Participatory media studies and PEG access TV

by Colin Rhinesmith, Community Media in Transition

I'm starting to believe - but I hope it’s not true - that the lack of widespread research in Public, Educational and Government (PEG) Access Television studies may have profound consequences for media scholars seeking to understand participatory culture.

Not only is there a huge misunderstanding about the differences between public access television and video sharing sites such as YouTube, but as a student of media studies I find the shortage of community television research particularly troubling when reading articles such as David Croteau’s 2006 article, entitled “The Growth of Self-Produced Media Content and the Challenge to Media Studies,” as an example.

In the article, Croteau writes that the growth of self-produced media content correlates with (1) an increase in “affordable digital equipment” and the young people growing up with them, (2) an increase in “broadband presence” to “facilitate the distribution of data-heavy files,” and (3) a rise in “specialty websites and services” to aid in the “distribution and promotion of self-produced media content” (341).

While the author recognizes that self-produced media has “long existed in many forms,” such as with community media and other independent forms, Croteau states that what makes participatory media different from previous media is the way in which the Internet enables locally produced content to be distributed to “far-flung” audiences (341).

As a result, the author writes that both the fragmentation and proliferation of self-produced media content have created challenges for media scholars previously focused on areas such as the concentration of media ownership and its impact on large consumer audiences.

Therefore, Croteau proposes that media scholars need to develop new methodologies for assessing “content trends across these new production platforms” in order to better study the “volume” of self-produced media content (343). The purpose, he writes

could provide a unique glipmse into an increasingly diverse society and an interconnected world. It could suggest new models for traditional media to adopt to facilitate civic engagement and participation. It could reveal a refreshingly broad range of self-expression and creativity, indepedent of market imperatives. (344)

I chose to highlight David Croteau’s article not because I disagree with the statements mentioned above. I respect his work as a media scholar in general and specifically in his works Media/Society: Industries, Images, and Audiences and Business of Corporate Media. However, the article represents the disconnect between studies in community media and media studies more broadly - i.e., media scholars often seem to gloss over community media research contributions to the field of media studies.

Community Media Research and the Field of Media Studies

Previous studies in community media can provide a helpful starting point for scholars interested in studying what Croteau calls “self-produced media content” in the following ways:

1.) By studying the community media center as a communication site media scholars can help articulate the restoration of meaning to places that have become increasingly diminished by networked individualism.

2.) PEG Access Television distributed on the web provides researchers with the opportunity to explore the connections between user-centric and community-centric media content through viewing public access media alongside civic offerings such as school district meetings and local government proceedings online.

3.) The process of community television can be studied as a theoretical framework for those interested in investigating how individuals “move outward from the self, to others, and to society–including government and other institutions and organizations” (Higgins, 632) through their participation in self-produced media content.

4.) Community media studies contribute historical context for exploring the role of mass media in shaping public opinion about self-produced media content and its impact on those who view and produce such media.

For these reasons and more, I am concerned that media scholars may be left with the challenge of remaining “vibrant and relevant” (Croteau, 344) in a culture increasingly populated by self-produced media content unless community media research is considered more seriously within the field of media studies.

References:

Croteau, D. (2006). The Growth of Self-Produced Media Content and the Challenge to Media Studies. Critical Studies in Media Communication, (23)4, 340-344.

Higgins, J.W. (1999). Community Television and the Vision of Media Literacy, Social Action and Empowerment. Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, 43(4) 625-644.

article originally published at http://cmediachange.net/blog/2008/02/09/participatory-media-studies-and-peg-acce....

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey