I recently took part in a preconference of the International Communication Association titled The Future of Public Media: Participatory Models and Networks (here’s a Tumblr site, curated by Jessica Clark, that follows up on the discussions of the conference; here’s an account by one of the participants, Marius Dragomir of the Open Society Institute).

The event made me realise how a great deal of digital living is really conditioned by how the media serves public interest — even in the times of micro media and user-generated content. Below some thoughts inspired by the event:

In the past decade, redefinitions of what public media might mean have begun to emerge in a variety of contexts. The RIPE network of scholars and public media practitioners is a pioneering initiative, addressing the need for reinvention of public service broadcasting in the commercializing media landscape, defined by drastic technological changes. Similarly, the U.S.-focused Beyond Broadcast conferences (2006-09), conceived by Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, have aimed at bringing together ‘legacy media’ representatives with new media practitioners, to foster innovation and collaboration.

Recently, however, numerous initiatives outside of conventional framework of public media organizations have begun to address concerns at the heart of public service, public interest media. In other words, they deal with, and promote, diversity of access, ownership, content, and participation. Such endeavours could be said to include ‘media reform’ and ‘media justice’ projects and organizations, large and small; some well-known initiatives being the activist/advocacy umbrella organization the Free Press (U.S.), not-for-profit journalism projects from OhMyNews to ProPublica, or the global community/alternative media collective OurMedia. Public media issues are also very much at stake in mapping and research projects, such as the Global Media Policy project, or the Open Society Institute’s state-of-affairs global mapping of digital media landscapes.

Consequently, while the interest to understand and rework public media questions has traditionally happened by and/or with public media organizations, now there is an increasing amount of thinking and innovation at the structural level (industry landscape, policy-making) as well as at the individual, small-scale, grassroots level (a variety of civic groups and collectives, as well as micro-media by individuals).[1] The following figure summarizes the different circuits of stakeholders, from micro to meso and macro levels, in the public media realm. It aims to highlight that these circuits are interrelated, and should be in dialogue: Structural policy questions are setting the stage for possibilities of public media to exits and flourish; community media practices might inform and inspire conventional media organizations; media activism and advocacy may influence policy-making and increase public awareness of issues pertinent to public media.

According to this framework,  to re-envision and re-invent media, for and by the public, means fostering dialogue and collaboration between different levels of stakeholders. And while the ideas of public media for and by the public are being discussed in much broader base of stakeholders than ever before the challenge still remains only how the stakeholders can meet, develop a common language, and truly begin to collaborate in re-envisioning the public media of the future.

What is needed is a multi-stakeholder knowledge-sharing and innovation network for public media that would (1) map out core questions and goals for different stakeholders; (2) discover core competencies and ‘shareables’; (3) narrow down  common interests; and (4) brainstorm for a step-by-step working plan for ‘networking the networks’, for systematizing collaboration in promoting new kind of public media, in its different varieties.

[1] See, Aslama 2010: Re-thinking PSM Audiences: Diversity of Participation for Strategic Considerations. In Lowe, Greg (ed.). The Public in Public Service Media. Gothenburg: Nordicom.