One of the questions that began to inform my thought as I was finishing Reinventing Cinema last summer was the role of Web 2.0 technologies in reinvigorating various forms of public media. While I address some of those concerns briefly in the book, it’s an issue I hope to revisit as my research moves forward in the next few months. With that in mind, I just wanted to mention a new white paper launched by American University’s Center for Social Media and authored by Patricia Aufderheide and Jessica Clark entitled “Public Media 2.0: Dynamic, Engaged Publics,” which launched tonight.
I don’t have time for a thorough reading of the entire report, but I’d encourage anyone who is concerned with the role of public media and with creating an engaged, active, participatory public to take a look. The report, which is the culmination of four years of research and discussion, outlines not only current 2.0 practices but also offers a number of useful, practical proposals for public media institutions, policymakers, and funders alike.
On an initial read I found a number of Clark and Aufderheide’s key points quite useful. First, they highlight people’s changing media habits, noting that media use is increasingly characterized by choice, conversation, curation, creation, and collaboration. Probably not a big surpise for those of who are blogging, vlogging, and Twittering, but useful as a starting point to describe the environment to which public media must adapt. They are also careful to note that many of these practices, while emerging from a variety of experiments, often succumb to “the familiar terms of power and profit” (9), allowing at least some notes of ambivalence to correct against some of the more celebratory accounts of 2.0 culture. You only need to look at Facebook’s decision to change their Terms of Service, which now allow them to own whatever content you post there, to see how power and profit can sometimes work against the desire for engaged public spaces (although the swift condemnation of these practices shows that a critical, engaged culture persists, even as commercial platforms work against the public’s interests).
Clark and Aufderheide then discuss some of the more exciting experiments in Public Media 2.0, including The Independent Television Service’s World Without Oil alternate reality game and Barack Obama’s Change.gov, where the incoming president sought suggestions fom the public that had recently elected him to office. All of these initiatives are characterized by greater participation and by the desire to create more engaged citizens. From there, they go on to offer some potential means by which public media–including public broadcasters such as PBS and NPR–can evolve given the new media environment, pointing out that public media can contribute in two very distinct ways, though both content and coordination.
Certainly, there is no shortage of great content being produced and supported by various public media institutions, including NPR, Participant Productions, and Kartemquin Films. But no less importantis the task of coordinating all of this content (and, arguably, this is an even bigger challenge), including the need to provide “an accessible, stable, and reliable platform for public interaction,” among other practices (22). One of the functions of such a coordination effort, they argue, might also include the creation and support of more effective filtering systems for identifying “high-quality media” (22). While blogs and other informal media can serve this function on a decentralized basis, this is a useful suggestion.
For the most part, I’ve been summarizing key points from the white paper, in part because I’m still sifting through some of their major claims. But they are absolutely right in identifying this as an important moment of transition, one that offers tremendous opportunities for public media to thrive and to become a productive component of an engaged, active public.