News Coverage and Democratic Governance in Local Communities: The Case of Recreational Water Rights in Colorado
29 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2009 Last revised: 4 May 2014
Date Written: 2009
If we value governance based on democratic principles, openness, transparency, and accountability must all be present in public policy decisions. Mass Media help shape the policy agendas from which new policies emerge. Furthermore, media communication helps shape public understanding of complex issues. We expect that media should act as watchdogs of government, communicate information that citizens need to know, and hold elected officials accountable for their actions. Through this, media can help to promote the democratic values outlined above. But in the changing world of news media, does this happen?
This study analyzes the role that local media played in covering and communicating important issues related to local water rights policies in Colorado. The study uses a comparative research design involving 18 community case studies. Using interview data, document analysis, and content analysis of all media coverage within these communities related to local water rights decisions, this study finds that the principles associated with democratic ideals of a watchful press were not apparent. Additionally, previous research shows that experts were the most influential actors in initiating and advocating for these policy decisions (Crow 2009). These two factors interact to diminish democratic governance within these communities, which means that citizens do not have the information or influence that is desirable in democratic policymaking.
Keywords: water rights, public participation, news media
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