Communication Normative Analysis of Political Communication
by
Eike Mark Rinke
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 September 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0215

Introduction

Political communication researchers who want to understand the empirical possibilities of democratic political communication need to engage in normative analysis. Normative analysis of political communication, in the sense used in this article, refers to research that explicitly connects empirical (or “positivist”) inquiry into communication phenomena as they are with normative inquiry into communication phenomena as they ought to be. Such connections have always been made in political communication scholarship, but researchers in the early 21st century have become increasingly aware of the need for systematic procedures to connect the empirical and the normative sides of political communication. Any sound normative analysis of political communication must rest on three components: a set of well-developed criteria against which to judge the quality of political communication, plausible procedures for putting them to use in empirical research, and empirical data relevant to these criteria generated by such research. The body of work devoted to an integrated view of the development of criteria in normative theory, the procedures for employing them in empirical research, and their application in empirical studies is not itself well integrated. This article includes relevant contributions from diverse literatures ranging from classic works to contemporary applications of normative analysis. In doing so, it presents normative analyses of the way in which both journalism (colloquially known as “the media”) and ordinary citizens communicate about politics and public affairs. Together, the collected literature illustrates the way in which normative analysis, rather than being intrinsically normative in a political sense, enables a structured two-way exchange between the normative theory and empirical study of political communication in any given society.

General Overviews

Given that the body of literature on strictly normative analysis is scattered, it is surprising that the discussion of how normative and empirical research could benefit each other to produce critical empirical research was present at the onset of the behavioral revolution in communication research. In the first half of the 20th century, Lazarsfeld 1941 explained the necessity and ways of combining critical and empirical research. It is a useful starting point for considering the possibilities of such a combination in normative analysis. Gerbner 1958 is a similar early and surprisingly ecumenical statement that continues to be instructive in its presentation of an empirical communication model informed by insights of critical theory; it also is a call for more of such empirical-normative integration. Beyond these early forerunners, contemporaneous overviews of the role of normativity in communication research are also available. Karmasin, et al. 2013 is wide in scope and illustrates the varied ways in which communication research is, and should be, related to normative questions, be it through the particular foci of its subdisciplines or the nature of its objects.

  • Gerbner, George. 1958. On content analysis and critical research in mass communication. Audio-Visual Communication Review 6:85–108.

    DOI: 10.1007/BF02766931Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In this programmatic statement, Gerbner describes how content analysis may be used in critical social research and points out how normative thinking can and should inform the creation of empirical research questions, hypotheses, and models of communication.

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    • Karmasin, Matthias, Matthias Rath, and Barbara Thomaß, ed. 2013. Normativität in der Kommunikationswissenschaft. Wiesbaden, Germany: Springer VS.

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      English title: Normativity in communication studies. This volume showcases the multiple ways in which normative aspects pervade communication and communication scholarship. Part 1 discusses normative concerns connected to different types and consequences of communication; Part 2, distinct normative perspectives of communication subdisciplines; and Part 3, the relevance of normativity in various areas of contemporary communication research.

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      • Lazarsfeld, Paul F. 1941. Remarks on administrative and critical communications research. Studies in Philosophy and Social Science 9:2–16.

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        In a surprisingly ecumenical fashion, a pioneer of behavioral-positivist political communication research explains the uses of normative theory for empirical (“administrative”) research and outlines procedures for conducting critical research. Lazarsfeld presents a case for the greater integration of critical and empirical work that is highly relevant in the early 21st century.

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        Journals

        Although normative analyses of political communication appear in various communication and political science publications, they are found most often in journals devoted to the critical analysis of communication or specific subfields. An exception is Communication Theory, which frequently publishes high-quality contributions to normative theories of political communication. Among the journals most devoted to publishing work with a normative dimension and work that combines normative and empiricist perspectives are the general interest journal Critical Studies in Media Communication and the more narrowly focused Journal of Mass Media Ethics. The latter often publishes work concerned with practical problems of media communication. Normative analyses with a strong empirical component and occasional debates about normative communication standards can be found in Political Communication. Journals that cover journalism as a subfield of communication that is of particular interest for the normative analysis of political communication are Journalism Studies and Journalism, which often publish articles relating normative theory and journalistic practice. Additional outlets for normative-analytical work are New Media & Society and Javnost—The Public. The former has been a venue for the publication of normative analyses, both empirical and purely theoretical, of digital media communication. The latter has a clear theoretical focus on normative public sphere research and often publishes normative analyses of public communication.

        • Communication Theory. 1991–.

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          This journal of the International Communication Association is devoted entirely to theoretical contributions and often features rigorous theoretical accounts of communication that are based on or derived from more general normative frameworks.

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          • Critical Studies in Media Communication. 1984–.

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            Formerly Critical Studies in Mass Communication (1984–1999). Although rooted in the cultural and critical studies tradition, this journal provides a cross-disciplinary home for normatively oriented communication scholarship across a wide range of media communication issues. Noted particularly for presenting theoretical statements with a normative perspective.

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            • Javnost—The Public. 1994–.

