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Political Research Exchange - PRX

The Decline of the Gatekeepers? Political Communication in Challenging Times

Political Parties
Social Media
Public Opinion
Section Number
Section Chair
Jonas Lefevere
Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Section Co-Chair
Katjana Gattermann
University of Amsterdam

In their seminal piece published nearly a decade ago, Bennett and Iyengar (2008) argued that drastic shifts in global communications challenged the foundations of political communication. During the ensuing decade, the upheaval caused by these trends has only increased: political rhetoric is increasingly populist, media fragmentation continues unabated, internet-based communication continues its rapid rise, and the disintegration of the mass public seems a given. These trends fundamentally affect all subfields of political communication, though their precise impact remains poorly understood. Political elites seem to increasingly circumvent the traditional gatekeepers – the mass media - opting to communicate directly with the public instead. This has caused shifts in electoral politics, with electoral wins for populist and outsider candidates that are able to effectively communicate with the public directly. This direct communication between politicians and the public also raises questions regarding the public’s perceptions of politics, especially in a context of declining political trust. The media themselves are perhaps most shaken by these trends: their role as gatekeepers is in decline, but so is their role as privileged content creators. The rise of internet communications has democratized content creation, which challenges traditional conceptions of political journalism and news creation, with various pundits even claiming that we are living in an era of ‘post-truth politics’ in which fake news flourishes. How has this affected the relationships between media and its key audiences - political elites and the mass public? The public seems to grow increasingly wary of media and journalists, who seem to have lost their monopoly as providers of truth. The disintegration of the mass public also challenges existing media effects theories, and the way in which political communication affects electoral outcomes. Similarly, the power balance between journalists and politicians may have shifted towards politics, with journalists being increasingly circumvented and criticized.

This Section seeks to bring together scholars investigating the impact of these challenges on the various sub-fields of political communication. Although the Section is open to contemporary work on political communication in general, it will focus, in particular, theoretical and empirical contributions addressing the impact of the declining role of legacy news media on the relationships between politics, media and the public.

Panel List

Code Title Details
P053Changing Political Communication: Contingent Effects? View Panel Details
P197How Political Actors Use the News Media View Panel Details
P200How Political News Affects and is Affected by Social Media View Panel Details
P331Political Communication in a Post-Truth Era View Panel Details
P353Populist Political Communication View Panel Details
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