data, control variables were used to ensure that the final sample of towns represents a representative sample of municipalities in the U.S.
A second threat to validity is the historical aspect of the study. Even a study over one or two years could be subject to history effects. For example, the municipalities studies could have undergone a change in leadership making them more or less susceptible to media influences. For example, the local media might have undergone a change in ownership. No longer being locally owned, as we have seen, could influence coverage. To combat this potential threat as much as possible, the study will be conducted over a short time period. A more longitudinal methodology provides potential for future research.
Third, it is also possible that changes in technology, instrumentation in the vernacular of the academic study, might influence the study. Even over the few years in which this study has evolved, towns have become more likely to post their budgets online and to make more and more material accessible through their own media outlets rather than relying on the mass media. Mass media outlets have become more likely to post more material online on their own Web sites as well as the EBSCO databases. As more material is available through sources other than the local newspaper, it becomes more difficult to attribute any change to the chief instrument of this study, the local newspaper. However, the same information that might be more available to the general public is available to the mass media. Just because it is available does not mean anyone will go looking for the town budget or drafts of policies. The local newspaper still serves to provide people with information they never knew was there.
Finally, maturation and mortality are similar problems that could pose potential threats to this study. For example, a newspaper may improve its online coverage during the time of the study or may change staff unknowingly causing a change in focus for or against coverage of local issues. In addition, a newspaper could actually cease publication during the study forcing it to be eliminated. Those that continue publishing may be more responsive to their readership and may, therefore, bias the outcome of the study.
Because the study makes use of external data, it is not subject to testing bias but could fall prey to threats to external validity since it is not experimental in design (Campbell and Stanley, 1963). As a cross-sectional study and not a case study provides for some randomization and increases the potential for generalizability. By choosing towns and media outlets following the stated criteria and by controlling for some potential external factors, this study should safely allow for the generalization of the sample studied to local municipalities and the newspapers that serve those communities.
Following the outlined methodology, the list of potential towns was matched with the communities with newspapers in the EBSCO Newspaper Source Pro database. This left 102 cities available for study for this study and the findings reflect content analysis of hundreds of articles in the papers that served those towns and line-item analysis of the budgets for those towns.
A look at some of the descriptive statistics shed some light on the characteristics of the towns and their newspapers (Appendix 1). The local newspapers had an average circulation of 41,442 in 2010, down from close to 50,000 10 years earlier, a decline of nearly 18 percent in less than decade. In contrast, the towns, in 2009, had an average population of 82,129 increasing at a rate of about 3 percent per year.
In terms of policy outcomes, the first finding that became apparent was that, despite all the discussion of the Great Recession that began in December of 2007 and officially ended in June of 2009, the towns in this budget were not yet showing significant budgetary declines. Anecdotally, local governments, governments that have seen a steady increase in population and decrease in federal disbursements, believe the budgetary impact is just now hitting them. (figure 2)
The most important part of this research, however, did not involve looking at what was already painfully obvious in terms of population growth or circulation decline. It involved looking at the relationship between newspaper coverage and policy outcomes. So, with the town selected, their budgets downloaded and their fiscal years determined, and with the town’s newspaper selected, research design, like Jordan, divided the sample into four variables: public safety, public works, economic development and parks, recreation and tourism to determine if the media might be more influential in any one are over another. The percentage difference in the terms was correlated with the following year’s percentage difference in the budget hypothesizing that budget changes followed newspaper reporting.
The same methodology used in so many studies beginning with the original agenda-setting studies and now so prevalent in the literature, simple correlation, was used to establish whether there was a relationship or not. In the one initial sample year chosen (table 1) there was no significant impact of media coverage on budget outcomes except with public works, and then the effect size was disappointingly small. Why the only significant correlation was so small and why it was negative warrant further investigation. The lack of correlation over one year did correspond to other research such as that of Wildavsky who said policy change does not occur over night. Walker (1977) accented this in his research that correlated coverage of the Highway Safety Act over time, showing that it took several years of coverage in both the mass media and technical safety literature before new legislation was passed. Even Kingdon’s Multiple Streams model acknowledges that it takes time and a window of opportunity for policy change to occur.
