Public Media 2.0

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Report: Public Media 2.0: Dynamic, Engaged Publics. by Jessica Clark Director, Future of Public Media Project and Pat Aufderheide Director, Center for Social Media

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Also the title of an essay by Ellen Goodman.

Executive Summary

"Public broadcasting, newspapers, magazines, and network newscasts have all played a central role in our democracy, informing citizens and guiding public conversation. But the top-down dissemination technologies that supported them are being supplanted by an open, many-to-many networked media environment. What platforms, standards, and practices will replace or transform legacy public media?

This white paper lays out an expanded vision for “public media 2.0” that places engaged publics at its core, showcasing innovative experiments from its “first two minutes,” and revealing related trends, stakeholders, and policies. Public media 2.0 may look and function differently, but it will share the same goals as the projects that preceded it: educating, informing, and mobilizing its users.

Multiplatform, participatory, and digital, public media 2.0 will be an essential feature of truly democratic public life from here on in. And it’ll be media both for and by the public. The grassroots mobilization around the 2008 electoral campaign is just one signal of how digital tools for making and sharing media open up new opportunities for civic engagement.

But public media 2.0 won’t happen by accident, or for free. The same bottom-line logic that runs media today will run tomorrow’s media as well. If we’re going to have media for vibrant democratic culture, we have to plan for it, try it out, show people that it matters, and build new constituencies to invest in it.

The first and crucial step is to embrace the participatory—the feature that has also been most disruptive of current media models. We also need standards and metrics to define truly meaningful participation in media for public life. And we need policies, initiatives, and sustainable financial models that can turn today’s assets and experiments into tomorrow’s tried-and-true public media.

Public media stakeholders, especially such trusted institutions as public broadcasting, need to take leadership in creating a true public investment in public media 2.0.


  • Public media 2.0’s core function is to generate publics around problems.
  • Many-to-many digital technologies are fostering participatory user behaviors: choice, conversation, curation, creation, and collaboration.
  • Quality content needs to be matched with effective engagement. Public media projects can happen in any venue, commercial or not.
  • Collaboration among media outlets and allied organizations is key and requires national coordination.
  • Taxpayer funds are crucial both to sustain coordination and to fund media production, curation, and archiving.
  • Shared standards and practices make distributed public media viable.
  • Impact measurements are crucial.


  • Public media institutions and makers need to develop a participatory national network and platform; to cross cultural, social, economic, ethnic, and political divides; to collaborate; and to learn from others’ examples, including their mistakes.

  • Policymakers need to create structures and funding to support national coordination of public media networks and funding for production, curation, and archiving; to use universal design principles in communications infrastructure policy and universal service values in constructing and supporting infrastructure; to support lifelong education that helps everyone be media makers; and to build grassroots participation into public policy processes using social media tools.

  • Funders can invest in media projects that build democratic publics; in norms- setting, standardization of reliability tools, and impact metrics; and in experiments in media making, media organizations, and media tools, especially among disenfranchised communities."



Changing Media Habits

Here are five fundamental ways that people’s media habits are changing:

Choice: Rather than passively waiting for content to be delivered as in the broadcast days, users are actively seeking out and comparing media on important issues, through search engines, recommendations, video on demand, interactive program guides, news feeds, and niche sites. This is placing pressure on many makers to convert their content so that it’s not only accessible across an array of platforms and devices, but properly formatted and tagged so that it is more likely to be discovered.

Conversation: Comment and discussion boards have become common across a range of sites and platforms, with varying levels of civility in evidence. Users are leveraging conversation tools to share interests and mobilize around issues. 7 Distributed conversations across online services, such as Twitter and FriendFeed, are managed via shared tags. Tools for ranking and banning comments give site hosts and audiences some leverage for controlling the tenor of exchanges. New tools for video-based conversation are now available on sites such as Seesmic. News is collaboratively created, gaining importance by becoming part of electronic conversation.

Curation: Users are aggregating, sharing, ranking, tagging, reposting, juxtaposing, and critiquing content on a variety of platforms—from personal blogs to open video-sharing sites to social network profile pages. Reviews and media critique are popular genres for online contributors, displacing or augmenting genres, such as consumer reports and travel writing, and feeding a widespread culture of critical assessment.

Creation: Users are creating a range of multimedia content (audio, video, text, photos, animation, etc.) from scratch and remixing existing content for purposes of satire, commentary, or self-expression—breaking through the stalemate of mass media talking points. Professional media makers are now tapping user-generated content as raw material for their own productions, and outlets are navigating various fair use issues as they wrestle with promoting and protecting their brands.

