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Sustaining Democracy in a Digital Age

A Blog from New America's Media Policy Initiative

Where’s MPI?: Media Policy Initiative Week in Review

Published:  October 1, 2010
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Logo for The Knight Commission Report on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy.

Plenty going on this week.

On Sept. 29, Fellow Jessica Clark published a blog post on behalf of American University’s Center for Social Media, “Making the Case for Public Media at the RIPE Conference.” The RIPE conference (Re-visionary Interpretations of the Public Enterprise) in London early last month was the site of a discussion on the role of public media, specifically public service broadcasters (PSBs), in the digital age. 

Ideas expressed at the conference included the evolution of public media from being the only source of news, and therefore a method of “social control,” to being just one source among many (Robert Picard), as well as the need expressed by Sarah Hunter to reframe the debate in terms of public media’s qualities (“free, publicly funded, and universally available”) and not in terms of institutions.

Clark’s presentation, “Public Media 2.0: Emerging Models for Participatory Journalism,” drew on research being conducted at the Center and put forth a new opportunity for public media to form key partnerships for content creation and distribution; that is, collaboration is one of the most important approaches for public media to take if they are to succeed. This kind of engagement with the community and community news outlets is an element of The Knight Commission Report on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy and is what we’re seeing in successful media in MPI’s case studies: Scranton, Seattle, the District of Columbia, Minneapolis-St. Paul and the Research Triangle, North Carolina.

The front page of Duke Today linked to UNC Journalism Prof. Andy Bechtel’s Q&A with MPI’s Fiona Morgan, which primarily covered the release of Morgan’s MPI case study on the Research Triangle, North Carolina. Morgan characterized the case study approach in the following way:

“A lot of discussion about media policy tends to focus on specific policy questions: What should the Federal Communications Commission do about white spaces in the broadcast spectrum? What I really like about MPI’s approach was the idea of looking at all the policies – federal, state, and local – that affect a specific community and examining how they function of a piece.”

It is also important to note that Morgan approached this project as a journalist would, relying on publicly available data but primarily on interviews and on-the-ground reporting.

And as a journalist who is extremely familiar with the Triangle media ecosystem, even Morgan was surprised about some of her results. For example, she told Bechtel she was surprised to discover that “print newspapers, particularly those that target small communities, are holding steady in terms of circulation. In fact, there are two print startups, the Carrboro Citizen and the Garner Citizen (no relation, as they say), that seem to be expanding while producing strong local journalism.”

In addition, the lack of cultural or racial diversity in new media outlets “disappointed” her, considering the strong tradition of diversity that can best be seen in the strong African-American community of Durham, NC. However, this is only the Version 1 of this case study, and we expect to get input from the public. As Morgan concluded on the issue of diversity in Triangle media, “That’s a case where I hope I missed something.”

Some other quick MPI mentions:

New America has filed comments to the FCC on “improving international comparisons required by the Broadband Data Improvement Act” (IB Docket No. 10-171). These comments were compiled by MPI Fellows Tom Glaisyer, Prof. Phil Napoli, as well as Ben Lennett and Ian Forbes of the Open Technology Initiative.

Glaisyer also contributed to an article published on Foreign Policy’s website last week, Katherine Brown’s Warlord TV, on the state of networks in Afghanistan.

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