Future of Public Media

I’ve been in several conversations about the future of public media. Rebecca MacKinnon attended one that I missed last week at American University. I’m heartned by the fact that the organizers brought together new media stalwarts like Rebecca with public media leading innovators like David Liroff of WGBH and Jake Shapiro of the Public Radio Exchange to address the question, “How can public media remain relevant in the age of Web2.0? (She’s more optimistic than I am.)

Public broadcasters in the United States are struggling to remain relevant at a time when public discourse is increasingly taking place in the blogosphere: online grassroots citizens media that has little to do with the NPR/PBS model.

Liroff talked about generational differences in media consumption and the challenge this poses. Many young people are engaging in some sort of “public discourse? online all the time. So, “if young people are connected 24/7 to global consciousness what is the role for public media??

I came away convinced that the best role for public media is to find ways to fill the gaps left empty by commercial and grassroots media. What kinds of journalism simply isn’t profitable for the likes of CNN and even the New York Times to pursue well? What kinds of investigations are not possible for bloggers with other day jobs to pursue effectively? Whose voices aren’t being heard in the media (public, private, or grassroots) right now and why? How can we find them and help them be heard? Who isn’t talking online, why not, and how can we help them do so when it makes sense? And when it doesn’t make sense or isn’t feasible, how do you bridge offline conversations with online conversations? To be relevant in this new media age, public media need to think beyond the immediate management priorities of their stations to the larger purpose of civic discourse. How do we best serve that discourse? How do we help public media organizations around the country engage with the rich and multifaceted public discourse happening across the internet, rather than try to compete with it for eyeballs, ears, clicks and downloads?…

Public media organizations must help to shape a legal and regulatory environment that enables all citizens to innovate, create and speak freely – and stand a chance of reaching larger audeinces if their work merits, whether or not their work has commercial backing or value. Otherwise, how can we have a truly democratic public discourse?


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