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Communications and Media

Tomorrow's Public Media Will Be Bigger, Better, Different

By Maggie Barrett

Human rights activists in Kenya create a program that enables victims in regions of conflict to document and share their harrowing experiences through text messaging. A year later, the same program is used to document violence in Gaza. It's a perfect example of what a new, in-depth report from American University's Center for Social Media calls "public media 2.0"media created by the public, for the public.

On Tuesday, February 17, the report, Public Media 2.0: Dynamic, Engaged Publics, will be available online at  The report, based on four years of research, argues that multi-platform, participatory media will be central to democratic life in the years ahead. It also suggests that public broadcasting could play a central role if the medium is properly restructured and supported.

"The people formerly known as the audience have reorganized themselves into networks," said Jessica Clark, director of the center's Future of Public Media Project. "That throws open the doors for what public media can be."  

Clark coauthored the report with Pat Aufderheide, director of the Center for Social Media and professor at AU's School of Communication, which houses the center. The report offers a glimpse of tomorrow by showing how experiments in public media 2.0 are emerging across sites and sectors—from political debates on Wikipedia, to environmental discussions in Second Life, to community-based media shared via mobile phones.

"Tomorrow's public media will be media made by, for, and with the public, but it won't happen by accident," said Aufderheide. "This report provides a map of opportunities and ways to make the most of them."

Some key concepts about public media 2.0 include:

  • It will be crucial to an open, democratic society
  • The core function is to generate publics around social issues
  • It needs widely-shared standards and practices
  • Impact measurements are crucial
  • Public broadcasting could act as a national network, but only with restructuring
  • Public media 2.0 will need broad public mobilization for federal support

The report builds upon research by the center's staff and fellows and is supported by the Ford Foundation's Global Perspectives in a Digital Age initiative, the goal of which is to transform public service media.

Clark will present related research at the Public Media conference in Atlanta and the We Media conference in Miami on February 17 and February 24, respectively. Public Media 2.0: Dynamic, Engaged Publics will serve as the basis for a series of online and offline conversations during the coming months.