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Public engagement in local government: the voice and influence of citizens in online communicative spaces

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The communications and engagement strategies of local councils play an important role in contributing to the public's understanding of local democracies, and their engagement with local issues. Based on a study of the local authority in the third largest city in the UK, Leeds, this article presents an empirically based analysis of the impact of new opportunities for public engagement afforded by digital media on the Council's communication with citizens. Drawing on over 20 face-to-face semi-structured interviews with elected politicians, Council strategists, Council communications specialists, mainstream journalists, and citizen journalists, the article explores perceptions of the Council's engagement and communication with citizens from the perspective of a range of actors involved in the engagement process. The research asks what the differing motivations behind the Council's communications and engagement strategies mean for the way that digital media are and might be used in the future to enhance the role of citizens in local governance. The research suggests that while there are no grounds for expecting digital media to displace existing channels of public engagement, digital media are beginning to play an important role in defining and reconfiguring the role of citizens within local governance.
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Keywords: digital divide; journalism; news; politics; social media

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: School of Media and Communication, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK

Publication date: June 3, 2015

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