What Determines the News About Foreign Policy? Newspaper Ownership, Crisis Dynamics and the 2011 Libyan Uprising


Why does media coverage of foreign policy vary across and within countries? We examine the sources of this variation using a new dataset of 102,568 articles on the 2011 Libyan uprising and subsequent NATO intervention published by 1,925 newspapers in 50 countries. We find that newspaper ownership structures and networks play an important role in shaping the nature and extent of foreign policy coverage. Higher circulation, independent newspapers offer more extensive coverage and place a greater emphasis on hard news topics and themes, while papers within larger ownership networks display the opposite patterns, net of circulation. In the context of the Arab Spring, we also find that -- compared to more selective forms of violence -- incidents of indiscriminate force by the Libyan regime tended to push newspapers toward a greater focus on policy-oriented stories and more open critique of a government’s performance in managing the crisis. By shaping the scope, tone and content of media coverage, these factors are likely to play important roles in determining whether and under what circumstances citizens support their countries’ foreign policies.