Collaboration: Users are adopting a variety of new roles along the chain of media creation and distribution—from providing targeted funds for production or investigation,9 to posting widgets10 that showcase content on their own sites, to organizing online and offline events related to media projects, to mobilizing around related issues through online tools, such as petitions and letters to policymakers. “Crowdsourced” journalism projects now invite audience participation as investigators, tipsters, and editors—so far, a trial-and-error process." (

Changing Media Tools

"These five media habits are fueling a clutch of exciting new trends, each of which offers tools, platforms, or practices of enormous possibility for public media 2.0:

  • Ubiquitous video (choice, creation, collaboration)

Professional and amateur video alike are migrating online to sites such as Hulu and YouTube; nonprofessional online video is becoming part of broadcast news and newspaper reporting; live streaming and podcasting are routine aspects of public events.

  • Powerful databases (curation, creation)

Deep wells of data and imagery are increasingly valuable for reporting, information visualization, trend-spotting, and comparative analysis. Databases also now serve as powerful back-ends for managing and serving up digital content, making it available across a range of browsers and devices.

  • Social networks as public forums (conversation, collaboration)

Durable social-networking platforms, such as Facebook, and on-the-fly social networks, such as the open-source Ning, allow multifaceted media relationships with one person, a few, or many people.

  • Locative media (choice, creation)

GPS-enabled mobile devices are allowing users to access and upload geographically relevant content, and a new set of “hyperlocal” media projects are feeding this trend. Conversely, maps are becoming a common interface for news, video, and data.11

  • Distributed distribution (choice, curation)

News feeds, search engines, and widgets are allowing content to escape the traditional boundaries of the channel or site. Users are coming to expect access to anywhere, anytime searchable media.

  • Hackable platforms (creation, collaboration, curation)

Open source tools and applications are becoming increasingly customizable. Media makers can tailor their platforms, sharing tips across a broad community of developers, and users can pick and choose how they will interact with content.

  • Accessible metrics (creation, curation)

Ranking and metrics sites, such as Google Analytics, Alexa, and Technorati, make it easier for media makers to compile and compare their audiences—and for outsiders to more easily judge and note success.

  • Cloud content (choice, creation)

Applications, media, and personal content are migrating away from computers and mobile devices and onto hosted servers—into “the cloud” of online content. On the one hand this offers simplicity, easy sharing, and protected backups; on the other, it threatens control and privacy.

  • Pervasive gaming (choice, collaboration)

Gaming—playing computer, Web, portable, or console games, often connecting with other players via the Internet—has become as ubiquitous as watching TV for young people." (


"In this rare moment of transition, different stakeholders have different opportunities:

Public media institutions have a chance to play a leadership role in several ways. They can elevate and act upon internal discussions about how to develop sturdy digital platforms for collaboration, engagement, and future innovation. They can jointly build or endorse a national coordinating body that will support digital content and interaction. They can individually convene and coordinate public media 2.0 experiments. Such experiments, properly publicized and documented (including their weaknesses), are the seed from which the public media 2.0 environment will grow. All such efforts need to build from a mandate to mobilize publics and incorporate participatory platforms and engagement campaigns. Public media institutions need to reach far beyond the traditional demographics of their mass media audiences and to cross cultural, social, economic, ethnic, and political divides. They need to serve as a beacon in their own communities, daily demonstrating the vitality and importance of public media 2.0.

Public media makers have a chance to develop and publicize emerging models of production that depend on the people formerly known as the audience for funding, distribution, publicity, and the actions that demonstrate that a project has succeeded in engaging publics. They can work with—as well as beyond—legacy media institutions, to bring standards and mission-driven values long typical of the journalistic and independent creator communities to the challenge of pioneering public media 2.0.

Policymakers can position public media 2.0 as a core function of a vital democratic public and support it at national, regional, and local levels. They can call upon existing public broadcasting institutions to pioneer participatory public media projects. They can support infrastructure policy that enhances broad public participation in public media. They can support programs that enable all members of the society to be media literate and to participate in public media 2.0. They can use public media 2.0 principles in their own communication with the public.

Funders can put the mission to build dynamic, engaged publics at the heart of their investments in media projects. They can require grantees to demonstrate that goal for any continued institutional funding. They can support the development of standards and practices and of tools that enable ranking, vetting, and valuing of content. They can develop measures to assess the degree to which a funded effort is expanding and equalizing participation in public life.

