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Research Programme 1: Transformation of Public Communication: Journalistic and Intermediary Functions in the Process of Opinion Formation

  • How does journalism react to the convergent media environment?
  • How do news usage and public participation change?
  • What influence do information intermediaries have on opinion formation and how can regulation react on it?

Starting point of our Research Programme 1 is the transformation processes of media-based public communication as a consequence of the digitalization of media production, distribution, and usage. Due to the consequential dissolution of boundaries, the once relatively clearly defined types of media and information functions are becoming less and less distinct – from a user perspective, but also from a normative or societal perspective: Next to professional journalism and the traditional mass media, this development has given rise to new actors, algorithm-based intermediaries, and the users themselves, which are becoming more and more influential in the public sphere. This raises the question about possible power shifts regarding the communication system, which – traditionally – mainly serves to enable a public dialogue and contribute to the formation of opinion.

The central conceptual interest of Research Programme 1 is how a public sphere can be constituted under these conditions and how 'public' is negotiated between providers and users. For researching this basic link, it is necessary to look at the intertwining that exist between the production, offerings, behaviour and use of information, and from which we seek to identify derivable differentiations where regulation can draw on in order to secure information functions of the media.

The focus lies on how already established and new providers adapt to the increasing differentiating media environment and media use, the automation and algorithmisation of own work processes but also to the competition by functional equivalent performances of non-journalistic services and providers along with their own audience in the field of journalism. Our objective is to develop a theoretical, conceptual and methodological framework, which allows the differentiation between "journalistic-editorial" services and other communication offers.

Therefore, with regard to media usage, we will examine how people inform themselves, what communicative practices they use and how they put themselves in relation with different public spheres. Thereby, the question arises what functions intermediaries can fulfil compared to journalistic-editorial services in the information repertoire of different groups of users.

The social relevance of observable changes is also high where media-based communication influences or can influence processes of individual and social opinion. So far, basic terms or concepts are missing for determining different forms of influencing communication. The legal term of a "predominating power of opinion" - the basis for the diversity control in broadcasting - is not clear in its single parts, such as the range of the term "opinion", the question concerning the kind of influence and its mediation but also the understanding of "opinion formation processes". Thus, the Research Programme will develop a conceptual framework for the influence on the processes of opinion formation that enables legal concepts to react to the described transformations.




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