Including independent variables for whether the paper was a daily or not, whether the paper was locally owned or not, and how the paper made use of online and social media, did not make the model much stronger and these variables showed little relationship to the town’s budget changes, although local ownership of the paper showed a stronger relationship than the other factors.
Rather than undergo a lengthy and difficult-to-interpret time series analysis, it seemed more useful to look at changes over a five-year period, from 2005 to 2010. In that examination (table 1), more relationships showed up indicating that while media coverage might not have a short-term impact there may be a long-term influence on policy change. Despite the media’s propensity to have short-term memories, the media influence on policy makers may not be so short-term.
That public works was significant in both the one-year model as well as the five-year model meant it might warrant further examination by itself. Its significance might be because public works was not as “sexy” as the other topics and other factors such as interpersonal communication played less of a role for that variable than media coverage. It might also be because any coverage of sewage treatment, road construction, water purification, trash collection and construction would appear significant because such topics rarely get the play of coverage regarding police, fire, EMS, crime (the public safety terms) or even parks, recreation and tourism. Indeed, that public safety was not significant in either model was surprising and seems to indicate that other factors play a more important role in budget changes regarding public safety than the media. In a post 9/11 era, it could be that public safety budget changes have more to do with the national discussion regarding public safety than anything that is said at the local level.
That the policy changes occur over time might also be accounted for by using models such as the Punctuated Equilibrium model of Baumgartner and Jones (1993). While a one-year analysis might miss the punctuation, the five-year analysis might account for small, cumulative effects and larger punctuations. In general, the findings seem to indicate that while the media might have a statistically significant impact on changes in budgetary policy, other factors not yet examined account for the change as well.
Descriptively, other findings validated thoughts about the state of the industry. For example, 73 percent of the newspapers in the same update their website more frequently than they update their print edition and utilize social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. All of the newspapers in the current sample at least had a website with content more than just contact information and information about the paper. In addition, only 27 percent of the papers in the sample were locally owned, validating Bagdikian’s claims about the “new media monopoly.”
Agenda-setting as a formal concept will celebrate its 40th anniversary in 2012. In the four decades of research surrounding the concept, researchers have documented conclusions through case studies, through longitudinal studies, through cross-sectional studies and through experiments the correlation between public opinion and mass media coverage. Researchers have also brought in additional concepts and other factors, particularly interpersonal communication and real-world indicators, as they examined what influences public opinion. Researchers have made the conceptual leap between getting something on the public’s agenda and moving from there to the policy agenda to instigate change in the community. They theorize that to have real impact, the media must do more than simply inform readers or viewers. In addition, the media must be instigators of change.
For nearly four decades, researchers have focused almost blindly on public opinion, a concept they have difficulty defining and describing, and have generally neglected examining policy outcomes as a measure of the impact of the media. As Lippman (1922) said, public opinion is irrational and includes often self-serving perceptions that influence individual behavior and prevent optimal social cohesion. However, researchers seem infatuated with broadening understanding of this irrational, but still important, concept.
Moving beyond the examination of public opinion allows researchers to broaden the bank of knowledge about agenda setting and its impact on policy and on tangible, rational change in a community. Thanks to the hundreds of research projects that have been undertaken during the last 25 years, leaders are aware that the mass media has influence on public opinion. The public can be certain of the direction of causality thanks to experiments done in the 1990s. However, citizens and leaders still know little about the impact of the media on local government policy outcomes. They need more information to answer the question, “Does media coverage of local issues influence the actions of local governments?”