All these efforts will create, not only new tools, new habits, new platforms for action, but also greater public understanding of why public media 2.0 needs to be built, nurtured, funded, and sustained by the American people themselves. The most basic challenge for public media 2.0 is to generate political capital for it. People need to make demands for public media 2.0 of their elected officials, their regulators, their communications service providers, and their media entities.

That challenge must begin, as always, in conversations among engaged publics. Stakeholders, whether they are incumbents, innovators, or both, need to begin that conversation. They are the core public for public media 2.0 today.

Those stakeholders need to host these conversations within the networks of attention and concern that they command, in order to mobilize them to demand a vital public media 2.0. Publics can act powerfully and flexibly; they are grown and nurtured within rich communications environments. These environments exist today and can become more effective as they develop links across sectors and as they develop awareness, investment, and a shared vision with wider, engaged publics." (


Early Experiments

  • World Without Oil

"The Independent Television Service (ITVS), part of public broadcasting, attracted almost 2,000 gamers from 40-plus countries to its World Without Oil (, a multiplayer “alternative reality” game. Participants submitted reactions to an eight-month energy crisis via privately owned social media sites, such as YouTube and Flickr—and made corresponding real-life changes, chronicled at the WWO Lives blog (

  • The Mobile Report

The Media Focus on Africa Foundation worked with the Arid Lands Information network to equip citizen reporters in Kenya with mobile phones. The Mobile Report project used an online map interface to aggregate ground- level reports on election conditions (

  • 10 Questions Presidential Forum

Independent bloggers worked with the New York Times editorial board and MSNBC to develop and promote the 10 Questions Presidential Forum ( More than 120,000 visitors voted on 231 video questions submitted by users. Presidential candidates then answered the top 10 questions via online video. The top question was also aired during the MTV/ MySpace “Presidential Dialogue” featuring Barack Obama.

  • OneClimate Island

During the United Nations Climate Change Conferences in Bali and Poznan, a news network of nonprofits, OneWorld, connected delegates and participants to reporters and advocates around the world via Second Life, an online 3-D virtual world. The event spawned regular meetings of environmental activists on OneWorld’s virtual OneClimate Island.15

  • Facing the Mortgage Crisis

As the mortgage crisis hit home in every community, St. Louis public broadcasting station KETC launched Facing the Mortgage Crisis (, a multiplatform project designed to help publics grappling with mortgage foreclosures. Featuring invited audience questions and on-air and online elements that mapped pockets of foreclosures, the project directed callers to an information line managed by the United Way for further help. Calls to the line increased significantly as a result." (

Particitory experiments of public broadcasters

"Public broadcasters are grappling with participatory challenges both at a national and a local level. The Online NewsHour offers content from the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer and Web-only features that invite interaction. Some public broadcasting producers have developed widgets that showcase user-generated content. American Public Media’s creates a social network of public broadcasting supporters. The StoryCorps project partners with public radio stations to collect, broadcast, and promote interviews with everyday Americans that reveal societal truths and collective issues. The ITVS Community Cinema screening series ( combines professional storytelling with nonprofessional participation, and long-form mass media with face-to-face interactions—targeting gatherings and online offerings to specific publics.

Some public broadcasting stations, such as Portland’s Oregon Public Broadcasting (, are positioning themselves online as cross-platform, trusted multimedia news producers and aggregators. Others, such as WILL in Urbana, Illinois, are retraining producers in community engagement practices that can guide more responsive and engaged programming. Still others are encouraging direct production of content by audience members, such as the Docubloggers project ( hosted by KLRU in Central Texas.

Public Radio Exchange (PRX) has brokered a partnership between makers and programmers to “make public radio more public,” working to integrate activities around the five C’s:

  • Creation: Their site ( allows independent producers to upload radio pieces.
  • Conversation: PRX has also launched a social network that connects young radio producers and teachers, Generation PRX (
  • Choice: Audiences and public radio professionals seek out pieces through search tools and lists sorted by format, topic, and tone.
  • Curation: Users can write reviews and create playlists.
  • Collaboration: User feedback helps public radio station producers to assess whether they should play the pieces on air or online."

What's working so far?

