Thursday, December 4, 2008

How Community Media Contributes to Public Discourse, Democratic Processes and Community Building


In this class, we have read articles, scrutinized websites and explored what types community media is available to each of us in our own town. These exercises clearly demonstrate that access to public information and communication methods and systems are the foundation for a truly democratic society. Access to technology also empowers individuals with personal enrichment opportunities and educational advancement which can benefit the community at large. While all of these community media avenues are important, it is also important to recognize that technology is evolving rapidly in terms of new communication methods, and it is essential that community media outlets be supplied with the tools they need in order to keep pace with the rapidly changing media environment.

Public Discourse, Democratic Process, Community Building

The First Amendment continues to be the cornerstone for access television and other community media organizations (Boozell, Winter 2005). Unlike other forms of non-commercial media, community media in all its forms exists for the empowerment of citizens and communities. As Felicia Sullivan quoted in her article Everything Old is New Again “The rationale for public access television was that, as mandated by the Federal Communications Act of 1934, the airwaves belong to the people, that in a democratic society it is useful to multiply public participation in political discussion, and that mainstream television severely limited the range of views and opinion. Public access television, then, would open television to the public, it would make possible community participation, and thus would be in the public interest of strengthening democracy”. (museumtv)

Currently, mainstream media is overrun by media consolidation. A small number of conglomerates own the majority of media outlets and this has led to a gap in what the average person views online and on television, or hears on the radio, and what their daily lives actually consist of. Community media helps to restore the diversity and localism of media by being a vehicle for citizens to disseminate information relevant to their communities. Most for-profit media outlets exist to make money, and most of the income comes not from their audiences, but from commercial advertisers who are interested in selling products to that audience in order to generate a profit. From the perspective of who is determining the content for commercial media, this gives corporate sponsors a heavy influence over what the audience is ultimately exposed to. It makes sense that advertisers would not want to sponsor content that scrutinizes commercial media practices, and it makes sense that corporate sponsors prefer passive, happy consumers.

Advertisers are not only trolling for customers on television either. Businesses everywhere, from Target and Walmart to Ebay and Eharmony are all using the Web 2.0 environment to create “localized” content for consumers and there is concern that that these corporations will come to define community for us. However community networking is allowing new online services, ideas, resources and education to be shared without restriction, everywhere; with everyone in the world. The ability of dedicated individuals and groups to work together online is allowing the practice of online community networking to achieve good things for their real-life communities. (Odasz)

While community media is undergoing a change in its mission to reach and sustain audiences, the relationship between independent, non-commercial and commercial media is also changing. Non-commercial media is being viewed less and less as an underfunded version of commercial media. Traditionally, for a given work to be considered successful it had to reach and appeal to a mass audience. The cultural and economic success of independent media work is translating over to commercial media in terms of independent artists being viable to smaller audiences, rather than having broad appeal to a mass audience. (Blau) According to Andrew Blau, we are entering an era of enormous opportunity for media makers of every kind. A new generation of media makers and viewers is emerging; images, ideas, news and points of view will come from everywhere and travel along countless routes to be available to everyone.

The end results of community media utilizing new technologies and reinventing itself in order to better serve their respective communities is still in progress. Through open public discourse, the aim of community media to help citizens know their communities, leaders, and therefore themselves will help them to better foster a truly democratic society.

(n.d.). Retrieved from
Blau, A. (n.d.). Global Business Network. Retrieved from The Future of Indpendent Media.
Boozell, G. (Winter 2005). Determined Media: On Technomania, The First Amendment and Being Heard. The Journal of the Alliance for Community Media .
Odasz, F. (n.d.). Retrieved from What is a Community Network? And Why You Should Care!:

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