Community Media Scan

What's Going On in Community Media cover

The media revolution promised for the past 40 years has arrived -- again. Four decades ago, the dominance of a handful of television broadcast networks was shattered by the emergence of satellite-linked cable television. In the 1990s, the Internet sent text and data flowing around the world. Now, a decade later, photos, audio, and video are becoming as easily transmitted as text. The era of personal electronic communication and broadband networks is at hand, and every aspect of our media culture is undergoing change.

As might be expected, these technological shifts are prompting economic and political shifts and, with them, fundamental shifts in the nature of audiences and programming itself. In such a fragmented media world, is there an electronic place where people can convene as citizens? Can the new media create a public square where people can be heard - and hear each other?

What's Going On in Community Media shines a spotlight on media practices that increase citizen participation in media production, governance, and policy. The report summarizes the findings of a nationwide scan of effective and emerging community media practices conducted by the Benton Foundation in collaboration with the Community Media and Technology Program of the University of Massachusetts, Boston. The scan includes an analysis of trends and emerging practices; comparative research; an online survey of community media practitioners; one-on-one interviews with practitioners, funders and policy makers; and the information gleaned from a series of roundtable discussions with community media practitioners in Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Portland, Oregon.

We have sought input on key aspects of community media practice, with the goal of understanding how community media can be sustained, strengthened, and expanded. The scan research focused on four key areas of inquiry:

What are the unique characteristics that distinguish community media?

What makes media-community collaborations successful?

What types of community media organizations best leverage new technologies?

How might community media engage underserved populations in programming tailored to their needs?

Across the country, communities are partnering with public broadcasters, providing community radio and establishing low-power radio stations, organizing on cable access channels, joining community broadband networks, and producing for satellite-delivered public interest channels. In this report, we explore the lessons learned from these important — but often isolated — experiments in community-driven media. We hope this report will help connect present and future innovators with one another and with resources that can get them started and/or sustain them.