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              This international and interdisciplinary journal is devoted explicitly to publishing theoretical and empirical research on public spheres. As the public sphere concept is steeped in normative social theories, articles that appear in this publication often cover communication processes from a critical perspective.

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              • Journal of Mass Media Ethics. 1985–.

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                The mission of this journal is to facilitate exchanges about ethics and morality in mass communication among communication scholars and professionals. As such, it is an ideal meeting ground for inquiry into the normative aspects of communication with a focus on journalism and public relations practices.

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                • Journalism. 2000–.

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                  This international journalism journal provides a forum for critical reflections and empirical analyses of journalism performance from a normative point of view.

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                  • Journalism Studies. 2000–.

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                    This international journal is associated with the International Communication Association’s Journalism Studies division and targeted toward journalism scholars as well as journalism and journalism education practitioners. It often publishes normative analyses of journalism that combine practical and academic perspectives.

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                    • New Media & Society. 1999–.

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                      This expansively interdisciplinary journal is a forum for research on digital communication technologies and has been a good source for normatively inspired considerations of the way in which these technologies impinge on the quality of political processes, especially regarding citizen engagement online.

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                      • Political Communication. 1980–.

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                        This is the joint journal of the Political Communication divisions of the American Political Science Association and the International Communication Association. The leading journal in its subfield, it has frequently been the site of discussion about normative standards in political communication and presentation of normatively inspired empirical research.

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                        Theoretical Criteria for Normative Analysis

                        The first ingredient of sound normative analysis is an adequate theoretical source from which to draw standards for judging the democratic quality of political communication. This theoretical component of normative analysis, which has a long tradition in communication scholarship, often derives criteria for evaluating the democratic quality of journalistic and citizen communication from broader normative theories of democracy.

                        Normative Theories of Journalistic Communication

                        Normative statements about the democratic performance of journalism have been made since the early days of communication research, but one of the most impactful early contributions was the report of the Commission on Freedom of the Press 1947 which, for the first time in such integrated form, outlined a normative social responsibility model of journalism. The standards described in the report continue to frame normative assessments of political communication for many practitioners and academics. The Commission’s 1947 report was discussed in Siebert, et al. 1956, which widened the perspective and described different normative conceptions of the press—not without signaling certain normative commitments on their part. Since then, several multi-theoretical accounts of normative demands toward media communication have been published, with different purposes in mind. Christians, et al. 2009 is the most encompassing and takes the influential initial statement in Siebert, et al. 1956 as its vantage point, providing an original and updated account of the different roles of the press suggested by relevant philosophical traditions. Similar in intent, Strömbäck 2005 provides a good introduction to normative theories of political communication and includes a more succinct overview of the relations among the media, politics, different democratic theories, and the normative expectations they hold for journalism. A more philosophically grounded exposition of divergent normative standards to assess communication quality and a problematization of its consequences for media policymaking is found in Drale 2004. Other surveys of normative press theories have been presented out of a more immediate interest in their application in normative analysis. Baker 2002 is an example of normative analysis in media economics, contrasting ideal notions of the media in multiple conceptions of democracy and using this contrast in a normative assessment of media market dynamics. Habermas 1989 is the epitome of a social historical analysis of the public sphere, including journalism, with normative intent and aspirations to inform larger social theory. It is one of the most widely recognized and cited sources of criteria for judging political communication—with a rather pessimistic conclusion about the development of public communication. Lastly, Bro 2008 presents a simple typology of normative roles of journalists through which they may facilitate the kind of dialogic communication about public affairs that Habermas had envisioned.

                        • Baker, C. Edwin. 2002. Media, markets, and democracy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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                          This illuminating book relates an economic perspective on the functioning of media markets to the perspectives of four strands of normative democratic theory on the media in a well-ordered polity. Whether media markets are democratically functional depends on the type of democracy envisioned.

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                          • Bro, Peter. 2008. Normative navigation in the news media. Journalism 9:309–329.

                            DOI: 10.1177/1464884907089010Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                            Conceived as an assessment instrument for researchers and a guideline for media professionals, the author develops a typology of normative roles for news reporters. Depending on whether they harbor primarily passive or active, representative or deliberative orientations, journalists can be watchdogs, sheepdogs, hunting dogs, or rescue dogs.

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                            • Christians, Clifford G., Theodore L. Glasser, Denis McQuail, Kaarle Nordenstreng, and Robert A. White. 2009. Normative theories of the media: Journalism in democratic societies. Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press.

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                              Drawing from an encompassing consideration of four normative models of democracy, the authors develop four principal roles that journalists may be expected to fulfill in democracies: they can be monitorial, facilitative, radical, and collaborative. Each of these comes with a distinct set of professional tasks for journalists.

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                              • Commission on Freedom of the Press. 1947. A free and responsible press: A general report on mass communication; Newspapers, radio, motion pictures, magazines, and books. Edited by Robert Devore Leigh. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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                                This report of the so-called Hutchins Commission is one of the founding documents of contemporary US journalism. The Commission was very explicit in its formulation of five ideals or requirements that together constituted the “social responsibility model” of journalism that continues to be influential in academe and beyond.

