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Sustaining Democracy in a Digital Age

A Blog from New America's Media Policy Initiative

Community Media Centers Support Broadband Adoption

Published:  July 16, 2010
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Instructor Matt Landry runs a training session at CCTV in Cambridge, MA. (Photo credit:

Cambridge Community Television


By Bill Densmore and Colin Rhinesmith

In the first of our two-part recap of this month’s Alliance for Community Media conference, we observed the growing trend towards online media that’s taken hold of PEG access centers. Participants at the conference also found, though, that this media convergence is not without its risks. At the “Creating Hyperlocal Journalism in Diverse Communities” panel, Ron Cooper of Access Sacramento noted that there is a high percentage of non-users of the Internet in diverse communities in Sacramento. He believes Access Sacramento’s key to reaching them is focusing on diversity and youth culture and opening "hyperlocal news bureaus" in libraries and other spaces.

"The bus is leaving now and that's a tragedy. That's not democracy," said Cooper, pointing out that some people don’t see the incentive to learning new digital skills. “They say: 'I don't get it, why should I learn the skills or pay for it?'” Cooper told the audience that PEG access/community media centers should address the divide between those who rely on broadband access and those who have yet to appreciate its value in their lives. “We are proposing that we create stories of a neighborhood nature that would be relevant. We are training folks and providing them with the lowest-possible learning threshold for loading digital content of any kind whatsoever."

Cooper said he encountered some resistance from cable-franchise regulators who authorize the $400,000 for Access Sacramento's budget, which comes from cable TV franchise fees. What was Access Sacramento doing, he was asked, taking money from cable fees and using it to develop Internet-based services? The answer, Cooper said, is simple: The Internet services reach new audiences and the video training creates “new fresh programming that will run on the cable channels and complete the loop of why are we spending money on a website.” In short, he observed, “It creates programming for the access channels."

Navigating the New Community Media Ecosystem

All of these new opportunities for media production increasingly tie back to some of the key themes of the Knight Commission Report, “Informing Communities: Sustaining Democracy in the Digital Age.” Participants at last Friday’s Community Media and The Future of News session focused on three key recommendations of the Knight Report to help them both understand the new media terrain and determine how community media and citizen journalism projects can implement the recommendations. Themes arose during the session that described how community media centers support the Knight Commission’s report through these three roles:

  1. Digital and Media Literacy Training
  2. Bridge Builder
  3. Convening Authority

In Atlanta, Grand Rapids, Sacramento and elsewhere, PEG access services are pushing the envelope in media training. In semi-rural Gilroy, CA, the director of the PEG access center is coordinating after-school journalism workshops in the local high school. Kathy Bisbee, Executive Director of Community Media Access Partnership, says the training is a natural outgrowth of her center's effort to seek new citizen-generated programming. When her organization conducted a series of public meetings to access the information needs of Gilroy, they learned the public wanted them to focus on services, which combated a perception that the city wasn't doing enough to meet the needs of its youth.

The Community Storytree Project in Grand Rapids connects parallel but rarely intersecting communities through media and digital storytelling workshops. The Community Media Center there became a “bridge builder” by partnering with churches and other community places. The project focused on training residents to produce 5 minute video stories with youth trained to be production assistants, which engaged them in listening to stories.

The project held a screening where stories – produced from two very different neighborhoods – brought mothers together to build community connections and find common ground.  The project, funded by the state humanities council, was interested in community stories that celebrates the voice of the individual. The project organized local networks that mirrored community interests.

These examples and others discussed throughout the ACM Citizen Journalism Track pointed to the foundation that Community Media Centers provide in supporting hyperlocal journalism projects. As local communities continue to require places to make sense of community information, conference attendees described how PEG access/community media centers can play a critical role as a “convening authority” at the local level. These physical places can help ground technology changes and keep them rooted in the community. PEG Access TV centers may not have a choice.

"I'm really excited by where this is going, and I don't think we need to know exactly where it's going,” Cooper mentioned. “I think there is no alternative but to jump in and start swimming."  Gone, he observed, are assumptions that local media will automatically be antagonistic to competition. "Everything is changing,” said Cooper. “The rules are changing.”

Related ACM Conference Links



COVER IT LIVE NOTES OF THE DAY-LONG WORKSHOP BY JACKIE HAI http://www.coveritlive.com/mobile.php/option=com_mobile/task=viewaltcast/altcast_code=62bd47a02







Bill Densmore is a consulting researcher to the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the Missouri School of Journalism and director of the Media Giraffe Project at UMass Amherst. Colin Rhinesmith is Community Media and Technology Manager for Cambridge Community Televison and Affiliate with the New America Foundation’s Media Policy Initiative.

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