After collecting data on thousands of articles and hundreds of lines in 102 town budgets, this research, like that of other researchers examining the same influence of media coverage on government policy, shows that there is some — albeit small — relationship between media coverage and policy change. As public administrators face increasing scrutiny on every dollar they spend, the small effect size of media coverage on actual policy outcomes would seem to indicate that administrators need to spend resources on media coverage only to influence short-term public opinion, not long-term policy change. These small effect sizes, however, are in line with a model that, building upon the nearly perfect correlations between public opinion and media coverage found by McCombs and Shaw in 1972, acknowledges that other factors such as local citizen involvement can have as much, or more, influence on policy outcomes as the media. While these small correlations do nothing to show causation, they do show a relationship. Further examination of that relationship, how it changes over time and how other variables influence the correlation is warranted.
APPENDIX 1: CITIES
|City||State||Region||Fiscal year||Budget 09||Population||Newspaper|
|Aberdeen||SD||2.4||Jan. 1 – Dec. 31||$55,865,625||24,992||American News|
|Alton||IL||2.3||April 1 – March 31||$28,185,883||29,264||Telegraph|
|Amarillo||TX||3.7||Oct. 1 – Sept. 30||$379,812,339||189,392||Amarillo Globe-News|
|Athens||GA||3.5||July 1- June 30||$405,942,961||114,983||Athens-Banner Herald|
|Augusta||ME||1.1||July 1 – June 30||$23,366,651||18,444||Kennebec Journal|
|Bangor||ME||1.1||July 1 – June 30||$88,921,701||31,450||Bangor Daily News|
|Barstow||CA||4.9||July 1 – June 30||$53,579,261||24,521||Desert Dispatch|
|Belleville||IL||2.3||May 1 – April 30||$24,103,728||41,285||Belleville News-Democrat|
|Bellingham||WA||4.9||Jan. 1 – Dec. 31||$216,102,583||80,055||Bellingham Herald|
|Bend||OR||4.9||July 1 – June 30||$480,545,240||77,289||Bulletin|
|Bismarck||ND||2.4||Jan. 1 – Dec. 31||$83,226,785||61,217||Bismarck Tribune|
|Bloomington||IL||2.3||May 1 – April 30||$76,670,542||74,184||Pantagraph|
|Bloomington||IN||2.3||Jan. 1 – Dec.31||$88,847,900||71,939||Herald-Times|
|Boulder||CO||4.8||Jan. 1 – Dec. 31||$242,706,000||100,160||Daily Camera|
|Bradenton||FL||3.5||Oct. 1 – Sept. 30||$86,815,871||53,973||Bradenton Herald|
|Buffalo||NY||1.2||July 1 – June 30||$435,011,854||270,240||Buffalo News|
|Burlington||NC||3.5||July 1 – June 30||$48,068,219||51,577||Times-News|
|Butte||MT||4.8||July 1 – June 30||$55,859,670||32,949||Montana Standard|
|Cedar Rapids||IA||2.4||July 1 – June 30||$86,417,548||127,764||Gazette|
|Charleston||WV||3.5||July 1 – June 30||50,268||Charleston Gazette|
|Chattanooga||TN||3.6||July 1 – June 30||$381,827,479||170,880||Chattanooga Times/Free Press|
|Cheyenne||WY||4.8||July 1 – June 30||$48,696,587||57,478||Wyoming Tribune-Eagle|
|Clovis||NM||4.8||July 1 – June 30||$13,201,670||32,863||Clovis News Journal|