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                                • Drale, Christina S. 2004. Communication media in a democratic society. Communication Law and Policy 9:213–235.

                                  DOI: 10.1207/s15326926clp0902_3Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                  The author examines the roles of media industries and technologies as implied by four different models of democracy (market liberalism, deliberative, communitarian, and activist). This article is notable for its useful distinction between deontological (process-oriented) and teleological (outcome-oriented) standards for media in democracy and its focus on media policy.

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                                  • Habermas, Jürgen. 1989. The structural transformation of the public sphere. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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                                    In his classical historical study of the public sphere, originally published in German in 1962, Habermas unearths the intellectual roots of social thought about the public sphere in the European Enlightenment period and proceeds to diagnose a decline of the rational public sphere under the pressures of commercialism and communications professionalism in late modernity. Highly influential and foundational reading for every scholar of political communication.

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                                    • Siebert, Fredrick S., Theodore Peterson, and Wilbur Schramm. 1956. Four theories of the press: The authoritarian, libertarian, social responsibility, and Soviet communist concepts of what the press should be and do. Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press.

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                                      This study is widely regarded as one of the first to identify and analyze different types of media systems according to their philosophical foundations. It is also widely known, however, as enmeshing its own normative standpoint into its analysis of press systems.

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                                      • Strömbäck, Jesper. 2005. In search of a standard: Four models of democracy and their normative implications for journalism. Journalism Studies 6:331–345.

                                        DOI: 10.1080/14616700500131950Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                        This theoretical article is concerned with the development of convincing standards for evaluating journalistic communication in democracies. It usefully draws a connection among the general social roles of journalism, four different theories of democracy (procedural, competitive, participatory, and deliberative), their demands on citizens, and the requirements of journalism they imply.

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                                        Normative Theories of Citizen Communication

                                        Although often less explicit than the normative literature on journalism’s role in democracy, scholars of democracy and communication have also proposed and discussed normative standards for evaluating the democratic quality of how citizens communicate about public affairs. An apt, and often contrarian, observation of the many twists and turns in notions of what makes for a “good citizen” with historical depth is found in Schudson 1998, which—without any firm normative commitment made—espouses restraint in the formulation of demands toward citizens when it comes to their political information and communication. Similarly, Bejan 2017 presents a historical reconstruction of debates regarding the communicative value of civility that echo widely discussed concerns about citizens’ communication behavior in the early 21st century, only to find that a thin standard of “mere civility” may be most appropriate to accommodate political conflict in democratic ways. Another, less forgiving but yet differentiating, take on what we should demand of citizens when they talk politics is given by Lafont 2009. This view maintains that even though citizens may have deep disagreement on fundamental beliefs, such as questions of religion, this does not absolve them from a requirement to argue with one another in terms that each of them can accept. Only in this way can citizens’ communication amount to anything like a true deliberation of political matters. Also concerned with what is required of citizens for them to be good deliberators, Scudder 2016 argues that in political communication it is more important to listen to difference as well as to be truly open when engaging other citizens than to be empathic toward them. These normative theories of individual citizen behavior are supplemented by Chambers 2013, which argues that it is both futile and unnecessary to demand of each citizen to fulfill all of a fixed set of criteria of good political communication. Instead, the author advocates a systems perspective in which a proper distribution of different types of citizen communicators becomes key. Finally, Mihailidis and Thevenin 2013 provides a view of the media literacy and communication skills citizens should possess in a participatory model of democracy, skills that can be assessed and taught by educators for democracy.

                                        • Bejan, Teresa M. 2017. Mere civility: Disagreement and the limits of toleration. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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                                          Drawing on a deep reading of early modern debates on religious toleration, the author discusses the oft-made demand for citizens to be civil in their political exchanges. Bejan argues for a less demanding concept of “mere civility” in order to avoid a silencing of dissent in the name of civility. Mere civility demands that citizens continuously engage with those with whom they disagree and a commitment to trying to change the mind of someone who is thought to be culpably in the wrong, even in impolite ways.

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                                          • Chambers, Simone. 2013. The many faces of good citizenship. Critical Review 25:199–209.

                                            DOI: 10.1080/08913811.2013.843874Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                            The author argues that, in a deliberative-democratic system, citizens fulfill different normative roles; not all citizens must be political activists and open-minded at the same time. The picture of the “good citizen” is more complicated. A discussion of participation, exposure to political difference, and civility shows how these distinct qualities of citizen behavior can have beneficial consequences for the democratic system as a whole even if they do not always or often occur in tandem. It is the distribution of these communication qualities in the whole population that is crucial.

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                                            • Lafont, Cristina. 2009. Religion and the public sphere: What are the deliberative obligations of democratic citizenship? Philosophy & Social Criticism 35:127–150.

                                              DOI: 10.1177/0191453708098758Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                              This article addresses the question of whether religious arguments are legitimate in public discourse. The author argues that the inevitable mutual accountability of citizens demands that although citizens should be able to argue from both a secular and religious point of view, they must do so with the aim of providing reasons that are acceptable to all members of the polity who will be subjected to coercive law that is enacted based on these reasons. Deliberative obligations are the same for all categories of citizens.

