The study intended to test the ability of the so called network media to provide space for the formation of publics or public opinion. The study did not intend a comprehensive overview of this subject, rather the aim of the study was a partial snapshot of the processes of change caused by new media technologies and the resulting transformations of the public sphere.
First, the framework of analysis was developed by reference to theory and sociological developments. Subsequently the empirical data was analyzed according to the framework.
The empirical part contains a comparative content analysis of network media and opinion leading print media, conducted during the 2009 federal elections.
The sample of network media was provided by the social media aggregation platform Buergerinfo09.de and consisted of Blogs und and Tweets aggregated there. The sample of opinion leading print media consisted of issues of the following publications available during the sample period: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Frankfurter Rundschau, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Die Welt, Neues Deutschland, die tageszeitung, BILD, Die Zeit, Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, Welt am Sonntag, BILD am Sonntag, Der Spiegel, Focus, Stern.
The main research question was: Which type of information relevant to the elections is provided in which media and how?
The content analysis was supplemented by a non-representative user survey on Buergerinfo09.de, which aimed to gauge the users´ media use, usage preferences and attitudes towards traditional and network media.
• The issue agenda in the analyzed network media did not differ substantially from the agenda of the analyzed print media.
• Only the respective issue frequency differed in both media types.
• The network media´s agenda was partly defined by the print media agenda.
• In comparison to the print media, the network media offered less fact based information and more opinion based information.
The results of the study imply a functional differentiation of traditional mass media and network media. Traditional mass media still remain important information providers, whereas network media seem to provide space for the process of opinion formation.
The spread of internet based communication has evoked hopes for a more egalitarian and democratic media landscape. New information and communication technologies have enabled or directly caused change in the social, economic and political spheres. Systems of traditional mass media are changing towards systems dominated by network media.
This directly concerns the public sphere, irrespective of how it is theoretically conceived. The public sphere is currently undergoing a structural transformation: in a system of network media the communicative autonomy of the individual seems to be strengthened vis-à-vis traditional mass media and formerly dominant communicative actors.
Buergerinfo09.de is an online platform which aggregates communication though social and traditional media, by political actors, citizens and journalists; especially blogs of different political backgrounds and Twitter tweets regarding the leading politicians of all six major parties.
The content analysis included the following communication aggregated on Buerrgerinfo09.de: Blog posts about issues relevant to the federal election, parties and leading politicians as well as tweets about Angela Merkel, Horst Seehofer, Guido Westerwelle, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Gregor Gysi and Jürgen Trittin. A representative sample was analyzed and compared to the sample of national opinion leading print media.