A new book edited by Hanna Harris with Suvi Kukkonen, Olli-Matti Nykänen and Jenni Tuovinen, of the Finnish Institute in London, considers the role of community media today. It includes a Q&A with me, pasted in text below:
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1. What do you understand by community media? How and by whom is it produced?
I employ a very generous definition of community media. My minimal condition is that it should involve the creation of media artefacts that make a difference to how people conduct their lives in a way that transcends leisure or entertainment. If we begin here, then we need not start of with a division that is about professionalism, economics or even ideology. Indeed, each of these dimensions have become more complicated in the last five years. as social media and digital technology have changed what it means to be do media production. This minimal condition also means that we can start off by deriving common ground for collaboration between different types of media producer and perhaps re-think the role of media in society.
2. Why is community media needed? What does it bring to local cultures, communities and places?
There are two primary reasons for why community media is necessary. The first is that it emerges out of a lack in other forms of media production, which are perceived to fail in their social responsibilities to communicate information, or because they are governed by a political agenda that undermines the value of their content. However, I think the more persuasive reason for why community media is necessary is that the production of media artefacts creates communities. The desire to share opinions and knowledge is a powerful motivation that explains why community media exists. It's an integral part of how we define citizenship, freedom of speech and what it is to be human.
3. What are the future platforms and practices of community media?
Future media has promised to change community media for quite some time. In the 1990s, Web 1.0 gave rise to new media producers and brought waves of debate about convergence between media forms. In the 2000s, Web 2.0 brought about a collapse of the consumer and producer. People could now create and share media content in a previously unimaginable way. Each of these shifts did not completely alter the way in which community media operated, but it empowered many people to do more than was possible to achieve previously. The media of the 2010s is defined by mobility and practices of community media are shifting towards delivering content for people on the move, in miniature, and even in 3D. At the same time, media artists are working with scientists to develop biomedia technology, a way of integrating media within our biology using biochips. These innovations will change all media experiences and may completely reconfigure the relationship between community media and global media organizations.
4. What actions should be taken now?
While the expansion of media technology has narrowed the digital divide, there remains a growing digital literacy divide that community media organizations can help to address. At the same time, we now operate within an attention economy where the biggest challenge for media outlets is the short window of opportunity through which to capture peoples interests. It is said that the average life of any social media artefact is 3hrs, after which it is highly unlikely to trend or capture much interest. In part, this has changed the role of community media organizations where an increasingly important part of their job is to curate the media output of community members, rather than provide a media production service for a community. We need to help people do that better.