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                                              • Mihailidis, Paul, and Benjamin Thevenin. 2013. Media literacy as a core competency for engaged citizenship in participatory democracy. American Behavioral Scientist 57:1611–1622.

                                                DOI: 10.1177/0002764213489015Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                This article points out how and why media, communication, and information skills become increasingly important for citizens’ effectiveness in democratic politics. According to the authors, developing hyper-diverse digital media environments afford new avenues for democratic engagement, especially of young people. Digital media literacy is introduced as a new key competency for citizens that can and should be drawn on in normative citizenship assessment and education. It is a prerequisite for citizens to be critical, creative, agentic, and, therefore, engaged in a democratically meaningful way, highlighting that citizenship in a participatory democracy framework is primarily communication-based and should be evaluated accordingly.

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                                                • Schudson, Michael. 1998. The good citizen: A history of American civic life. New York: Free Press.

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                                                  Taking a long historical view, this book shows that the widely espoused ideal of the “informed citizen” is a relatively recent product of the Progressive Era in US politics. Although not embracing any particular notion of citizenship, the author argues that since institutional power has shifted away from the election process to the judiciary, citizens may be informed just enough by a diet that is restricted to attention-grabbing newspaper and TV news headlines.

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                                                  • Scudder, Mary F. 2016. Beyond empathy: Strategies and ideals of democratic deliberation. Polity 48:524–550.

                                                    DOI: 10.1057/s41279-016-0001-9Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                    This contribution addresses a central concern of deliberative models of democracy—that citizens should be willing to take the perspective of others and feel empathic concern when engaging with their fellow citizens. Instead of the focus on communality enshrined in demands for empathic citizen communication, Scudder argues that a focus on differences cultivates a greater appreciation of openness and importance of listening to co-citizens, which the author argues is essential for a deliberative democracy.

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                                                    Procedures for Normative Analysis

                                                    The second ingredient of proper normative analysis is a toolbox filled with procedures that can guide researchers aiming to connect normative and empirical inquiry into political communication. This component of normative analysis did not receive much attention in past decades but has evolved dynamically in the early 21st century.

                                                    Normative Assessment

                                                    In the two-way exchange between normative theory and empirical research, normative assessment represents the track going from theory to empirical study. Normative assessment is a procedure to evaluate explicitly empirical findings regarding their relevance and value according to one or more normative outlooks. Bucy and D’Angelo 2004 expresses the general importance for researchers to be aware of the tacit philosophies they bring to their work. Concrete steps to uncover such implicit normative standpoints, make them explicit, and indeed use them for making sense of empirical research findings have for the first time been articulated in the groundbreaking and programmatic work by Althaus 2012. The vocabulary of normative assessment developed therein is extended, and applied in an empirical study of political communication, in Rinke, et al. 2013. A more specific, but highly relevant, topic in normative assessment is the question of how to apply universal normative standards in different cultures and nations. Wessler 2008 provides a productive example combining media systems theory with normative assessment procedures.

                                                    • Althaus, Scott L. 2012. What’s good and bad in political communication research? Normative standards for evaluating media and citizen performance. In The SAGE Handbook of Political Communication. Edited by Holli A. Semetko and Margaret Scammell, 97–112. London: SAGE.

                                                      DOI: 10.4135/9781446201015.n9Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                      Communication scholarship is rife with evaluations of empirical findings. However, few such evaluations are cognizant of their normative underpinnings. This chapter develops concrete procedures for the systematic normative appraisal of research findings and argues the value of such assessment for political communication research.

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                                                      • Bucy, Erik P., and Paul D’Angelo. 2004. Democratic realism, neoconservatism, and the normative underpinnings of political communication research. Mass Communication and Society 7:3–28.

                                                        DOI: 10.1207/s15327825mcs0701_2Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                        This article points out a general lack of normative self-assessment in the political communication literature. The authors argue that political communication research continues to be largely unaware of its own normative commitment to a neoconservative philosophical standpoint that has shaped its path since the early effects studies of the 1940s.

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                                                        • Rinke, Eike Mark, Hartmut Wessler, Charlotte Löb, and Carina Weinmann. 2013. Deliberative qualities of generic news frames: Assessing the democratic value of strategic game and contestation framing in election campaign coverage. Political Communication 30:474–494.

                                                          DOI: 10.1080/10584609.2012.737432Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                          This article extends the procedures for normative assessment developed by Althaus 2012. The authors apply these procedures in a study of election campaign news coverage and demonstrate that certain ways of presenting the news (e.g., in terms of political strategy) are detrimental to its deliberative quality.

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                                                          • Wessler, Hartmut. 2008. Investigating deliberativeness comparatively. Political Communication 25:1–22.

                                                            DOI: 10.1080/10584600701807752Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                            Values enshrined in normative theories may be universal, but they can be realized in different ways across contexts. This study shows a way in which communication standards implied by a deliberative model of democracy can be operationalized in a context-sensitive (“emic”) fashion that allows for valid normative analysis in different media systems.