|Dayton||OH||2.3||Jan. 1- Dec. 31||$502,212,000||153,843||Dayton Daily News|
|Decatur||IL||2.3||May 1 – April 30||$56,397,144||76,199||Herald & Review|
|Decatur||AL||3.6||Oct. 1 – Sept. 30||$53,870,668||53,465||Decatur Daily|
|Dover||DE||3.5||July 1 – June 30||$132,929,343||36,560||Delaware State News|
|Eugene||OR||4.9||July 1 – June 30||$523,387,956||154,620||Register Guard|
|Flagstaff||AZ||4.8||July 1 – June 30||$230,158,982||60,611||Arizona Daily Sun|
|Fort Walton Beach||FL||3.5||Oct. 1 – Sept. 30||$36,537,873||18,585||Northwest Florida Daily News|
|Frederick||MD||3.5||July 1 – June 30||$117,640,472||62,217||Frederick News-Post|
|Fredericksburg||VA||3.5||July 1 – June 30||$76,521,620||23,193||Free Lance-Star|
|Grand Forks||ND||2.4||Jan. 1 – Dec. 31||$101,652,407||51,216||Grand Forks Herald|
|Greeley||CO||4.8||Jan. 1 – Dec. 31||$189,727,426||92,625||Greeley Tribune|
|Hackensack||NJ||1.2||Jan. 1 – Dec. 31||$79,328,953||42,840||Record|
|Hamilton||OH||2.3||Jan. 1 – Dec. 31||$46,567,594||62,742||Journal-News|
|Harrisburg||PA||1.2||Jan. 1 – Dec. 31||$118,219,709||47,418||Patriot-News|
|Havelock||NC||3.5||July 1 – June 30||$15,253,213||21,966||Havelock News|
|Hyannis||MA||1.1||July 1 – June 30||$152,619,435||46,274||Cape Cod Times|
|Jacksonville||NC||3.5||July 1 – June 30||$111,744,980||80,542||Daily News|
|Kennewick||WA||4.9||Jan. 1 – Dec. 31||67,814||Tri-City Herald|
|Kinston||NC||3.5||July 1 – June 30||$16,767,874||22,056||Free Press|
|La Crosse||WI||2.3||Jan. 1 – Dec. 31||$68,695,080||51,231||La Crosse Tribune|
|Lancaster||PA||1.2||Jan. 1 – Dec.31||$46,151,760||55,439||Lancaster New Era|
|Lexington||KY||3.6||July 1 – June 30||$275,170,360||296,545||Lexington Herald-Leader|
|Lima||OH||2.3||Jan. 1 – Dec. 31||$296,118,051||37,661||Lima News|
|Lowell||MA||1.1||July 1 – June 30||$302,639,495||1,022||Sun|
|Lynchburg||VA||3.5||July 1 – June 30||$164,270,015||73,933||News & Advance|
|Macon||GA||3.5||July 1 – June 30||$124,886,234||92,582||Macon Telegraph|
|Marathon||FL||3.5||Oct. 1 – Sept. 30||$9,556,969||9,680||Florida Keys Keynoter|
|Marysville||CA||4.9||July 1 – June 30||$11,137,889||11,621||Appeal-Democrat|
|McAllen||TX||3.7||Oct. 1 – Sept. 30||$100,556,335||132,225||Monitor|
|Medford||OR||4.9||July 1 – June 30||$285,760,630||73,485||Mail Tribune|
|Mesa||AZ||4.8||July 1 – June 30||$985,558,000||467,157||Tribune|
|Middletown||OH||2.3||Jan. 1 – Dec. 31||$29,597,276||51,593||Middletown Journal|
|Monterey||CA||4.9||July 1 – June 30||$101,423,031||18,023||Monterey County Herald|
|Munster||IN||2.3||Jan. 1 – Dec. 31||$14,415,534||22,054||Times|
|Myrtle Beach||SC||3.5||July 1 – June 30||$139,513,717||31,968||Sun News|
|Nashua||NH||1.1||July 1 – June 30||$227,201,327||86,835||Telegraph|
|New Bern||NC||3.5||July 1 – June 30||$62,025,810||28,992||Sun Journal|
|New London||CT||1.1||July 1 – June 30||$111,789,715||25,891||Day|
|Norwalk||CT||1.1||July 1 – June 30||$273,684,634||83,802||Hour|
|Ogden||UT||4.8||July 1 – June 30||$121,602,800||83,292||Standard-Examiner|
