US Media Ownership (May 2021)

If information wants to be free and journalism is about shining light and offering readers context, it is then in the service of journalism to understand who owns our media outlets: What is their reach? Who is making money or benefiting from a particular lens?  – Heidi Legg, Research Fellow, Future of Media Project

At a time when sources of information have proliferated at an extraordinary pace, a map or index seemed necessary. Our empirical claim is that radical transparency in US media ownership will improve trust in newsrooms by empowering people to understand their media landscape and, in turn, deter them from feeling duped. By understanding how the landscape is structured and funded, we hope this will help news consumers apply critical thinking, when they consume the news. 

We have created three indices (time-stamped May 11, 2021):

  1. US Mainstream Media Ownership (176 parent companies and standalone news outlets)
  2. Emerging Digital Nonprofits and Their Donors (231)
  3. Seven Big Owners of Daily Newspapers in America (own more than half of the major daily newspapers in the U.S. Index is organized by the state to highlight consolidation.)

If you count the subsidiaries under each parent company such as NPR, PBS, Sinclair, Gannett on the Index on US Mainstream Media Ownership, we count nearly 3100 newsrooms in America.

This first index is intended to include every traditional media organization in the U.S., where "traditional" is defined as major cable networks, major holding companies of local TV stations, news magazines (both print and digital-only), major public media, major newspapers with over 50,000 digital subscribers, and the seven largest holding companies of U.S. daily newspapers. We do not include podcasts, bloggers, Substack or Medium columnists or talk radio. To capture a robust index, we focused on parent companies or stand-alone properties with a strong reach (web traffic, prime time news audience, subscribers, or circulation) along with brand recognition.

Our Emerging Digital Nonprofit Index illustrates a recent movement in digital newsrooms funded by donors. Understanding who funds these nonprofits, in the aggregate, also seemed important.

How we created this list of published

If you see a U.S. media news organization you think I have missed or would like to send updated details on a media company with ownership transparency details, please contact: mailto:heidi_legg@iq.harvard.edu

Thanks to Harvard Senior Laura Sky Herman and IQSS Communications Coordinator Elizabeth Salazar and gathering of lists from Zhanara Shardarbekova for all of their work to publish these indices.