I’m not going to try to summarize everything I went to at American Political Science Association 2013 annual meeting, nor go into details with all the great papers given by colleagues, friends, and complete strangers, but just highlight a few key take-aways for me.
Lots of laurels—
1) At the political communication pre-conference, I was very happy to see some great work done on local news, local-level political campaigns, and the interaction between the two. I’m looking forward to seeing what comes out of Frankie Clogston and Joshua Darr’s doctoral work, both gave very interesting presentations. We know much about local politics from political science, but less than we ought about local news and local political communication.
2) I found the comparative work presented by James Stanyer and others on “intimate politics”, the ways in which politicians, often initially deliberate and for strategic reasons, but in the longer run with unintended and uncontrolled consequences, seek out soft news coverage of what might conventionally be considered their “private life”.
3) And then I was reminded how deeply engaged a subset of political communication researchers are with psychology. I’m far from fluent in this area of research, but I went to some interesting presentations based on affective intelligence theory, elaboration likelihood theory, and theories of motivated reasoning working to advance our understanding of how people process political communication, form attitudes, and ultimately act (or not) politically.
But also some darts—
1) The study of information technology and politics is gradually infiltrating other areas of political science, as it should, as digital technologies increasingly become ubiquitous, domesticated, integrated into everyday life (mundane media rather than “new media”). This is a good thing. Digital media are far from everything, but they are increasingly everywhere. Now it would be nice if the latecomers to the party would read up on the research done by those, political scientists and others, who arrived early. A lot of people even today build their arguments against strawmen-type arguments from early digital utopians like Nicholas Negroponte or cite papers from the late 1990s and early 2000s as if the internet is still the same thing. (See Dave Karpf’s great piece on the problems of research in internet time.)
2) Political communication scholars based on political science departments rarely read the work of media and communications scholars. (Sigh.) They should, even though they’ll find some of the theoretical and methodological vocabulary foreign, there is much to be gained from a better understanding of how media systems are changing, how audiences engage with new media, how journalism is evolving, and how digital media rarely constitute a separate dimension but are parts of cross-media use, cross-media news coverage, and cross-media strategic communication. It is called political communication for a reason.
3) Tons of people study Twitter rather than Facebook, often because it is easier to access the data. Twitter is important, but it’s hugely problematic if we let data availability guide our overall understanding of social media in politics. It is a parallel to the tendency in journalism studies to study print media/textual news rather than broadcasting/audio-visual news, in part because it is easier. Just as we need more studies of broadcast news (also in a changing media environment where TV is increasingly intertwined with other media, but still the single most important source of news for most citizens in many countries), we need more studies of Facebook and YouTube, far more widely used than Twitter by ordinary people.