The future of news in the digital era

9 Jul 2007

Younger citizens are more interested in social networking around values and causes than in traditional politics. Fred Fletcher argues that communication systems hoping to keep them engaged in a democratic public sphere will have to come to terms with these preferences.

For media theorists, following Habermas, the modern news media, at each stage of their development, have altered the nature of the public sphere. From the coffee houses of the 18th century, through the emergence of daily newspapers, news services, the electronic media and the subsequent dominance of television, each has altered the nature of the public discourse so necessary to modern liberal democracies. The latest development, which presents a rapidly moving target for researchers, is the online public sphere. Fletcher focuses here on the implications of this changing mediascape for the public sphere which, since the emergence of mass media, has been for the most part a reflection of the news media.

For those interested in media policy in representative democracies like Canada and Australia, the public sphere model is the most fruitful. Although this paper draws on data from Canada and the United States, the broad trends that he identifies are present in Australia and, indeed, throughout the industrial democracies.

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