New ZeMKI Working Paper: "Deep Mediatization and the U.S. News and World Report Education Rankings"

By Michelle Stack

An introduction to the new ZeMKI working paper:

This study examines the impact of U.S. News and World Report (USN) education rankings as a rich example of deep mediatization. The study also investigates the role of academics, non-profit entities, and their parent companies in validating rankings by appearing to be neutral third parties. Academic criticism of the U.S. News and World Report (USN) education rankings began soon after its inaugural publication in 1983. University rankings existed long before the U.S. News & World Report (USN) rankings; however, the USN rankings represent a leap in the reach and number of rankings and the regularity of publication. In 1987, the USN produced its Best Colleges and Best Graduate School rankings and in 1990, the Best Hospital rankings. In 2008 USN reported its "biggest single audience day" with 2.2. million visitors on the day of publication on of Best High Schools (U.S. News Information, 2018). The U.S. News & World Report owner, Mortimer Zuckerman, explained to Washington Post journalist Thomas Heath (2013) that rankings saved his company: “Thanks to the rankings, we were … better positioned to take advantage of a web platform than most other magazines.” According to Heath’s article, universities and hospitals paid up to $20,000 to use the “Best of” badge from USN, a substantial chunk of the 30% of revenue USN receives from online advertising displayed on its rankings’ pages or as part of the co-sponsorship of events. USN rankings have become a substantial business and are viewed as legitimate tools for decision-making in higher education.

The full working paper can be accessed here.

All other ZeMKI working papers can be found here.