As the scholars Ellen P. Goodman and Anne Chen have recently written, the modern media environment requires us to consider public media as having four layers: “infrastructure, creation, curation, and connection,” which produce content that will be distributed across “newly reconfigured public media networks.” These ideas are still nascent, but the core concept is that we have to let go of the idea that public media is solely the responsibility of a small number of broadcast entities. We need to fund entities that support each of these “four layers.”
What might this look like? Imagine a multiplatform public media that combined the production quality of PBS’s “American Experience, the reporting quality of NPR’s Morning Edition, the content curation of Wikipedia—and the level of community engagement that exist for some public access cable television channels and low power FM radio.
In some communities there is already institutional movement in this direction, ready to be supported with more funding. Public Access cable (PEG) television channels, funded almost exclusively out of franchise fees levied by local or state governments for access to public rights of way, are expanding beyond their traditional cable programming to include other media platforms such as radio. In Davis, CA, the PEG station Davis Media Access also houses the local low power radio station KDRT, which offers locally produced musical, cultural, educational, and public affairs programming. Media Bridges, the PEG channel in Cincinnati, OH, operates a low power radio station, WVQC, that features local artists and musicians. Imagine if these entities were funded to partner with the local public radio and television stations. You would have the reach of public television and radio with the local content and grassroots engagement of community media.
Similarly, what if meaningful resources could be brought to entities like the Triangle Wiki in North Carolina or the Davis wiki in California, helping to embed these online platforms and the critical community information they provide more deeply into the media fabric?
There are many other examples around the country, such as Access Humboldt, a community access station that is exploring provision of broadband connectivity through its Digital Redwoods project in the far north of remote Northern California; or the Grand Rapids Community Media Center, which has a local radio station, two public access channels, and a theatre. If we added to this media platform the incisive reporting, delivered by journalists hired by the media center and based locally, we would have the type of locally-oriented programming and civic engagement envisioned by Congress back in 1927, when it attempted to create a communications framework to benefit the public interest.
And if the obstinacy of the NAB to accept minimal transparency rules is what drives us there, then perhaps we should be grateful.
For more on these ideas, read the full paper from the New America Foundation.