Do public media believe in the public?

by Dan Gillmor, Center for Citizen Media

I spent part of yesterday at a small conference organized by WGBH, the huge Boston-based public broadcasting operation. The topic under discussion was “open media,” which means different things to different people.

The ground rules were no blogging, which presumably meant not covering what other people said. A few thoughts, however, about what I told the group that consisted mainly of public broadcasting folks.

I gave them my usual observations — that digital media are having a profoundly democratizing impact on both production and access. I also observed that access is not the same thing as distribution; we are not talking, or shouldn’t be, about “content providers’” ability to deliver media but about other folks being able to get what they want and need. It’s a crucial distinction, and not one that I think most traditional media people, much less the cable and phone duopolists, understand.

In a world where consumers are producers, and vice versa, the traditional producers should be anxious to invite their audiences into the process. So far, with a few exceptions, they are failing to do this in any serious way.

How could today’s public media organizations be more open in this context? I offered one example, which relates to the class project we’re organizing at the University of California, Berkeley, this fall — an ambitious collection of all data we can put together about a congressional campaign near the Bay Area.

Here’s a simple way public TV and radio stations could help seed the public sphere: Every time they go to a press conference or cover an event where a public figure — politicians, celebrities, high-profile business people, etc. — is speaking, the media organization should post on the Web the entire event, not just the snippets it chooses to run as part of a news report. Moreover, the material should be posted under a Creative Commons license allowing further and wider use.

Then, public media should ask the public for the audio and video the rest of us capture of public figures, and post it all. Then work with search engines to ensure that the material gets indexed properly so we can find it. (One simple approach would be to post it on the Internet Archive.)

This would be a start on creating a collaborative public media archive, and I’m hoping at least a few stations will consider it.

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