Super Short Review:
In a paper that will be presented in the American Finance Association's Annual Conference (AFA) this coming January, Reuter and Zitzewitz (R&Z) examine mutual fund recommendations from "major personal finance magazines (Money, Kiplinger's Personal Finance, and SmartMoney)."
The authors report that the magazines appear biased. (SHOCK!) In R&Z's words:
"...recommendations appear to be tied to mutual fund families that "have advertised...in the past."
Fortunately, there is still some semblance of journalistic independence as The Wall Street Journal and New York Times appear to be free of this co-called "content bias".
BUT then the question---does the bias matter from an investment perspective? And the answer is no, or at least not much:
"so bias towards advertisers can be accommodated without significantly reducing readers' future returns. Interestingly, the recommendations of Consumer Reports, which does not accept advertising, have future returns comparable to or below those of the publications which accept do advertising."
As an aside, while the bias may not matter much from an investment recommendation perspective, the article should stir debate into the conflicts of interest that exist within the journalistic community. (Similar to that within audit firms and brokerage firms) It is not far fetched to imagine negative news stories being ignored or pulled if they involve an advertiser.
Reuter, Jonathan and Zitzewitz, Eric W., "Do Ads Influence Editors? Advertising and Bias in the Financial Media" (October 31, 2004). http://ssrn.com/abstract=614583