Rethinking the sociology of media ownership

Authored by: Rodney Benson

Routledge Handbook of Cultural Sociology

Print publication date:  October  2018
Online publication date:  November  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138288621
eBook ISBN: 9781315267784
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter presents a new way to study news media ownership. It argues that instead of focusing on individual media moguls or market concentration, sociologists should analyze the different “forms” of media ownership: stock market traded, privately held, civil society, and public/state. Variation in forms of ownership can then be linked to differences in the exercise of four modes of power shaping news content: political instrumentalism, economic instrumentalism, audience adjustment, and public service orientation and/or commitment. Previous research suggests that public/state media tend to emphasize public service news more than commercial media, but further research is needed on civil society media, especially the growing US nonprofit journalism sector. Future research should closely examine the interaction of ownership forms, systems of funding, and technological platforms; micro-level organizational factors that create diversity within ownership forms; and the civic effects, positive or negative, of new forms of commercial ownership linked to private equity, as well as increasing commercial/nonprofit collaborations. Cross-national research is also needed to show how ownership effects on news content are mediated by national professional legacies and regulatory mechanisms. Similar questions can and must be asked of non-news media.

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