Democracy, Participation and the New Media: Can the new media rouse a sleeping citizenry?
Like the debutante ready for her grand walk down the stairs after years of patience, the digital media burst onto the political communication scene in the 2004 presidential election. Although the analogy is not perfect, as the digital media had been slowly walking down the staircase for many years, in 2004 it was suddenly propelled by a national election and rode the banister the rest of the way down. Mass media in American had been fairly static for around 30 years, with the mediums of print, radio, and television dominating. However, after 2004 it cannot reasonably be denied that in the future (and perhaps already) the digital media will join the others at the forefront of the mass media. For many, including myself, there are hopes that the digital media can fix many of the flaws of the traditional media and improve American democracy by creating well-informed citizens who participate often in the political process. But are these hopes justified? I believe they are. The digital media offers solutions to many (but not all) of the problems associated with the traditional media by erasing previous barriers to entry and decentralizing information. To develop this argument, I will start off by identifying the most relevant areas of political communication for mass media in a democracy. Then I will discuss the main problems scholars have identified with the traditional media, followed by a section that describes the nature of the digital media. I conclude with an analysis of the ways in which the digital media solve many of the problems identified with the traditional media.
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