“Paywalls,” Benjamin Schneer, Harvard Kennedy School

Event time: 
Wednesday, April 3, 2024 - 12:00pm to 1:15pm
Institution for Social and Policy Studies (PROS77 ), A002 See map
77 Prospect Street
New Haven, CT 06511
Event description: 


Abstract: Through the 2010s, the news media landscape shifted dramatically from an ad-supported to a subscription-based model. What are the effects of this transition? In this paper, we examine the impact of local newspaper paywalls on local news consumption, online browsing behavior and their implications for political and economic knowledge, voting behavior, and community engagement. We assemble the most comprehensive database to date tracking implementation of paywalls for the universe of daily newspapers in the US. We show that local newspapers skew right-leaning compared to other online news sources, and attract readers who are older, whiter, and lower income. We then use internet browsing data to examine how paywalls affect news consumption. We find a sharp drop in time spent reading local papers after paywalls are implemented. Users shift news consumption behavior towards national news sites with more left-leaning ideological slants, soft news and entertainment media. These substitution patterns cascade into a host of downstream outcomes, including a leftward shift among local residents in voting behavior and decreased knowledge of local economic conditions and social activity.

Ben Schneer is an Assistant Professor of Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. His research is in American politics and focuses primarily on political representation: how citizens express their preferences, how government responds to them, and what may shape and distort these processes. Recent work has studied questions such as just how much of an effect the media has on the national political conversation, how to devise fairer methods for redistricting, and the role that petitioning has played in American political development. Prior to joining the Kennedy School, he was an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at Florida State University.

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