|Olympia||WA||4.9||Jan. 1 – Dec. 31||$98,672,129||46,100||Olympian|
|Omaha||NE||2.4||Jan. 1 – Dec. 31||$280,600,749||454,731||Omaha World-Herald|
|Orangeburg||SC||3.5||Oct. 1 – Sept. 30||$20,702,327||13,206||Times and Democrat|
|Owensboro||KY||3.6||July 1 – June 30||$53,551,829||55,745||Messenger-Inquirer|
|Panama City||FL||3.5||Oct. 1 – Sept. 30||$61,291,864||36,643||News Herald|
|Peoria||IL||2.3||Jan. 1 – Dec. 31||$132,277,809||115,520||Journal Star|
|Portales||NM||4.8||July 1 – June 30||$8,062,771||12,184||Portales News-Tribune|
|Porterville||CA||4.9||July 1 – June 30||$22,643,941||52,153||Porterville Recorder|
|Reading||PA||1.2||Jan. 1 – Dec. 31||$69,269,543||81,000||Reading Eagle|
|Roanoke||VA||3.5||July 1 – June 30||$259,894,000||94,482||Roanoke Times|
|Rochester||NY||1.2||July 1 – June 30||$477,878,500||206,886||Daily Record|
|Rochester||MN||2.4||Jan. 1 – Dec. 31||$59,201,027||103,486||Post-Bulletin|
|Rock Hill||SC||3.5||July 1 – June 30||$49,908,249||69,210||Herald|
|Salina||KS||2.4||Jan. 1 – Dec. 31||$69,429,380||46,180||Salina Journal|
|San Luis Obispo||CA||4.9||July 1 – June 30||$70,668,000||44,075||Tribune|
|Santa Fe||NM||4.8||July 1 – June 30||$259,740,629||73,979||Santa Fe New Mexican|
|Savannah||GA||3.5||Jan. 1 – Dec. 31||$180,903,987||134,699||Savannah Morning News|
|Sedalia||MO||2.4||April 1 – March 31||$28,438,980||21,151||Sedalia Democrat|
|Shelby||NC||3.5||July 1 – June 30||$66,364,570||21,366||Star|
|South Bend||IN||2.3||Jan. 1 – Dec. 31||$187,959,429||104,215||South Bend Tribune|
|Stamford||CT||1.1||July 1 – June 30||$447,954,167||121,026||Advocate|
|State College||PA||1.2||Jan. 1 – Dec. 31||$16,143,287||39,898||Centre Daily Times|
|Superior||WI||2.3||Jan. 1 – Dec. 31||$27,219,594||26,775||Telegram|
|Toledo||OH||2.3||Jan.1 – Dec. 31||$557,641,996||316,179||Blade|
|Tulsa||OK||3.7||July 1 – June 30||$605,829,000||389,625||Tulsa World|
|Tupelo||MS||3.6||Oct. 1 – Sept. 30||$132,655,650||36,337||Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal|
|Twin Falls||ID||4.8||Oct. 1 – Sept. 30||$50,090,102||42,741||Times-News|
|Victoria||TX||3.7||Oct. 1 – Sept. 30||$125,048,313||63,149||Victoria Advocate|
|Walnut Creek||CA||4.9||July 1 – June 30||$85,360,011||64,007||Contra Costa Times|
|Waterloo||IA||2.4||July 1 – June 30||$130,175,399||66,761||Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier|
|Watertown||NY||1.2||July 1 – June 30||$37,589,406||27,489||Watertown Daily Times|
|Waterville||ME||1.1||July 1 – June 30||$38,517,537||15,968||Morning Sentinel|
|Waynesville||NC||3.5||July 1 – June 30||$26,278,270||10,191||Mountaineer|
|West Covina||CA||4.9||July 1 – June 30||$52,970,937||105,464||San Gabriel Valley Tribune|
|Wichita||KS||2.4||Jan. 1 – Dec. 31||$609,120,472||372,186||Wichita Eagle|
|Wilkes-Barre||PA||1.2||Jan. 1 – Dec. 31||$40,856,670||40,964||Times Leader|
|Willoughby||OH||2.3||Jan. 1 – Dec. 31||$30,510,587||22,934||News-Herald|
|York||PA||1.2||Jan. 1 – Dec. 31||$94,670,602||40,434||York Daily Record|
|Yuma||AZ||4.8||July 1 – June 30||$324,244,792||91,105||Sun|