News You Can Use to Promote Your Interests: Media Ownership Forms and Economic Instrumentalism

Timothy Neff, Rodney Benson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


While media ownership has often been studied, too little attention has been accorded to one aspect of news coverage—promotional economic instrumentalism (EI)—evident in a news organization's tendency to mention and praise its ownership interests (owners, investors, and associated economic interests). Such distorted news coverage may constitute an ethical conflict of interest and a failure to provide complete information needed by citizens in a democracy. Drawing on a sample of 19 U.S. news outlets, we compare promotional EI across ownership forms. Stock market-traded media mention their ownership interests most often, while conglomerates with substantial non-news media holdings combine relatively frequent mentions with a higher proportion of positive mentions than other media. Privately held media also engage in significant promotional EI. Thus, both profit maximization and amenity potential motives are at work. Journalistic professionalism appears most associated with neutral mentions rather than critical scrutiny. Case studies of competing news outlets show that ownership interests linked to one outlet may be critically exposed by a competing outlet, lessening the rival’s capacity to engage in non-transparent promotion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2103-2121
Number of pages19
JournalJournalism Studies
Issue number15
StatePublished - 2021


  • conglomerates
  • content analysis
  • economic instrumentalism
  • Journalism
  • media ownership
  • synergy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication


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