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                                                            Empirical Validation

                                                            Normative assessment is normative theory informing empirical research. Empirical validation is its counterpart: empirical research informing normative theory. Although empirical validation is certainly the road less traveled in normative analytical research on political communication, several statements have been published on the procedures needed for researchers to make the empirical validation of normative theories work. A general and broadly applicable statement of standards to improve democratic theories regarding their empirical implications, including communicative ones, is given in Fung 2007. Mutz 2008 discusses the way in which such improvement may be furthered with regard to a specific normative model of democracy: deliberative democracy. Mutz’s insight that any given test of a democratic theory’s empirical implications can hardly be all-encompassing is reflected in Besley and McComas 2005, which presents a more restricted model of an important component of the same democratic theory, thus opening it to empirical inquiry. Finally, empirical validation may also serve the purpose of informing policymakers about the values that are helped or hindered by specific regulatory actions. Bennett 1993 suggests creating a more systematic connection between researchers and communication policymakers confronted with normative questions.

                                                            • Bennett, W. Lance. 1993. A policy research paradigm for the news media and democracy. Journal of Communication 43:180–189.

                                                              DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.1993.tb01291.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                              The link between empirical research and communication policy is of enduring interest to critically engaged researchers. This programmatic statement presents an approach to produce normatively oriented research that speaks to practical questions of regulating communication and organizing journalistic work.

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                                                              • Besley, John C., and Katherine A. McComas. 2005. Framing justice: Using the concept of procedural justice to advance political communication research. Communication Theory 15:414–436.

                                                                DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2885.2005.tb00342.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                Normative theory suggests that adherence to norms of fair procedure in decision-making leads to increased civic-mindedness. This article presents a model of procedural justice that allows and invites empirical tests of the communicative aspects of this normative proposition.

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                                                                • Fung, Archon. 2007. Democratic theory and political science: A pragmatic method of constructive engagement. American Political Science Review 101:443–458.

                                                                  DOI: 10.1017/S000305540707030XSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                  This article describes a general method of assessing democratic theories based on the consequences of the institutions they prescribe. The approach applies to questions of ideal democratic communication and may also be used in testing the contribution of various communication institutions and phenomena to the realization of specific democratic ideals.

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                                                                  • Mutz, Diana C. 2008. Is deliberative democracy a falsifiable theory? Annual Review of Political Science 11:521–538.

                                                                    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.polisci.11.081306.070308Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                    Normative theories are often vague in the conceptualization of their key components. This article takes “deliberation” as an example to argue that empirical research may contribute most to the clarification of empirical claims made by normative theories if central concepts are disaggregated and middle-range theories are developed to investigate them empirically.

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                                                                    Applications of Normative Analysis

                                                                    The third ingredient of normative analysis is the generation of empirical knowledge from applications of normative assessment or empirical validation. Although the repertoire of methods for both continues to evolve at rapid pace, examples of normative analyses, often following more intuitive operational frameworks, are many. Normative assessments have been focused on professional journalism. Empirical validation has been applied to citizens’ communication-related behaviors more often.

                                                                    Normative Assessment of Journalistic Communication

                                                                    Normative analyses of political communication are most often concerned with the assessment of journalism. Three types of such studies can be distinguished: assessments of journalistic communications (i.e., news reporting and opinion) from a theoretical perspective, assessments from a journalistic perspective, and assessments from a citizen perspective.

                                                                    Theoretical Perspectives

                                                                    Perhaps the most important classical study of journalism performance is McQuail 1992, which informed subsequent empirical research as much as policy debates about media regulation. The “public interest” motive is covered in Voltmer 1999, which borrows from systems theory to extend and recast it for use in normative assessments in empirical research studies. In the early 21st century, the normative assessment literature is more theoretically eclectic and attempts to operationalize entire democratic theories for the assessment of public spheres constituted by classical mass media, as in Downey, et al. 2012, or for the assessment of public spheres created by digital information and communication technologies, as in Freelon 2010.

                                                                    • Downey, John, Sabina Mihelj, and Thomas König. 2012. Comparing public spheres: Normative models and empirical measurements. European Journal of Communication 27:337–353.

                                                                      DOI: 10.1177/0267323112459447Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                      Acknowledging the multiplicity of standards available to normative analysis is one thing, bringing them to bear on practical normative assessment in empirical research is another. This study surveys three strands of democratic theory (republican, deliberative, and liberal) and derives empirical indicators to assess normatively newspaper public spheres in six countries.

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                                                                      • Freelon, Deen G. 2010. Analyzing online political discussion using three models of democratic communication. New Media & Society 12:1172–1190.

                                                                        DOI: 10.1177/1461444809357927Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                        In this innovative contribution, the tenets of three well-known democratic theories are translated into more specific normative requirements and empirical measures that bring them to bear on the analysis of online forum discussions.

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                                                                        • McQuail, Denis. 1992. Media performance: Mass communication and the public interest. London: SAGE.

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                                                                          This landmark book shows that many common norms of media performance, such as diversity and objectivity, are derived from the basic values of freedom, equality, and order/solidarity. This turns an assessment of the media’s performance by these standards squarely into an evaluation of its contribution to the public interest.

