There is a lot of good work that details the interaction of professional and new media. Generally, the professional press is believed to largely set the agenda for amateur or citizen new media outlets given their resources for original reporting. But there are numerous confounding factors. For one, it is not always clear what terms such as “professional,” “traditional,” “citizen,” or “amateur” even mean. The most trafficked political blogs, for instance, often explicitly coordinate messaging with elected and party officials. In general, there is research that suggests that elected officials and other bureaucratically credible actors set the agenda for public discourse as a whole. There is also a body of work that suggests that at extraordinary times, citizen journalism and blogs can set the professional agenda. Frankly, we just do not know enough yet about these new media producers to say how they interact with one another and the paths their content travels.
This is something you’ll be studying at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte in early September. How are you planning to do that research? What are you expecting to find?
An interdisciplinary team of researchers at UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication and the School of Information and Library Science are heading to the convention to conduct work at the media site for non-credentialed producers called the PPL. The convention is interesting because there is a shortage of scholarly work on conventions as sites for the production of public discourse. After violence spilled into the streets during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968, the leaders of both parties decided that the drama of producing a nominee would play out in the voting booth. As a result, scholars have argued that the conventions have become anodyne and tightly scripted media events, denuded of political passion.
And yet, over the last decade networked media have opened the production of political discourse to an incredible range of new social actors, from social movements to ordinary citizens. The 2000 conventions launched the independent activist news platform IndyMedia and raised the question of who counted as a legitimate journalist. In 2004, in recognition of the growing resource base of partisan bloggers and in a challenge to professional news producers, the parties began formally credentialing their most fervent supporters. In 2008, the parties expanded their credentialing further, providing opportunities for a host of non-legacy media to cover the event, including bloggers, advocacy organizations, and new media journalistic outlets.
These dynamics suggest that parties, movements, partisans, and the professional press view conventions as important sites for public political communication. Despite this, very little is understood about how these actors interact to produce political discourse.
Our study will examine how parties, the professional press, and the new actors in the public sphere interact to produce narratives of the 2012 presidential election. We’ll be comparing differences in coverage between professional journalism organizations such as The New York Times and FOX News; blogs such as Daily Kos and FireDogLake; new media journalistic outlets such as The Huffington Post and Talking Points Memo, and allied Democratic interest groups such as labor unions and advocacy organizations. We will also conduct interviews with these producers to elicit how they understand their new media production and audiences. One of the great things about this research is that we are not sure what we are going to find, but we suspect that interaction among these various outlets, both in terms of content flows and coordination behind the scenes, is a large part of the story.