Celebrity as Currency in Digital Democracies

By: Michael Hofmann  

This study analyzes how since October 5, 2017 the New York Times has expanded its ability to influence the public agenda, first demonstrated by McCombs and Shaw in 1972, to "Agenda Setting in a 2.0 World" (Johnson 2013). It did so by exposing the Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein as a sexual predator and then co-opting the #MeToo social media campaign once victimized celebrities had turned it into an attention magnet. In comparison, the Times's investigative report by Pulitzer Prize winner Farah Stockman from October 15, 2017 about Shannon Mulcahy, a skilled blue collar worker who had survived rape by her step-father as well as domestic violence, and whose identity-providing job was outsourced to Mexico, failed to develop sufficient currency in the algorithmic structure of the multimedia marketplace. This research paper also asks whether the June 2017 termination of the Times's "Public Editor" and her substitution with a "Reader Center" editor facilitated the third-week delay of Stockman's report on the December 7 "town hall" meeting about the future of blue collar workers like Mulcahy. Such a privileging of consumer choice over citizenship would violate the tenets of deliberative democracy from James Madison's original concept to Juergen Habermas's interpretation in the context of his public sphere paradigm. It will be argued that attempts to match Trump's TV celebrity in the 2020 Presidential election with celebrity campaigns of one's own, will only further erode the remnants of a Habermasian rational-critical discourse among the electorate.

2019 Special Focus: The Future of Democracy in the Digital Age
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Dr. Michael Hofmann

Florida Atlantic University, United States
Florida, United States

Educated at the Free University of Berlin in Communication, Sociology, and American Studies (M.A. "With Distinction" / Ph.D. "summa cum laude"), I have worked in public broadcasting, media research organizations, and universities. I joined Florida Atlantic University in the planning stage of its Public Intellectuals Ph.D. program in the Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters and introduced Habermas's Public Sphere Theory into its curriculum. Currently, I am the curriculum coordinator for the Multimedia Studies: Multimedia Journalism program in FAU's School of Communication and Multimedia Studies. I have published in the fields of communication and media theory, public and commercial broadcasting research, and international media and journalism studies. My latest single-authored book "Habermas's Public Sphere: A Critique" was co-published in May 2017 by Rowman & Littlefield / Fairleigh Dickinson University Press (286 pages). It is distributed by Rowman & Littlefield ( / 800-462-6420). Review copies can be received by contacting My latest journal article titled "Habermas's Public Sphere versus Trump's Twittersphere: Citizenship in a World of Social Media" was published online in September 2018 in the Journal of Communication and Media Studies 3 (4): 1-19 by Common Ground Research Networks..