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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: May 2011

12 - News, the public and democracy


Democracy is for, and about, citizens. So too, at least in theory, is political journalism, and especially during elections. That there is a ‘public’, however conceived (and this is not always made explicit), made up of citizens in need of information is the underlying basis for all of the promises that news outlets make and the high expectations we have about what journalism can provide. This chapter concludes the book by summarising the major trends in election reporting in the 2000s, considering them in light of two major questions about ‘the public’: what do people want from political news and what does democracy need? Finally, what happens when these two principles clash?

The public and the media

The first part of this book was devoted to political news audiences, but media audiences and ‘the public’ are not the same thing – even if they do overlap at some points. Audiences develop in relation to particular media forms. They consist of individuals who consume those media – often in private – for a range of reasons including entertainment and relaxation. A ‘public’, on the other hand, is ‘people engaged in activities (and spaces) that are in some ways socially visible, that is, not private’. So while the media can construct audiences, those audiences become ‘real publics only through the processes of engagement with issues and discursive interactions among themselves’ (Dahlgren 2009:73–4).

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