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The Democratic Responsibilities of Journalism

The next session is on citizenship and the democratic responsibility of journalism. Margaret Duffy is the first speaker. She begins by presenting some research by the Newspaper Association of America on entertainment preferences by media users. There is a significant preference for television and the Internet over print media in this, and trends in the time spent with media are also significantly negative as far as TV is concerned. Obviously, this is bad news for newspapers.

To add to this, this study worked with the U.S. Life Styles database, from a large study of consumer behaviour. Findings pointed to complementarity: the more people used any media for information, the more they used other media for information, and there is a mixed relationship between media used for entertainment and information purposes - only entertainment television has a strong and negative impact on use of other media for information (probably due to TV's usurpation of time). More new media use has a positive effect on commmunity particpation, and as it turns out owning new media products also has a negative impact on cynicism.

These findings need to be further corroborated by other studies with different datasets, of course. There seems to be an indication here that television has a highly damaging effect on young people's use of media for information and on their future orientation as citizens than does television entertainment by older adults, but it is also important to see what happens as young television users get older.

The Role of Journalism in Society

Geoffrey Craig is the next presenter. He begins with a nod towards the proceduralist-deliberative model of democracy as espoused by Habermas, but notes that there is also an agonistic model of democracy as developed by Chantal Mouffe. Ths model is defined by its anti-foundationalism and its acclamation of the fact that democratic life is always heterogeneous and indeterminate. Struggles are always informed by the specificity of local circumstances, and the model rejects the erasure of difference which occurs in the constitution of any form of unity. Claude Lefort, for example, argues that 'democracy is instituted and sustained by the dissolution of the markers of certainly'. Power emerges from the people, but at the same time it is the power of nobody.

Journalism is vital to the process of problematising society, then, as it is a means to implement the ongoing process of popular sovereignty. In an agonistic model of democracy, then, there is a need for the consolidation of some of journalism's traditional functions, but journalism's role in reproducing, confirming and policing value systems and behaviours must also be considered. How does journalism operate as a technology of the social?

This can be linked to theories of governmentality or governance, which is diffused through political and other institutions, apparatuses and practices. One of its integral featres is knowledge production, a problematising activity which is defined by the ongoing management of populations and the productrion of knowledgeable and efficient citizens.

Service journalism in specific fields of interest (e.g. in lifestyle areas) can be discussed in this context, as it provides information, knowledge and advice on everyday issues. Journalism can then be understood as a central practice in the ongoing operation of governqance. There is no domain of life which is outside the province of journalism's activity. Journalism enables organised life in all its complexities to function in the first place: it separates and synthesises the many different domains of life and organises the ongoing logics of everyday life. Journalism mst be seen as an integrative communicative form of life, an integral instrument in the production of democratic freedoms.

Journalism as an Active Player in Deliberative Democracy

The next speaker is James Ettema. He begins with a study of the Chicago Tribune's influential coverage of death penalty reform, and uses this as a means of questioning what is the role of journalism like this in its interconnections with public opinion and government policy. How can journalism re-engage the public - or more to the point, what if it cannot? Perhaps journalism should continue to pursue its classical function of providing information and reasoned intelligent opinion - but perhaps the effect of such activities is increasingly minimal and elusive. A new aim, then, may be institutional scrutiny and accountability: the press can serve as a stand-in to hold the governors accountable - not to the public (whose interest is declining), but more abstractly to the ideals of democracy itself.

This places the public further to the margins of the journalistic process, of course. Deliberative democratic engagement aims to provide reasons for considered opinion which others cannot reasonably reject, and this is difficult to achieve - but journalism can no longer be content to merely accurately transcribe such reasons: instead, it must itself become a reasoning institution. But how can journalism be both a moderator of deliberative engagement and simultaneously a speaker in this deliberation - a reason-giving agency?

In the case of the Tribune's engagement in the death penalty debate, for example, journalists investigated all 285 cases in which Illinois death penalties were reversed - this study found that most such cases were reversed because of some very significant shortcomings in the original trial and sentencing process, from shoddy lawyers to dubious evidence, and this was documented in the paper in a series of investigative reports.This pointed out some very significant flaws in the legal system, and led to some strong pressure to begin a moratorium on executions in Illinois and appoint a review commission on capital punishment. The Tribune further started a series of editorials to accompany the review commission, taking a stand of supporting the idea of the death penalty itself, but because of this calling for accountable reforms to the system. The paper's role in setting the agenda and playing out the deliberation in its pages was acknowledged all the way - and this example does demonstrate the functioning of a deliberative system even in the absence of strong participation from the public.

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