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The media: lesson overview

A high-level overview of how media coverage influences the ways citizens understand and engage with politics.
The media plays an influential role in how citizens learn about political issues and events. Media coverage also affects the formation of policy agendas by raising awareness of certain topics, which can increase public demand for government action.

Key terms

“horse race” journalismJournalism that focuses on -who is winning or ahead in the polls rather than on candidates' policy agenda or debates.
investigative journalismDeep, original investigation on a specific topic, often conducted over a long period of time and sometimes involving the exposure of secret information.
linkage institutionsGroups that connect citizens to the government and facilitate turning popular concerns into issues on the government’s policy agenda.
"media as a gatekeeper"The media’s role in setting the political agenda by drawing public and government attention to certain issues.

Key takeaways

Impact on political agenda and participation:— In its “gatekeeper” role, the media has a significant influence on the issues that citizens know and care about, which may drive subsequent government action to address those issues through policy.
Changes in how the media reports news, and how the public consumes it, have also had an impact on politics. For example, the use of investigative journalism to discredit candidates has contributed to decreased public trust in politicians. The rising prominence of the internet and social media as news sources have reduced the extent to which news is curated by professionals, a phenomenon commonly credited with causing a corresponding rise in “fake news.”
“Horse race” journalism — The ups and downs of political contests between candidates are often more dramatic than policy debates, so the media focuses more on the former than the latter. Critics argue that this devalues politics by reducing the importance of policy. Others contend that raising awareness of the contest between candidates can increase transparency and political participation, particularly during parties’ candidate selection process.

Review questions

How does political coverage in the media affect citizen perceptions of politics?
How does the media influence which issues make it onto policy agendas?
To what extent does “horse race” journalism have a positive or negative impact on political efficacy and participation?

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