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Effects of Electronic Media on Democratic Attitudes -...

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E ffects of Electronic Media on Democratic Attitudes Diane Owen, Georgetown University A paper delivered to the Democracy and the Globalization of Politics and the Economy International Conference Haus auf der Alb, Bad Urach, Germany October, 1999 German Federal Agency for Civic Education in co-operation with the State Agency for Civic Education, Stuttgart, Germany and the Center for Civic Education, Calabasas, CA USA The past decade has witnessed fundamental changes in the American mass media environment. Contemporary media technologies and format innovations have created new ways of communicating and reaching audiences. New actors, such as talk show hosts and tabloid reporters, have entered the political communications environment, altering the rules by which journalists, leaders, and citizens negotiate the public sphere. The nature of the political media product has changed, becoming almost inextricably infused with entertainment content. In sum, the United States has entered a "new media" age. Electronic media dominate in the "new media" era even more than in the recent past. Technologies, such as the Internet, have rendered print communication electronic, as traditional news organizations establish online counterparts to their newspapers and magazines. Further, the substance, form, and style of electronic communication has been altered radically. New-style electronic formats, such as Internet discussion groups and chat rooms, create new public spaces and provide unprecedented opportunities for political discourse. It is clear that the transformation of the American media system has important implications for democratic citizenship, especially as audiences' relationships to mass communication have been influenced significantly. However, perspectives on the prospects for democratic political systems in the "new media" era vary widely. The first goal of this paper is to present an overview of the current political communication environment with a focus on establishing the context within which citizen attitudes and orientations are shaped. Alternative perspectives will be articulated. The second objective is to examine the how electronic media shape political attitudes. Finally, we will speculate about the effect of electronic media on the socialization of young citizens. In particular, we will examine young people's evaluations of the President and government in light of the Clinton/Lewinsky matter. The paper uses the United States as a case study in the relationship between electronic media and democratic attitudes. It is the author's hope that the American case study will provide a segue for a discussion of the modern media-citizenship connection in other nations.
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The "New Media" World and Citizenship Orientations Some observers have heralded coming of the "new media" age as the catalyst that has instigated a populist political movement where citizens have greater access to the political world than ever before (Abramson, Arterton, and Orren, 1988). The most optimistic articulation of this view posits that mass media serve to stimulate political interest and activism among the mass public.
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