Digital Politics

Living in the digital age has changed almost every aspect of the way that we live. One of the biggest changes is the way that media reaches us, the audience. The digital era has changed the way we look at marketing, social interaction, the way we find and receive information, and now more than ever the way we interact with political communication. On a daily basis, our lives can be affected by political information no matter where we are. Before the postmodern era, politics and presidential campaigns always seemed clear and accurate. For one, there were only two parties so people did not have much of a choice. On the other hand, there were only a few news stations and they focused on reporting very objectively so people did not really have to be swayed on any particular candidate. The new digital technology has changed the common way of campaigning and has also changed the way that the news talks about politics. The article Political Communication Research in the Digital Age by Michael Soha and Joshua Meyrowitz has gone in to detail on the main points of change that we experience today in our political environment.

In the modern era, the broadcast media was used to direct messages to the public. Political engagement involved turning in the TV or the radio that was already tuned into something political. There were not many different media outlets so most of the main broadcasting was taken up by political matters. This is what public opinion experts call “politics by default”. Because there was not much of an alternative, most people were essentially forced to focus their attention on the political matters. They were inherently very engaged in politics. As society entered the postmodern era, we saw a shift towards “politics by choice”. “Politics by choice” developed due to the “convergent culture” which was a term by Henry Jenkins which explained dhow people were becoming active participants in the development of their culture. “Politics by choice” is the idea that because there are so many different options for people to get news and information while also being able to choose entertainment over politics, people will have more of a choice when choosing what to watch or read. There isn’t just a couple different things on the air, but rather hundreds of channels and millions of websites to gather information. Part of this “politics by choice” movement is accessing other things besides politics. In this new media environment, people can be both producer and consumer of content.

Today’s digital culture has millions of resources that we can use to obtain information and news within politics. This becomes increasingly effective during the election period. In this postmodern era, there has been a mass amateurization in the way that news is reported. Any person has the potential to write a political blog or article, and share it online. With this movement and the rise of social media, more and more people are willing to voice their opinions. The voice of the news world has been given to the non-professionals of the world. They use this voice to take the unconventional standpoints that no professional journalist will. These different news sources not only customize and curate the information, but they allow the ability to contextualize, comment, or critique.” (Soha, Pg. 6) The amateur journalists changed the way that news reaches the public. Their participation has stripped the professionals of their power and influence and thus removed that filter that was used to control the information released to the public.

In more than one communication class this semester, I have learned of the two different news stories that we see in the news. We have the “news that oozes” and the “news that breaks”. In Soha’s article, he talks about how stories that lack the “breaking news” component are often seen as not very newsworthy by most mainstream news outlets. It is the “news that oozes” stories that are seen as more important to t the wellbeing of our country. Many small issues such as climate change, economic inequality, and the many failures of the government are often over looked because there is no big splash of news. This is where non-mainstream news outlets focus their attention, on the under the radar but still very important stories. In this digital era, stories about things like climate change still gain traction outside of the mainstream spotlight. According to Soha, this difference has a huge impact on political news and information stories. He states that “activist information networks are able to raise awareness or garner attention, sometimes through mere volume of sharing and promotion, other times through successful marketing techniques, often through a combination of both” (11) The best example I can find of this is from my Analysis of News class (also with Soha) where we read an article from Clay Shirky who tells the story of Republican Senator Trent Lott. In 2002, while speaking at the 100th birthday party for fellow retired Republican Strom Thurmond, Lott declared that “America would have been better off if you had been elected president” (Strom Thurmond ran on an explicitly pro-segregation platform in 1948). The journalists at the event were there to cover the “birthday story” of one of the longest serving senators in U.S. history and that’s it. It was bloggers, not journalists, who picked up on Lott’s inflammatory statement and made that statement go viral. This resulted in Trent Lott resigning under extreme criticism. It wasn’t until the story went viral that mainstream journalists picked up on the story.

This change in the way that we view politics is truly quite amazing. Before the digital era, the comments of Trent Lott would have gone completely unnoticed by mainstream media and he would still be a powerful leader in our government. The use of technology and the potential it has granted people has generated a new culture. With access to a wide variance of opinion across different resources, people’s opinions no longer classify under a “general public”. The online environment has become a powerful tool for the masses and can be seen through any social movement. The Bernie Sanders Reddit is a prime example of people using media to communicate with others while also having a large effect towards the decision of our next president. Politics will continue to adapt to the technology available and continue to transform our social environment.