The Democratic Promise of Microblogging: An Analysis of Microblog Posts and Newspaper Reports About the July 23 Wenzhou Train Crash in China

Publication Date


Type of Culminating Activity


Degree Title

Master of Arts in Communication



Major Advisor

Julie Lane


Through a case study of the extent to which newspapers covered microbloggers’ reactions to the July 23 Wenzhou train crash, this thesis examines whether microblogging can potentially force the Chinese government to grant its citizens greater freedom of expression. Given that the government controls the content of traditional media, what it allows newspapers to report reflects its current attitudes and the degree of freedom it extends to the public. Thus, this paper examines whether newspapers responded to what was happening on microblogs. The study uses agenda-setting theory to identify the collective agendas of both the newspapers and the online sources. The research suggests that microblogs are more likely than newspapers to express their opinions on controversial issues. It also reveals that newspapers mentioned microblogs in their reports on the train crash, indicating that the government allowed them to respond to public opinion. An in-depth analysis of newspaper reports about microblogs shows that newspapers used them as sources of information, acknowledged their active roles, and paid attention to the issues they found most relevant.

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