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Towards an Ontology of the New Hybrid Media System

The next paper at ECPR 2011 is by Andrew Chadwick, whose argument is that old and new media scholars often talk past one another, and that political communication scholarship as well as Internet studies need to draw on one another’s ideas more effectively. The interrelationship between old and new media, in particular, needs to be examined more closely. This requires system-level perspectives and a conceptual understanding of power which can be illustrated empirically.

So, we need a hybrid media system perspective, recognising the technologies, genres, norms, behaviours, and organisations of all its components. Power relations between them are based on adaptation and interdependence, and actors create, tap, or steer information flows in ways that suit them.

Andrew suggests an ontology of hybridity which highlights complexity, interdependence, and transition, taking a ‘not only, but also’ rather than ‘either/or’ perspective. It tracks flux, in-betweenness, the interstitial and liminal, focussing on where old and new institutional forms and behaviours interact and overlap.

Andrew discusses a number of key media events in the UK: the ‘bullygate’ scandal involving Gordon Brown, and the first-ever televised debate between the PM candidates. In both cases, a range of actors from online activists to professional journalists engaged with one another across a range of media forms, and political information cycles constitute interdependent assemblages made up of multiple loosely coupled individuals connected through a number of overlapping media platforms and engaged in incessant, multi-level power struggles; this is a case of hyper-competition. This loosens the grip of journalistic and political elites, and non-elite actions and interventions are increasingly also integrated into broadcast and print journalistic environments.

Another example is WikiLeaks: it, too, is a hybrid. It leaks, publishes, produces, and mobilises; it is an assemblage of secure hardware, encryption software, networks of interdependent sources, activists, journalists, and the media. It’s a socio-technical system, and it has coevolved (and continues to do so) with other media actors.

But who holds power in this context? WikiLeaks has an impressive, unprecedented infrastructure, but is polymorphous, chaotic, and slow to live up to its own ideals; its impact has been animated and mediated through its partnerships with professional journalism. That said, is ‘who has more power’ still the right question in this context?

In the hybrid media system, power is relational, and effective resources for powerful action have emerged from the interactions between WikiLeaks, the press, broadcast media, and online activists; power is dispersed across the hybrid system rather than held by any one actor, and accessible to a great range of new actors. This drives the construction of a new, hybrid media system.


Many thanks for blogging this. It's a great summary :-)