Essays on Economics of Media and Informal Institutions

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This dissertation consists of three studies on the economics of the media and informal institutions. The first essay seeks to understand how do local news outlets cover crime, and what are the effects of said coverage on housing markets. By linking almost the universe of individual homicides to individual stories in the news, this paper estimates the bias in coverage of crime news by local TV outlets in the United States. This paper finds evidence of substantial biases in the coverage of homicides along race (victim and suspect) and wealth: inter-racial crime is substantially over-covered; white-on-white crime is under-covered; and richer neighborhoods get substantially more coverage. I find that race bias depends on the media market demographics, with stations in markets with a higher Black share having less over-coverage of inter-racial homicides and higher coverage of nonwhite intra-race crimes. I also find that, controlling for market size, within-market variation of bias increases with the number of stations. I propose a simple model of horizontal differentiation that captures these results, suggesting that stations are catering to the largest demographic group. Lastly, I evaluate the impact of crime coverage on housing prices using an instrumental variable strategy based on sporting events, which crowd out crime news. The results show that bias in crime coverage puts downward pressure on housing prices in minority neighborhoods.

The second chapter provides evidence of the causal effect of church attendance on petty crime by using quasi-random variation in the number of Sundays when it precipitated at the specific time of most religious services. Using a novel strategy, I find a narrow time window when most individuals attend church. Based on a panel between 1980 and 2016, I find that one more Sunday with precipitation at the time of church increases yearly drug-related, alcohol-related and white-collar crimes. I do not find an effect for violent or property crimes. These effects are driven by more religious counties. Previous evidence showing negative effects of church attendance on the demand for alcohol and drugs is consistent with a demand-driven interpretation of the results presented.

The third chapter investigates the effect of mass migration on trust towards foreigners. We combine an instrumental variable approach with a nationwide survey on social preferences to study the effect of the Venezuelan exodus into Colombia. We find that migrants sort into more trusting locations, but there is no average causal effect of immigration on trust. However, immigration increases trust in foreigners in municipalities that are more urbanized, have better public goods provision and where natives and foreigners are less residentially segregated. Given appropriate conditions, proximity to immigrants does not drive anti-immigrant sentiment and can in fact improve cooperative attitudes.







Moreno-Medina, Jonathan (2021). Essays on Economics of Media and Informal Institutions. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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