Feast or Famine in the Public Sphere: A Content Analysis of Links Shared in Civic Conversations on Reddit
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It is axiomatic that a functional public sphere depends on quality information, and the traditional source of that information has been legacy news media, most particularly major metro newspapers. The ongoing contraction of the legacy media has led to concerns for the public sphere. A frequent prescription is to either bolster legacy media or enrich the information environment by incubating alternative forms of news media or expanding access to non-mediated information sources such as government data. However, little research has been done to investigate what citizens actually use as sources of civic information for public sphere discourse. In this case study of Seattle’s civic information consumption habits, I conduct a content analysis of links posted in discussions of local civic matters drawn from civic conversations on Seattle’s subReddit r/Seattle to see what information from Seattle’s civic information ecology discussants are citing, re-posting and referencing. Findings show that Seattle Reddit users rely far more on alternative media sources and non-mediated sources, especially government data, than they do on legacy media, but legacy media still sets the conversation agenda.
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