The present article highlights the importance of the comparative longitudinal study of massmediated content in comparing the evolution of public spheres in neighbouring countries. In order to contextualize our research on the Estonian media system, we simultaneously conducted a similar study on Finnish and Russian newspapers of the same period. The 20th century was a period of rapid change in Estonian society and, compared with Finnish and Russian newspapers, Estonian newspapers paid more attention to issues that were labelled as “cultural”. In the Estonian press the understanding that ‘culture’ is important prevailed, as it was one of the most stable elements of content throughout the century. The significance of governance-politics and economics depended on the political situation and historical context. The interpretation of data is based on the binaries “centre” vs. “periphery” and “self-reference” vs. “other-reference”.