Digital Media and Democracy. “Bush Bashing in Academia”

On: September 15, 2008
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About Wouter Dijkstra
I am concerned with ICT for accountability, awareness and transparency. I am doing research on traditional, local and popular communication structures in Uganda and will see how New Media technologies can be used effectively as a tool within these structures. My aim is to find ways in which citizens can take on a more active role within political structures in Uganda and how ICT’s can help in this process.


Digital Media and Democracy

Tactics in Hard Times

Edited by Megan Boler

Structure of the book:

434 Pages/ 19 chapters/ 3 parts

Collection of essays and interviews

Different authors:  Scholars, Journalist and business people.

Main question: How does the contemporary media landscape influence the democratic process?



In this collection of essays and interviews with different media actors, contemporary corporate U.S. media is challenged by upcoming alternatives like new Media, the influence of the internet, citizen journalism and social movements. In the first part the shape of the public is sketched and a history of media in the U.S. is described. The second part deals with the changing face of new media, where the first part is narrowed down to analyze the changes in news production we see today. The third part offers us direct knowledge of how web 2.0 can be used to shape social movements and how one can use web practices and tactical media.

All authors have a spoken out opinion about today’s news corporations who make up the bulk of subsidized media in the U.S.. Although solutions and approaches differ enormously, the book seems to succeed in giving a broad overview of some of the main problems the information distribution industry is facing concerning a democratic and unbiased media.

Because of the wide range of topics, approaches and backgrounds of the authors, I will not go into every chapter of the book but rather give some overall comments and criticisms and pose some unasked questions.

Discussion Points

-It is relatively easy to criticize an established order of things; it is much more difficult to come up with a solution that fits all critics. How can a concrete and better alternative be deducted from such a wide range of criticisms?

-An interview with one of America’s left wing corporate media challengers Robert McChesney (Chapter 1) deals with subjects like Media Reform and billion dollar government subsidizing of media firms. He also talks about community journals and community media as institutions that need to be organized by third parties, free media trough the internet will not grow organically. This is an interesting statement. Is the sort of Wild West freedom on the internet both the greatest asset and the biggest flaw of this medium? Would anyone accept a third party organization leading the way? Or is there to much anonymity for anyone to comply to a set of rules where one should just follow up? A lot of people just don’t feel responsible for what they leave on the web and will only put their hands out of their sleeves when either they get payed or have a big following  of (equally passive) internet geeks.

Criticism on the book:

-No general conclusion is given that brings together the different viewpoints of the authors.

-The United States centered view on almost all accounts. The cry for media reform looses its power because it seems the corporate approach (where companies want to grow and outrun competition) is embedded in a society where everybody wants to be on top. The rallying for support in a national cause for press freedom or citizen engagement in the media by some authors sometimes feels like the ‘smaller ‘player is being jealous of the big corporations. A real concern for people with no free voice would direct the focus away from national deficiencies to international problems. This book doesn’t seem to do this.


Wouter Dijkstra
September 2008

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