The Production of Information in an Online World

News production requires investment, and competitors’ ability to appropriate a story may reduce a media’s incentives to provide original content. Yet, there is little legal protection of intellectual property rights in online news production, which raises the issue of the extent of copying online and the incentives to provide original content. In this paper, we build a unique dataset combining all the online content produced by French news media during the year 2013 with new micro audience data. We develop a topic detection algorithm that identifies each news event, trace the timeline of each story, and study news propagation. We provide new evidence on online news production. First, we document high reactivity of online media: one quarter of the news stories are reproduced online in under 4 minutes. We show that this is accompanied by substantial copying, both at the extensive and at the intensive margins, which may constitute a severe threat to the commercial viability of the news media. Next, we estimate the returns to originality in online news production. Using article-level variations and media-level daily audience combined with article-level social media statistics, we find that original content producers tend to receive more viewers, thereby mitigating the newsgathering incentive problem raised by copying.

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