The Many Realities of Media and Politics

I participated in a great Preconference on Qualitative Political Communication Research last week organized by the fabulous Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, Matt PowersDaniel Kreiss, and Dave Karpf.  Here is a brief response I gave to a set of papers on various political media realities. I’m calling it The Many Realities of Media and Politics.

During the first panel slot of the day, we heard a set of papers that either explicitly or implicitly addressed Lance Bennett and Shanto Iyengar challenge in 2008, in A New Era of Minimal Effects? The Changing Foundations of Political, to develop methods and tools of analysis that are more appropriate to citizens’ everyday experience of media and politics.

Melissa Aroncyzk argues in her paper that the task of researchers is not to reconciling research with reality but rather to analyzing the multiplicity of realities developed in different spaces by different actors.

And in fact, each of these papers looks at a very different reality.

Melissa looks at legitimacy, and specifically legitimating devices used by the oil and gas industry to promote the XL pipeline. She treats promotional discourse, which is often considered by researchers as faux political communication, “not as a barrier to political communication but as a constitutive element of it.”Genevieve Chacon looks at the reality of journalists covering politics—the reality of traditional journalism, which holds close in the case she presents, to the longstanding news traditions and practices. Jill Hopke explores the reality of the network and the relationships among actors or nodes, and among local and global dynamics, around the Global Frackdown.  And B. Theo Mazumdar and Andrea Wenzel (in a paper co-written with Yasuhito Abe, Bryony Inge, Erin Kamler and Sarah Myers) look at affect or political communication at the level of narratives developed within an Iranian diasporic community.

So what does this say about the political communication landscape that there are vastly different realities coming together to shape discourse about issues of common concern?

I think it is useful to draw on Andrew Chadwick’s book The Hybrid Media System to make sense of the emerging environment. He describes this system as exhibiting a balance between the older logics of transmission and reception and the new logics of circulation, recirculation and negotiation. Actors in these overlapping fields of media and politics both shape and are shaped by this hybridity.

Journalists, politicians, and corporations used to have the corner on the market but today, as several of these papers have illustrated, there are new, or newly acknowledges sources of power including the narratives formed in communities and circulated via social media;

the relations among environmental justice actors; the propaganda-style campaigns of the cool and gas industries; the new types of journalist flows of information via twitter.

Clearly, the call by Bennett and Iyengar to better understand what is really going on in political communication signaled an acknowledgment that the political that most of us experience, demands new approaches and new ways of thinking about the various sources of power at play in the contemporary media landscape.

These papers demonstrate, I think, a positive move in the field away from looking exclusively at the usual suspects—journalist, politicians, and moneyed interests. In order to continue to create useful theories that help make sense of the interplay among these various realities we need to develop and refine ways of looking at relationships among these various realities, network nodes and actors.

One central element of this is to work toward developing a more sophisticated dialogue –about the tools and platforms being used, about what sort of communication and relations they afford or enable, and what kind they discourage or disable. This can bring us closer to being able to theorize how different realities shape and are shaped by the new hybridity media landscape, where various actors, institutions, attributes of old and new tech are duking it out to gain material and symbolic upper-hand in the political realm.


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