Public Sphere

In London, over this past weekend, there was a great instance of people being involved in politics. Over half a million people marched to show their support for a second referendum about Brexit. In the US there are plans in place for massive demonstrations if the investigation looking at Russia’s role in the recent presidential election is shut down. Switzerland has a culture and system which makes it easy for citizens to get involved in politics.

These are great examples of people engaging in political issues. But these are people who have already come to a conclusion about their beliefs. But how are these opinions formed?

Our opinions are free. We can hold them, spread them and defend them without having to pay. But when we go out and buy a new phone when we are going to spend a lot of money, we read reviews, watch videos and we talk to our friends about their mobiles. Then after using it for a while, we post our own review. We take part in a public discussion about it and don’t care if the person leaving a five-star review on Amazon is a banker or a shop assistant. We just learn from them about their own experience. Everyone wants to get the best phone they can, and everyone is encouraged to take part in the conversation.

Habermas and the public sphere

This is a public sphere, but one concerned with consumption rather than politics. Jurgen Habermas, who came up with the idea, thought that the true public sphere, devoted to the discussion and to argument about current events and the direction of a country, only existed briefly.

The media was changed from something that spread awareness of political events into a tool for advertisers and marketers. When you see the constant pop-ups, banner ads and other annoyances, or probably not since we are all installing ad blockers these days, you can understand why Habermas thought that the media had become a medium for adverts. Media companies came to rely on adverts to support themselves. They had to get those glossy commercials in front of as many eyes as possible to win.

As I talked about in an earlier blog post, this business model encourages outlets to come up with content which will get clicks rather than reporting which people need. Mogul News will create a true public sphere, though not one confined to a physical location like the coffee shops of Habermas’s earlier example of a public sphere. By being open to everyone, through subscriptions and intellectual mining, by allowing passionate individuals and industry experts a platform to share their views and by giving you all sides of the story Mogul News will be a place where views and opinions can be shared.

The future of journalism and technology

Technology can do wonderful things. It can open us up to new information and experiences. But we use new technology to keep ourselves in cosy bubbles where we do not hear a disagreeable opinion. These may be echo chambers, where insiders do not trust people from outside the group, but more often than not we create epistemic bubbles for ourselves. These are places where we don’t even get to hear opposing viewpoints. Facebook, with friends that share the same political values as you, can easily become this type of place. When a distant cousin might post something political we disagree with we quickly dismiss it, not trusting their news. Or it will not show up in your timelines as the Facebook algorithm knows we are not going to engage with it so why bother?

It is important that we hear these opposing voices. The world cannot operate in separate bubbles forever. The vitriol between supporters of divisive political issues is the result. It is a split society. But just as developments in the 18th and 19th centuries created a brief flourishing a public sphere, where ideas are exchanged freely and fairly, so can recent technology bring about a new and longer lasting instance.

Giving journalism back to the public

News has become fragmented along political and geographic lines. You know what a Guardian columnist’s take on an issue will be the same as for a The Times writer. People who only read one paper or the other limits themselves in the understanding of the world they can have. This kind of bias is inherent in any kind of writing. Mogul News will present all sides of the story, regardless of the slant writers take. Mogul News only cares about how accurate the facts are that people use to back it up.

I’m really excited about it and I hope you are too.

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