Are online newspapers the modern day equivalent of 19th century bourgeois cafés for democratic discussions?

Public sphere 2.0? The democratic qualities of citizen debates in online Newspapers

From The International Journal of Press/Politics

If bourgeois cafés were the scenario of democratic discussions in the nineteenth century, and newspapers played a crucial role in mediating public opinion in the twentieth century, it is time to assess whether online newspapers provide a new incarnation of the public sphere,

becoming the digital cafés of a Public Sphere 2.0. Using a sample of more than 15,000 comments was selected from the online versions of five national newspapers this article assesses to what extent online news forms of digital discussion fit in Habermas’ principles for democratic debate. Two models of audience participation emerge from the analysis, one where communities of debate are formed based on mostly respectful discussions between diverse points of view and another of homogenous communities, in which expressing feelings about current events dominates the contributions and there is less of an argumentative debate. While the results of the study suggest a rather bleak overall picture of comments in online news as a space for the reproduction of hegemonic points of view and the expression of the citizen frustrations with the ruling class, they also provide evidence that some users do engage in thoughtful discussions enjoying the exercise of trying to provide the most convincing argument.

 

Abstract

Comments in online news could be the contemporary enactment of the eighteenth-century cafés that founded public sphere. This article assesses to what extent do these forms of digital discussion fit in Habermas’ principles for democratic debate, using his discursive ethics as a demanding normative benchmark. The sample of more than 15,000 comments was selected from the online versions of five national newspapers of record from different political and journalistic contexts: The Guardian (United Kingdom), Le Monde (France), The New York Times (United States), El País (Spain), and La Repubblica (Italy). The ethical guidelines and legal frameworks set up by the newspapers as well as their moderation strategies were considered to understand the different settings of the conversations. Two models of audience participation emerge from the analysis, one where communities of debate are formed based on mostly respectful discussions between diverse points of view and another of homogenous communities, in which expressing feelings about current events dominates the contributions and there is less of an argumentative debate

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Article details
Ruiz, C., Domingo, D., Mico, J., Diaz-Noci, J., Masip, P., & Meso, K. (2011). Public Sphere 2.0? The Democratic Qualities of Citizen Debates in Online Newspapers The International Journal of Press/Politics DOI: 10.1177/1940161211415849
 

     
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