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                                                                          • Voltmer, Katrin. 1999. Medienqualität und Demokratie: Eine empirische Analyse publizistischer Informations- und Orientierungsleistungen in der Wahlkampfkommunikation. Baden-Baden, Germany: Nomos.

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                                                                            English translation of this title: “Media quality and democracy: An empirical analysis of journalistic information and orientation services in election campaign communication.” In a comprehensive approach to assessing “democratic media performance,” the author develops quality criteria for political communication for the empirical analysis of content and supplements them with an analysis of the legal and professional boundary conditions necessary for meeting those criteria.

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                                                                            Journalistic Perspectives

                                                                            Journalists play a key role in the creation of political information and communication systems. The way in which they evaluate political communications is thus consequential for mass media practice and has been a recurring object of normative analysis. Meijer 2005 shows that the value systems underlying journalists’ assessments of their own products are multidimensional and at times contradictory, embodying the institutional tensions of the profession. However, Voakes 1999 provides insight into the more purely professional standards of journalists and shows that, at least in the United States, they tend to sympathize with reporting in the spirit of an active “public journalism.” Lastly, Klocke and McDevitt 2013 uncovers how journalists rationalize their failures to live up to their own professional standards.

                                                                            • Klocke, Brian, and Michael McDevitt. 2013. Foreclosing deliberation: Journalists’ lowering of expectations in the marketplace of ideas. Journalism Studies 14:891–906.

                                                                              DOI: 10.1080/1461670X.2012.755373Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                              This study traces how newspaper journalists understand their own role in enabling or disabling a well-functioning public discourse. The authors found that when journalists fail to provide the high-quality discourse they aspire to create, they often invoke professional norms to justify their performance through a framework of “professional realism.”

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                                                                              • Meijer, Irene Costera. 2005. Impact or content? Ratings vs. quality in public broadcasting. European Journal of Communication 20:27–53.

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                                                                                Mass media output is shaped by the normative convictions of its producers. Through interviews with programming officers at public broadcasting stations, this study uncovers that when public media professionals judge the quality of a program they implicitly rely not on a single but five different, partly contradictory “quality vocabularies.”

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                                                                                • Voakes, Paul S. 1999. Civic duties: Newspaper journalists’ views on public journalism. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 76:756–774.

                                                                                  DOI: 10.1177/107769909907600411Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                  This article shows that when not confronted with and primed by the term “public journalism,” US newspaper journalists are largely sympathetic to its goals and procedures. US journalists thus generally appear to support the deliberative ends of public journalism as a professional model.

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                                                                                  Citizen Perspectives

                                                                                  In media systems governed at least partly by free markets, the quality of media outputs will often depend on the criteria citizens use to assess products on the media market. Normative assessment studies have therefore tried to understand how audiences judge the quality of journalism and political communications in the public sphere more generally. Gil de Zúñiga and Hinsley 2013 shows that one of the problems ailing journalism could be that quality judgments of the audience diverge from those of journalists. Hagen 1994 reveals that many people use the news not out of an intrinsic appreciation of the news product but out of a felt cultural norm of keeping informed, placing journalism in an uncomfortable dependency on said norm. A more hopeful complement to these findings comes from Evans 2012, which finds that citizens may tune out hard news because they discount views expressed by elected representatives as insincere due to their entrapment in the electoral process. At the same time, ordinary citizens emerge from this study as highly committed to a discourse conforming to the prescriptions of normative deliberation theory.

                                                                                  • Evans, Michael S. 2012. Who wants a deliberative public sphere? Sociological Forum 27:872–895.

                                                                                    DOI: 10.1111/j.1573-7861.2012.01360.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                    This in-depth interview study responds to concerns about ordinary citizens’ interest in deliberative public debate. The author finds that citizens prefer participants in public political discourse who are open-minded, respect conflicting positions, and are committed to ongoing discussion but generally mistrust elected politicians as debaters.

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                                                                                    • Gil de Zúñiga, Homero, and Amber Hinsley. 2013. The press versus the public: What is “good journalism?” Journalism Studies 14:926–942.

                                                                                      DOI: 10.1080/1461670X.2012.744551Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                      This study shows that part of the growing public disenchantment with journalism’s performance may be explained by a normative disconnect between US citizens and journalists when they evaluate news quality—citizens have a less differentiated and more negative outlook on the news.

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                                                                                      • Hagen, Ingunn. 1994. The ambivalences of TV news viewing: Between ideals and everyday practices. European Journal of Communication 9:193–220.

                                                                                        DOI: 10.1177/0267323194009002005Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                        This article explores how citizens experience a tension between the internalized normative ideal of being an informed citizen and a desire for content relevant to their everyday lives. It shows how this tension bears on citizens’ consumption of television news, uncovering how “keeping informed” can be a deeply ambivalent act of duty for people.

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                                                                                        Normative Assessment of Citizen Communication

                                                                                        Normative analyses of political communication may also be concerned with assessing the quality of how citizens communicate about politics. These include three types of studies: assessments of citizen communication from a theoretical perspective, studies of normative assessments from a journalistic perspective, and assessments from the perspective of citizens themselves.

