Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Opinionator: A blog at the New York Times by Tobin Harshaw & Chris Suellenthorp

The real digital divide: Information inequality of the voluntary sort, not involuntary income inequality, is “[t]he new fault line of civic involvement,” says Princeton professor of politics and public affairs Markus Prior. The author of “Post-Broadcast Democracy: How Media Choice Increases Inequality in Political Involvement and Polarizes Elections,” Prior writes on the op-ed page of The Washington Post:

The new fault line of civic involvement is between news junkies and entertainment fans. Entertainment fans are abandoning news and politics not because it has become harder to be involved but because they have decided to devote their time to content that promises greater immediate gratification. As a result, they learn less about politics and are less likely to vote at a time when news junkies are becoming even more engaged. Unlike most forms of inequality, this rising divergence in political involvement is a result of voluntary consumption decisions. Making sure everybody has access to media won’t fix the problem — it is exactly the cause.

“Decades into the ‘information age,’ the public is as uninformed as before the rise of cable television and the Internet,” Prior writes. He adds, “Unfortunately for a political system that benefits from an informed citizenry, few people really like the news.”

Even though there are fewer readers and viewers of news than ever, aggregate news consumption hasn’t decreased, Prior says, because of the rise of the “news junkie.” (That’s you, Opinionator readers.) Prior explains:

A relatively small segment of the population — my own research indicates it’s less than a fifth — specializes in news content. But such people consume so much of it that the total amount of time Americans spend watching, reading and listening to news has not declined even though many people have tuned out.