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Digital participation in news media: ‘Minimalist’ views versus meaningful interaction

Open Panel

Abstract

As mediators of the ‘public,’ news media play an important role in modern-day democracies, enabling audiences to participate in public life. The interactivity of the web has been an important driver behind the ‘demotic turn’ (Turner, 2010)*, where the audience increasingly participates in the public domain; has more opportunities to produce their own media content, or even their own media; comment on and challenge mainstream news; and seek alternative platforms of public information. This paper challenges existing research that uncritically views interactive tools that enable audience participation as evidence of a democratisation of news media. It argues that these studies do not properly address the complex interrelation between journalism and the public, nor identify the (lack of) implications of such participation for democracy. This paper provides a critical reflection on the changing role of the public in news media, and addresses the question to what extent this provides for meaningful citizen participation in the public sphere. Based on original empirical research (150 interviews with UK journalists) complemented with existing international research, it shows how a ‘minimalist’ view of participation that is driven mainly by economic motives dominates in the news field: the forms of participation endorsed by the news industry do not challenge the existing power relations in the news industry nor allow for meaningful participation in the public domain. In this paper I reflect on the role of online news media in participatory democracies, examining the current and future role of both the audience and the journalist in this changing context. I argue that, to understand the demotic turn in news journalism and its implications for democracy, we need to look beyond the technological innovations, and consider the social, cultural, political and economic contexts of news media. *Turner, G. (2010) Ordinary people and the media: The demotic turn, London: Sage.