                                                                                        Theoretical Perspectives

                                                                                        A broad theoretical framework for assessing citizen communication is developed in Bucy and Gregson 2001. This contribution considers the normative relevance of communicative practices that in the past were treated as politically irrelevant and provides a template for assessing normatively the citizen behaviors associated with thoroughly mediated democracies. Other works have drawn on the deliberative democracy framework to assess citizen communication. Moy and Gastil 2006 is a good example of the additional insights gained when empirical researchers look beyond the “usual suspect” variables and develop innovative indicators of citizen communication outcomes based on normative theory. Rojas 2008 similarly exemplifies the way in which theoretically informed behavioral indicators can be used to assess the effects of communicative orientations of citizens. Conway, et al. 2012 is an example of experimental research into normatively relevant citizen behavior in the laboratory and demonstrates that citizens are not always persuaded by short and simple statements but may be appreciative of greater rhetorical complexity.

                                                                                        • Bucy, Erik P., and Kimberly S. Gregson. 2001. Media participation: A legitimizing mechanism of mass democracy. New Media & Society 3:357–380.

                                                                                          DOI: 10.1177/1461444801003003006Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                          In this theoretical contribution, the authors argue that traditional understandings of political participation are ill suited to capture the reality of democratic participation in contemporary media societies. They propose the new concept of media participation and outline a typology of forms of civic participation, discussing their various political consequences.

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                                                                                          • Conway, Lucian Gideon, III, Laura Janelle Gornick, Chelsea Burfeind, et al. 2012. Does complex or simple rhetoric win elections? An integrative complexity analysis of U.S. presidential campaigns. Political Psychology 33:599–618.

                                                                                            DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9221.2012.00910.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                            This study is interesting from a normative standpoint because it shows that, although often assumed, simplistic rhetoric is not always a key to winning citizens’ support. It shows that demonstrating the ability to master complexity in their speech can sometimes benefit politicians.

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                                                                                            • Moy, Patricia, and John Gastil. 2006. Predicting deliberative conversation: The impact of discussion networks, media use, and political cognitions. Political Communication 23:443–460.

                                                                                              DOI: 10.1080/10584600600977003Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                              This study is rare because it operationalizes a deliberation framework to assess media effects. It develops indicators of deliberative conversational orientations in individuals and shows that a single medium can have contradictory effects for different groups of citizens and on different measures of deliberative competence.

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                                                                                              • Rojas, Hernando. 2008. Strategy versus understanding: How orientations toward political conversation influence political engagement. Communication Research 35:452–480.

                                                                                                DOI: 10.1177/0093650208315977Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                This article shows that when individuals adopt an orientation toward understanding in their political conversations, they are more inclined to become politically active in thought and deed. The author thus points to communicative competence building as an important desideratum for a political culture.

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                                                                                                Journalistic Perspectives

                                                                                                Whether they are organized following a public-service or a free-market model, the potential of the media to contribute to desirable democratic outcomes will, in some measure, depend on what journalists see in their audiences. Their evaluation of citizens’ democratic motivations and abilities will inform many of the professional decisions that shape their news products and, in turn, public discourse, information, and knowledge. With its encompassing, theory-focused approach to these questions, Higgins 2008 provides a good overview of the ways in which journalists’ views of the general public are (in)formed and why and how they are democratically consequential. Atkin, et al. 1983 is a landmark study that was one of the first to provide a broad assessment of how journalists judge the democratic credentials of their audiences, and often in unflattering ways. A rare up-close account of how journalists discount their audience as citizens, and why this matters for democracy, can be found in Wahl-Jorgensen 2007.

                                                                                                • Atkin, Charles K., Judee K. Burgoon, and Michael Burgoon. 1983. How journalists perceive the reading audience. Newspaper Research Journal 4:51–63.

                                                                                                  DOI: 10.1177/073953298300400206Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                  The authors of this classical study surveyed US newspaper editors and reporters about their views of citizens and found that they often judged the general public’s democratic credentials more harshly than would be warranted. Journalists specifically thought of citizens as politically disinterested, uninformed, unsophisticated, dissatisfied, and easy to influence.

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                                                                                                  • Higgins, Michael. 2008. Media and their publics. Maidenhead, UK: Open Univ. Press.

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                                                                                                    This book provides an in-depth investigation of how media practitioners and regulators construct notions of “the public.” It shows how constructions of the citizen audience—as either in need of paternalistic informational nurturing or as efficacious cultural-political media consumers—abet different normative visions of how media organizations ought to operate and be regulated.

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                                                                                                    • Wahl-Jorgensen, Karin. 2007. Journalists and the public: Newsroom culture, letters to the editor, and democracy. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton.

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                                                                                                      This book provides a rare inside perspective of how editorial-page newspaper staff view the letter-writing citizen public. The study finds that news editors publishing letters to the editor hold rather dismal views of citizens’ democratic competence, frequently employing an “idiom of insanity” to make sense of letters and their authors. As a consequence, the potential of this form of citizen communication to contribute to a more egalitarian mediated public sphere is largely squandered.

