The impact of challengers’ online communication on media agenda-building – a comparison across countries and issues (2011-2014)

Project Management: Prof. Dr. Silke Adam (Uni Bern); Prof. Dr. Barbara Pfetsch (FU Berlin)
in cooperation with: Prof. Dr. Lance Bennett (University of Washington, USA), Dr. Harald Katzmair (FAS Research, Austria / USA)

Project Finance:  This project is part of the research groupe „Politische Kommunikation in der Online-Welt“, which is financed by the German Research Foundation (DFG). The Swiss part of the project is financed by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF).

Project Description:
This study addresses the question of how online communication changes political communication in contemporary democracy with respect to the hopes that the internet can grant those without access to political decision making a platform to mobilize issues and opinions and set the agenda for journalists, politicians and a broad public. Within this framework, our study focuses on media agenda-building. We assume that the democratic potential of online communication lies in spill-over of challengers’ issue networks into traditional media and political debate. In particular we expect that the characteristics of challengers’ online issue networks, i.e. dominant coalitions, frame strength and type of frame-sponsors, affect the likelihood of a breakthrough to traditional media. Our empirical program is to assess issue-specific online networks and analyze under what conditions their issues and frames appear in traditional print media. In the first period of the project we use two issues in environmental policy (Co2 emissions and climate) and consumer / health policy (food safety). While these issues represent left wing challenger’s causes, in the second period of the project we will choose two right wing issues and trace additionally the consequences of online issue dynamics with respect to the political agenda. The project applies a comparative research design to control for political and media opportunity structures in four countries (Germany, Switzerland, UK, US). Empirically, we use content and network analysis to assess the issue-specific debates in the internet and in traditional news media.