A New Vision for Public Media. Open, Dynamic, and Participatory

Jessica Clark and Patricia Aufderheide

Public broadcasting, newspapers, magazines, and network newscasts have played a central role in our democracy, informing citizens and guiding public conversation. Now an open, many-to-many networked media environment is supplanting the top-down dissemination technologies that supported them. What platforms, standards, and practices will replace or transform legacy public media?

Answers are already emerging out of a series of media experiments taking place across legacy and citizen media, which we examined in depth in Public Media 2.0: Dynamic, Engaged Publics—a Ford Foundation-funded white paper released in February 2009 at the Public Media conference in Atlanta.1 After taking a hard look at this “first two minutes” of public media experimentation, we concluded that the first and crucial step, for media providers with public purpose, is to embrace the participatory—the feature that has been most disruptive of current media models.

Since then, we have continued our research into participatory public media 2.0 experiments—via the September 2009 report Scan and Analysis of Best Practices in Digital Journalism In and Outside U.S. Public Broadcasting, a series of in-depth case studies, and our Public Media 2.0 Showcase.2 In each case, our analysis relies on an analytical reframing of the term “public media,” outlined in a later section, which asserts that the core mission of public media projects is to support the formation of publics around contested issues.

This article was originally excerpted from the white paper Public Media 2.0: Dynamic, Engaged Publics, published by American University’s Center for Social Media in February 2009 (www .futureofpublicmedia.net). A version of this excerpt was published by The American Prospect on April 30, 2009, http://www.prospect.org/cs/articles?article=will_public_media_survive.

This reframing of public media has proven influential. The white paper has informed current high-level thinking among funders, journalistic organizations, and public broadcasters about next steps for public media and solutions for the journalism crisis. The Knight Commission report, Informing Communities: Sustaining Democracy in the Digital Age, quotes the white paper liberally and builds on a number of its core concepts to assert that public engagement is crucial to transforming the sector.3 The report was cited in the Federal Communications Commission’s National Broadband Plan4 alongside citations of comments submitted by Rutgers University Professor of Law Ellen Goodman, who drew on the public media 2.0 framework to argue for rewriting the Public Broadcasting Act.5 Clark also recently participated as a respondent during the drafting process of three other major research efforts: (1) the Station Resource Group’s Grow the Audience project;6 (2) The Reconstruction of American Journalism, the widely discussed 2009 report by Michael Schudson and Leonard Downie Jr.;7 and (3) The Big Thaw: Charting a New Future for Journalism, commissioned by The Media Consortium.8 Harvard policy scholar Yochai Benkler, author of The Wealth of Networks, wrote in The American Prospect’s TAPPED blog that “Jessica Clark and Pat Aufderheide have written the best current analysis of how we can pursue the core values underlying support for public media in the new, networked environment.”9

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