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Letters to the Editor as a forum for public deliberation: Modes of publicity and democratic debate

Wahl-Jorgensen, Karin 2001. Letters to the Editor as a forum for public deliberation: Modes of publicity and democratic debate. Critical Studies in Media Communication 18 (3) , pp. 303-320. 10.1080/07393180128085

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Abstract

This paper traces, through in-depth interviews with San Francisco Bay letters editors, the criteria editors use to select letters, and examines how these criteria contribute to constructing the public by privileging certain forms of expression, and suppressing others. In constructing a theoretical framework, the paper draws on political philosophy to distinguish between three prevalent modes of publicity: Exhibitionist publicity, focused on the display of individual greatness; dialogist publicity, emphasizing democratic dialogue between groups and individuals; and activist publicity, which entails the confrontation between groups that seek to advance political goals. With this framework in mind, it is argued that editors' policies on letters selection bring about two orientations toward public debate: First, editors privilege individual expression over the expression of activist groups. Secondly, editors prefer the emotionally charged stories of individuals. These orientations challenge the ideals of rationality and deliberation that underlie the practice of dialogist publicity, as well as the contestatory nature of activist publicity. Instead, editors' principles favor an exhibitionist publicity. The paper explores the political philosophical implications of this orientation, arguing that while it does not square with democratic ideals, we must be cognizant of how such display can bring about social solidarity.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Journalism, Media and Culture
Subjects: N Fine Arts > NE Print media
Publisher: Routledge
ISSN: 1479-5809
Last Modified: 04 Jun 2017 01:52
URI: http://orca-mwe.cf.ac.uk/id/eprint/4012

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