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Research on Civic Organizations and Youth Activism from Associate Chris Wells

Center for Communication and Democracy Associate Chris Wells, Assistant Professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at UW-Madison, has research on digital communication and youth activism in the leading communication journal New Media and Society.

Wells, C. (2014). Two eras of civic information and the evolving relationship between civil society organizations and young citizens. New Media and Society, 16(4), 615-636. doi: 10.1177/1461444813487962

ABSTRACT: This article explores the communicative relationship between civic organizations and young citizens as a clue to understanding the potential for youth re-engagement through digital communication. It develops a framework of two ‘civic information styles’ that contrasts the expectations of information in the mass media era with those emerging today, and proposes that one source of contemporary disconnect may be that many civic groups remain entrenched in a mass media information paradigm—and so fail to communicate in ways that resonate with young people. Existing literature suggests that recently created, online organizations will be most likely to embrace a newer, more youth-friendly communication style; those organizations working within the formal political realm may be most reticent. A study of 60 organizations’ communications through Facebook mainly confirms these expectations, but low levels of youth-friendly communications across the sample raise doubts about the likelihood of a civil society resurgence through social media.


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