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Preconference: Ordinary Citizens in the News

Thu, May 25, 9:00 to 17:00, Hilton San Diego Bayfront, 4, Sapphire 410A

Session Submission Type: Panel


Over the past decades, scholars have observed a rise of ordinary citizens as actors in everyday news coverage: Common people state their opinions on political issues, or their personal story is told in order to exemplify a social problem. This trend is caused by several developments, such as personalization and the increasing importance of social media, and it has far reaching consequences for the audiences as well as political actors. But although the representation of common people surely is one of media’s central democratic functions, the depiction of ordinary citizens has often been criticized due to their one-sided selection, e.g. as opportune witnesses. In addition, with political developments such as the rise of populism, political actors strategically refer to “the people” to legitimize their actions and to gain public support.
Research on ordinary citizens as part of media coverage has traditionally been conducted in the realm of media effects. Surprisingly, there have been comparatively few studies on how common such depictions are in the media and which forms they take (e.g. social media comments, polls, exemplars). Moreover, the different strands of research have seldom been linked to each other, for example exemplification and personalization. In addition, scholars often investigate the direct effects of citizen depictions on perceived public opinion, personal opinion, and behavior without examining the underlying causal processes (e.g. the role of perceptual phenomena).
The aim of the preconference is to shed light on the role of citizens in the media from an integrative perspective and to gain greater insight in the selection, perception, and effects of citizen depiction in news coverage. Therefore, we encourage submissions relating to the following areas:

-Normative and ethical considerations as well as implications of citizen representations, e.g., diversity / equality of citizen voices, possibilities for citizens to express their opinions, use of online user comments without permission

-Journalistic selection of ordinary citizens as actors in the news, e.g., news value of citizens, selection processes, opportune witnesses

-Presentation of ordinary citizens as actors in the news, e.g., episodic framing, roles and functions of citizens in the news (e.g. as exemplars, opportune witnesses, vox pops, polls, popularity indicators), personalization of news, role of social media comments in the news

-Strategic use of ordinary citizens by political and non-political actors, e.g. by populist actors

-Effects of ordinary citizen presentations on recipients and political actors, e.g. on attitudes, perceptions of social reality, and behavior respectively political decisions

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