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                                                                                                      Citizen Perspectives

                                                                                                      Normative analysis may also center on how citizens judge what makes for a “good citizen” and whether they believe that they and others like them possess what it takes to be regarded as such. Theiss-Morse 1993 provides an archetypical exemplar of such empirical normative analysis from a citizen perspective, establishing four general types of normative views that citizens may have regarding the range of political activities deemed legitimate and desirable. Thorson 2012 pushes the concern with normative citizen conceptions of democratic participation, both theoretically and empirically, by tracing how the idiom within which young citizens construct their roles enables and constrains the normative expectations they have toward their citizenship. Huckfeldt 2001 complements this work by showing how such citizen-to-citizen expectations influence how they approach (or avoid) each other in political matters.

                                                                                                      • Huckfeldt, Robert. 2001. The social communication of political expertise. American Journal of Political Science 45:425–438.

                                                                                                        DOI: 10.2307/2669350Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                        This article explores patterns of normative expectations that citizens have toward each other in political exchanges with regard to expertise and specific patterns of comport in political discussions. It finds that citizens prefer knowledgeable fellow citizens as partners in political discussion and that they generally are able to recognize such political expertise in others. It further establishes that discussant expertise increases “communication effectiveness”: it reduces misunderstandings regarding discussants’ political preferences.

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                                                                                                        • Theiss-Morse, Elizabeth. 1993. Conceptualizations of good citizenship and political participation. Political Behavior 15:355–380.

                                                                                                          DOI: 10.1007/BF00992103Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                          This article looks at what citizens think makes for good citizenship. It shows that US citizens differ in their understanding of “good citizenship” and identifies four major perspectives of citizens on their political duties. It also shows how these perspectives are linked to political behavior.

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                                                                                                          • Thorson, Kjerstin. 2012. What does it mean to be a good citizen? Citizenship vocabularies as resources for action. ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 644:70–85.

                                                                                                            DOI: 10.1177/0002716212453264Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                            This contribution explores how citizens conceive of “good citizenship” based on two dimensions: civic horizons (i.e., conceivable fields of action—hyperlocal versus global) and civic contributions (i.e., conceivable forms of action—individual versus collective). It finds that media interact with citizens’ vocabularies in that they help citizens broaden their political understanding and, at the same time, serve as tools for translating that understanding into political action.

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                                                                                                            Empirical Validation of Citizen Communication

                                                                                                            Empirical researchers have validated empirical claims made in normative theories more often with regard to citizen communication behavior than to the performance of journalism (for which validation hardly exists—hence, the absence of a section dedicated to this field in this article). Deliberative democratic theory is a democratic theory that assigns special value to the communication practices of ordinary citizens. Consequently, it also makes the most explicit empirical predictions about such practices, predictions that have been subjected to rigorous tests in normative analyses. Gastil and Dillard 1999 is a prime example of a study addressing the core of classical deliberative democratic theory—the effects of small-group, face-to-face deliberations. Kim, et al. 1999 takes such empirical validation to the real world of everyday political conversations and media practices; one of its key findings is qualified in Mutz 2006. Mutz’s validation of tenets of deliberative and participatory democratic theories uncovers that they might not be empirically compatible with one another. Similarly, Sunstein 2002 confronts deliberation theory with findings from social psychology and uses them to suggest improvements to the normative framework of deliberative democracy.

                                                                                                            • Gastil, John, and James P. Dillard. 1999. Increasing political sophistication through public deliberation. Political Communication 16:3–23.

                                                                                                              DOI: 10.1080/105846099198749Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                              This study investigates the claim of deliberative democratic theory that face-to-face discussion among citizens makes them more politically sophisticated. Data collected from participants in National Issues Forums (a network of civic, educational, and other organizations and individuals whose common interest is to promote public deliberation in America) largely support the empirical assumptions of deliberative theory.

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                                                                                                              • Kim, Joohan, Robert O. Wyatt, and Elihu Katz. 1999. News, talk, opinion, participation: The part played by conversation in deliberative democracy. Political Communication 16:361–385.

                                                                                                                DOI: 10.1080/105846099198541Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                This article tests, and largely supports, a comprehensive set of empirical assumptions made in deliberative democratic theory. It provides evidence that attention to the news may spark political conversations in people’s lives, which, in turn, increases their political sophistication and propensity to engage in certain kinds of participation.

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                                                                                                                • Mutz, Diana C. 2006. Hearing the other side: Deliberative versus participatory democracy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511617201Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                  The author tests the blanket assumption of deliberative theory that good things will follow from citizens’ exposure to political disagreement. The picture is really more mixed; exposure to disagreement increases tolerance and awareness of others’ points of view but seems to also discourage some forms of political activity.

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                                                                                                                  • Sunstein, Cass R. 2002. The law of group polarization. Journal of Political Philosophy 10:175–195.

                                                                                                                    DOI: 10.1111/1467-9760.00148Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                    In this lucid and provocative contribution, the author warns against an all-around endorsement of group deliberation in democracy. Based on empirical research indicating that deliberations among a group of like-minded citizens tend to polarize them and mixed-group deliberations can suppress marginal voices, the author argues that deliberative institutions must be designed prudently to enable a reason-based democratic process.

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