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I wrote a story about the Chargers stadium search yesterday. According to one study, that matters more than I or others might think.

Last year, two Philadelphia-area sociologists critiqued the role of the media in pushes for new sports stadiums built using public money across the country.

Their research, published in the February 2008 issue of The Journal of Sport & Social Issues, concludes that media coverage can have a substantial impact on helping or hurting a new stadium’s cause.

The study’s authors examined 23 publicly financed projects in 16 cities, including San Diego, and used Indianapolis and New York City as their primary examples. The Indianapolis Star, the study said, was a big cheerleader for a now-built stadium/convention center for the Indianapolis Colts. The New York Times panned a failed effort to build a New York Jets stadium in Manhattan.

The determining factor in a newspaper’s support for a stadium was its affiliation with interests such as local corporations, real estate firms and political elites, or in short, those who promote growth, the study said. In such cases, the media often becomes a stadium’s primary booster. Conversely, a critical media can derail a project, but not defeat it unless local growth interests are weak.

The best indicator, the study said, of the media’s point of view is coverage of various economic impact reports. Take Indianapolis:

News reporting was also clearly biased toward arguments supporting the stadium initiative. From reading the Star, you would think that there was very little credible opposition to this plan, save for a few disgruntled curmudgeons who would occasionally sound-off in a letter to the editor. Even if ignored by editorial writers, news coverage could have at least acknowledged the substantial academic research that has almost universally challenged the idea that stadiums drive local economic development. But these contrasting ideas were rarely raised. Instead, readers were provided with quote after quote from stadium boosters, or reprints of press releases.

In the report, San Diego media were called uncritical boosters of a publicly funded stadium effort, presumably in the Petco Park deal for the San Diego Padres. But the report doesn’t address San Diego any further.

— LIAM DILLON

Dagny Salas

Dagny Salas was web editor at Voice of San Diego from 2010 to 2013. She was an investigative fellow at VOSD from 2009 to 2010.

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