News on the Internet: Information and Citizenship in the 21st Century

News on the Internet: Information and Citizenship in the 21st Century

News on the Internet: Information and Citizenship in the 21st Century

News on the Internet: Information and Citizenship in the 21st Century


Online news sites play an ever-pervasive role in the daily gathering and flow of political information. Media has always played an intermediary role in the way that citizens receive and process news, but, with the speed of information transmission, the segmentation of news sources, and the rise of citizen journalism, issues of authority, audience, and even the definition of "news" have shifted and become blurred. News on the Internet synthesizes research on developing and current patterns of online news provision with the literature on traditional, offline media to create a conceptual map for understanding the way that public affairs and news are presented and consumed on the internet.

Tewksbury and Rittenberg look at the dual role of the internet as a source of authoritative news and as a vehicle for citizens in contemporary democracies to create and share political information. Throughout, they address the tension between the benefits of internet news provision, specifically increased citizen engagement, and the negative, perhaps counterintuitive, effects: the fragmentation of knowledge and polarization of opinion in contemporary democracies. News on the Internet focuses on these points of conflict and contradiction in the online news environment and offers conclusions and predictions for how these phenomena will develop in the future.


I magine, if you can or if you remember, the days before the internet. Most people received the bulk of their news from local and national television news broadcasts. The number of news stories contained in 30 or even 60 minutes of news was relatively small, and most stories ran for a minute or two at most. What is more, television news stories were programmed to run in a particular order. To get to information about sports or weather, people had to wait through lead stories on a variety of topics (mostly local, national, and international public affairs). There was a thriving newspaper industry in those days—even as the number of people reading daily newspapers had been steadily falling for decades. Listening to radio news and reading magazine news accounted for some news consumption, but broadcast television news and newspapers were king.

Much of the news that audiences received in the 20th century was based on a model of objective reporting. That model did not guarantee perfectly neutral or balanced news, as many critics and observers convincingly argued (e.g., Bennett 1996), but journalists and others in the business said that objectivity was both a format for news presentation and a goal for news content. Of course, the news business of the 20th century was largely built on profit incentives, and those incentives led to the production of a relatively homogeneous product much of the time (Bennett 1996).

The world of news that we are describing is very different from the one we now inhabit. Indeed, the news business of the recent past is already coming to seem a little fantastical. Today, audiences for broadcast television news and newspapers are experiencing steep and steady declines. The audience for news on the internet has grown from nothing in 1993 to second behind only television (Pew Research Center 2010). These and other changes in the media marketplace have been accompanied by a number of changes in the content and presentation of news. Cable television news . . .

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