The journalistic issue addressed in this study is an ethical concern that editors were not providing detailed and unbiased accounts of a matter of public interest, that they were “shaping” the news by selectively omitting news content undesirable to the newspaper itself or its audience. The historical focus is the landmark 1960s precedent that strengthened freedom of the press: New York Times v. Sullivan. The study’s purpose, to determine whether regionalism had any influence in the editorial handling of constitutional rights rulings such as the Sullivan case, was affirmed by correlations to differences in article frequency, placement, headline wording, source type, and use of wire service articles.
The methodological approach relies on critical social theory to assess the content attributes of selected articles from four newsworthy Sullivan events collected from 29 Northern, 25 Southern and six national newspapers. The study reviews the legal aspects of the Sullivan case, while providing an overview of regional theory from political and sociological perspectives. A regional news model is proposed to rationalize the dynamics of the editorial decision-making process in midsize (25,000 to 100,000 circulation) daily newspapers, those that serve the majority of Americans, yet have been underrepresented in journalism studies.
An analysis for regional differences between northern and southern midsize newspaper coverage of Sullivan, as well as between midsize and national newspapers, considers editorial handling as found in article frequency, origin (source) , focus, type, placement, and size. Article size was found to be an insignificant factor between midsize newspapers, while the nationals allotted more space to Sullivan coverage and offered more original editorials. The northern papers published more editorials than the southern, as well. The nationals used external sources such as wire news articles less often than midsizes. Regional differences between northern and southern newspapers in source handling of the same wire news story(s) were discovered, with article frequency and article placement found to be significant factors.