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Abstract

Public affairs magazines have expanded beyond their print editions to offer online editions with forums for readers to discuss important public issues. For magazines that cater to ideologically specific audiences, online forums could serve as forms of alternative publics for presenting diverse viewpoints and values. The conversations that emerge also hold potential for portraying characteristics of the public sphere. This study used textual analysis to examine online comments associated with 21 articles from six different U.S. public affairs magazines representing various positions on the ideological spectrum. Using Dahlberg’s (2001) six-part assessment of quality public discourse, the analysis showed that moderate magazines serving a broad readership induced a lower-quality discussion. In contrast, liberal and conservative publications, when encouraging diverse and ideologically heterogeneous perspectives, produced quality discourse. These forums showed higher levels of quality characteristics such as exchange and critique of normative positions, reflexivity, sincerity, and constructive dialogue.

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