Do the new digital media enable wider participation in the public sphere?

David Brake - LSE MSc Coursework for SO 432 - New Media, Information and Knowledge Systems


This paper gives a brief overview of the ‘conventional’ digital divide (in the developing and the developed world) then examines the barriers posed by the technology skills needed to publish online and the lack of perceived relevance of the Internet to many people’s lives. It points out the difficulty alternative voices have in being heard online due to the operations of the power law. Lastly it examines the psychological benefits of self-publishing as outlined by alternative media theorists and discusses the importance of the Internet as an enabler of individual and group communication (mostly via email) rather than broadcasting. It concludes that it is through simple tools like email more than through attempts to echo or compete with mainstream media that new voices can be heard in the public sphere.

If you would like a copy of the paper please contact me. It is available for publication and it is free to read and circulate for non-commercial use - I would like to know why it interests you and would welcome comments.


Acey, M. (1999) Net Revolution? You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet TechWeb Last accessed: Feb 11, 2003  Last updated: Sep 15, 1999 Address:

Adamic, L. A. and B. A. Huberman (2000) “The Nature of Markets in the World Wide Web”, Quarterly Journal of Electronic Commerce, (1), pp. 5-12.

Atton, C. (2002) Alternative Media, Sage, London.

Barlow, J. P. (1996) Interview with John Perry Barlow interviewed by J. D. Lasica Last accessed: Jan 12 2003  Last updated: May 24, 1996 Address:

Boyd, C. (2003) Metcalfe’s Law Last accessed: Feb 11, 2003  Last updated: Feb 10, 2003 Address:

Brandt, D. (2002) Pagerank: Google’s Original Sin Last accessed: Dec 18 2002  Last updated: August 2002 Address:

Cheval, J. J. (1992) “Local Radio and Regional Languages in South-Western France” in Ethnic Minority Media : An International Perspective, (Riggins, S. H. ed.) Sage Publications, Newbury Park, Calif, p. 298 p.

Children’s Partnership (2000) “Online Content for Low-Income and Underserved Americans: The Digital Divide’s New Frontier” Children’s Partnership,

Consumers Association (2002) “Which? Online Annual Internet Survey 2002” Consumers Association London.

Downing, J. (2001) “The Seattle Imc and the Socialist Anarchist Tradition”. in Our Media, Not Theirs ICA Preconference, Washington DC, May 24, 2001, DowningTX.pdf

Duncombe, S. and A. Mattson (1996) “The March of Radio: Technology and Utopia”. in Primary Documents, 5).

Gillmor, D. (2003) “Here Comes “We Media””. in Columbia Journalism Review, Jan/Feb 2003.

Green, R. (2003) Activism Links Open Directory Project, Last accessed: Feb 12, 2003  Last updated: 7 Jan, 2003 Address:

Haase, A. Q., B. Wellman, J. Witte and K. Hampton (2002) “Capitalizing on the Internet: Network Capital, Participatory Capital, and Sense of Community” in The Internet in Everyday Life, (Haythornthwaite, C. and B. Wellman eds) Blackwell, Oxford, pp. 291-324.

Habermas, J. (1964) “The Public Sphere: An Encyclopedia Article”, New German Critique, 1 (3), pp. 49-55.

Habermas, J. (1987) The Theory of Communicative Action a Critique of Functionalist Reason, (3rd corrected) Beacon : Cambridge : Polity., Boston.

Habermas, J., T. Burger and F. Lawrence (1992) The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere : An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society, Polity, Cambridge.

Halleck, D. (2002) “Gathering Storm: The Open Cyber Forum of Indymedia”. in Our Media pre-conference of International Association for Media and Communication Research, Barcelona, Spain,July 20, 2002,

Hauben, M. and R. Hauben (1997) Netizens : On the History and Impact of Usenet and the Internet, IEEE Computer Society Press, Los Alamitos, Calif.

Hurst, M. (2003) Interview: Rick Robinson, Vp of Community Products, Aol Last accessed: Jan 12 2003  Last updated: December 11, 2002 Address:

Jenkins, H. (1997) Contacting the Past: Early Radio and the Digital Revolution Last accessed: Feb 9, 2003  Last updated: December 3, 1997 Address:

Jensen, M. (2002) The African Internet - a Status Report Last accessed: 10 Jan 2003  Last updated: July 2002 Address:

Lasica, J. D. (2002) Blogging as a Form of Journalism Last accessed: Feb 9  Last updated: 29 April 2002 Address:

Lewis, P. M. (1978) Community Television and Cable in Britain, British Film Institute, London.

Lycos (2003) Tripod Lycos Last accessed: Jan 12 2003  Last updated: Unknown Address: (see “Site Builder”).

Meikle, G. (2002a) Future Active: Media Activism and the Internet, Routledge, New York, London.

Meikle, G. (2002b) “Open Publishing, Open Technologies” in Future Active: Media Activism and the Internet, (Wark, M. ed.) Routledge, New York, London, pp. pp.88-112.

Negroponte, N. (1995) Being Digital, Vintage Books, New York.

Norris, P. (2001) Digital Divide : Civic Engagement, Information Poverty, and the Internet Worldwide, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Oftel (2003) “Key Trends in Fixed and Mobile Telephony, and Internet - Residential Consumers” Oftel London.

O’Sullivan-Ryan, J., M. Kaplun and Unesco. (1979) Communication Methods to Promote Grass-Roots Participation : A Summary of Research Findings from Latin America, and an Annotated Bibliography, Unesco, [Paris].

Peters, J. D. (1993) “Distrust of Representation: Habermas on the Public Sphere”, Media, Culture and Society, 15 (4), pp. pp. 541 - 572.

Reed, D. P. (2003) That Sneaky Exponential—Beyond Metcalfe’s Law to the Power of Community Building Last accessed: Feb 11, 2003  Last updated: Address:

Rheingold, H. (2002) “Smart Mobs and the Power of the Mobile Many” in Smart Mobs: The Next Social RevolutionPerseus Publishing, Cambridge, MA.

Rodríguez, C. (2001) Fissures in the Mediascape : An International Study of Citizens’ Media, Hampton Press, Cresskill, N.J.

Shirky, C. (2003) Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality Last accessed: Feb 13, 2003  Last updated: Feb 10, 2003 Address:

Sullivan, A. (2002) A Blogger Manifesto Last accessed: Feb 9  Last updated: February 24, 2002 Address:

The UCLA Center for Communication Policy (2003) “The UCLA Internet Report: Surveying the Digital Future” UCLA Center for Communication Policy LA.

Unesco (1984) Media for People in Cities : A Study of Community Media in the Urban Context, United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization, Paris.

Vittet-Philippe, P., European Institute for the Media. and European Centre for Political Studies. (1985) Local Radio and Regional Development in Europe, European Institute for the Media in association with the European Centre for Political Studies, Manchester.

Wizman (2003) Build Your Own Wap Site Wizman Last accessed: Jan 12 2003  Last updated: Unknown Address: