Clark Kent Has A New Boss

This post is a follow up to the previous post, and the first in what I hope will be a series of blogs investigating the future of political communications (the topic of my ongoing undergrad thesis).

Investigative reporting can be thought of as a public good that is undervalued by most individuals, in that most people don’t recognize the value of investigative reporting to their well being. Under the previous price regime, the supply of the public good was below the socially optimal level as a result of the high cost of information gathering by journalists and the high cost of distributing information. The result was local monopolies (newspapers, radio stations, network TV) on information gathering and distribution that supplied the surplus profits to pay for the public good.

Clark Kent Has New Boss

He Works for Pro Publica Now

Online, the economy of information functions much differently and we shouldn’t fear a new constellation of political communication. Fewer firms can produce more investigative reporting, as the price of gathering and distributing information diminish signifigantly. Local monopolies fall on the basis of diminished profits, but the level of provision of the public good actually increases as a result of increased productivity and lower barriers to entry. A citizen in Cincinnati is better off using Craigslist and relying on ProPublica to investigate public officials than it would be to pay for their local paper to maintain a DC branch, or simply pass along AP reporting.

Whether or not that citizen becomes aware of the information produced by Propublica’s investigations is a seperate, but not unrelated question that has serious implications for the future of political communication. On this front, I think the internet poses a more serious challenge to current forms of democratic practice. However, as I mentioned in a previous post on partisanship and media organization, informational cocoons entail some trade-off between deliberation and participation. Perhaps our John Doe from Cincinnati doesn’t encounter the political news as a result of his no longer buying the local paper; his neighber Jane Doe down the street is able to participate in lots of new ways using online technology and is more likely to participate as a result.

This points to an interesting and underresearched empirical question: does selective exposure to political news increase or decrease political knowledge by the median voter.

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