Clicks Bias in Editorial Decisions: How Does Popularity Shape Online News Coverage?

Ananya Sen, Carnegie Mellon University, and Pinar Yildirim, Assistant Professor of Marketing, The Wharton School

Abstract: Do clicks received by online news stories, independent of story quality, influence the way newspaper editors allocate journalistic resources to them, and if so, how? Combining a unique online news dataset obtained from a large Indian English daily newspaper and publicly available data about story characteristics, we provide evidence that editors respond to the clicks received by the first article of news stories by increasing the amount of follow-up coverage. We show that a standard deviation increase in clicks received by the first article of a story can expand the coverage of the story by three additional articles and its duration by three days. To establish causality, we use an instrumental variables strategy by exploiting ordinary power shortages and rainfall as exogenous shocks to readers’ access to online news. An analysis of the content of stories demonstrates that editorial response to clicks is asymmetric for hard (i.e., economic, business events, world events) and soft (i.e., entertainment, sports) news stories. Additional coverage is only awarded to popular hard stories but not to the soft ones, suggesting that hard news may crowd out soft news stories, but not vice-versa. We discuss the implications of our findings for policy makers, managerial strategy, as well as the readers.

Pinar YildirimWatch Pinar Yildirim discuss this research here.

Read the full working paper here.