"What’s working in the highly experimental and unstable public media 2.0 environment? Some trends stand out:

Multiplatforming and engagement as a matter of course

Public media outlets and individual projects are now regularly including offline, online, print, and social media elements, which extend relevance and impact and provide multiple opportunities for publics to form around media. For example, An Inconvenient Truth was in theaters, is available on DVD, and has a companion book. Related downloads include widgets for bloggers, posters, desktop images of changing weather patterns, screensavers, electronic greeting cards, and a teacher’s guide. This trend is driving multiplatform training in journalism schools.21 Media projects are planned with the engagement of publics as a core feature.22 (See “Documentary Films as Public Engagement” below for more examples.)

Data-intensive visual reporting

Highly visual and information-rich sites, such as Everyblock ( and MapLight (, demonstrate how information can be culled from a variety of online sources and combined to reveal trends and stories via interactive, user-friendly interfaces.23 So-called “charticles” are also on the rise in both print and online newspapers, mirroring public enthusiasm for creating visual mashups using tools such as Google Maps—see the “Tunisian Prison Map” for an example ( Micah Sifry of the Personal Democracy Forum calls this “3-D” content (Dynamic, Data Driven). Its rise suggests a role for outlets, governments, nonprofits, and universities as trusted curators of valuable data sets.

Niche online communities

Publics are gathering around sites and outlets to learn and share information around in-group issues, becoming virtual communities. Such sites may be based on a combination of identity and politics—such as Feministing (, which targets young female readers through pop culture analysis, or Jack and Jill Politics, which describes itself as “a black bourgeoisie perspective on U.S. politics” ( Even openly partisan blogs, like Little Green Footballs ( or MyDD (, can serve as both communities and as centers of vigorous debate across lines of opinion and belief. Others affinities are based on location—such as the regional communities that cluster around international meta-blog Global Voices,26 or the local blogs featured in the Knight Citizen News Network map ( Still others hinge on particular issues or communities of interest, such as Moms Rising (, which coordinates advocacy campaigns and blogs around policy issues related to motherhood, or Blog for a Cure (, which brings cancer survivors together.

Crowdsourced Translation

Projects such as dotSUB ( harness volunteer energy to translate public-minded content so that it can travel across national and linguistic boundaries. Documentary films, political speeches, and instructional videos have all been translated by users of this service. Project Lingua (http:// invites readers of the Global Voices site to translate its content. Translators are active in more than 15 languages, including Spanish, French, Serbian, Arabic, Farsi, and Chinese.

Decoupling of public media content from outlets

With business models for outlets flagging, content has acquired a life of its own. Nonprofit projects, such as ProPublica ( and the Center for Public Integrity (, underwrite investigative reporting that can be placed in print or broadcast contexts but also lives online on the projects’ sites. The increasing primacy of search engines and open platforms as interfaces for finding news and information allows new content producers—such as academics,27 advocacy groups,28 and even political campaigns29—to generate widely circulated content addressing public issues. And the rise of tools for online syndication—such as NPR’s recent decision to release its Application Programming Interface (API)—means that even content originally created by an outlet is not destined to stay within its confines.

New toolsets for government transparency

Open online access to government documents and data now offers raw material for both legacy and citizen media efforts. Open Congress ( invites users to view and comment on bills, track congressional votes, and follow hot issues. Subsidyscope promises to track and analyze spending, loans, and tax breaks associated with the financial bailout ( The government itself is a key provider of digital transparency projects, such as (, which allows users to search federal contract and grant data. A coalition of government transparency advocates has crafted a “right-to-know” agenda for the new administration.30

Mobile public media

Mobile devices are becoming increasingly powerful tools for both production and consumption of public-minded text, audio, photo, and video content, especially in developing countries. Common forms of mobile reporting include SMS-based updates on issues and breaking events, “man-on-the-street” photojournalism, election monitoring, and live audio or video streaming. Cell phones are also creating public media access across class lines in the United States.31 Projects such as The People’s 311 ( in New York demonstrate how mobile citizen media creation can coalesce into ongoing public media: participants are encouraged to post photos of broken sidewalks, damaged fire hydrants, and other urban blight, supplementing reports to the city’s free 311 phone service.

Pro-am Storytelling

Professionals and nonprofessionals are working together via new tools and platforms to craft narratives that inform public issues. Filmmakers such as Deborah Scranton of The War Tapes and Anders Østergaard of Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country have based their films on footage shot by amateur contributors in high-pressure situations.32 Other projects reveal the narratives of groups that have been suppressed, such as Mapping the Third Ward in Houston. (, which features personal stories underpinning gentrification, or the National Black Programming Consortium’s Masculinity Project (http://www.blackpublicmedia. org/catalog/channel/masculinity), which features the work of film professionals such as Byron Hurt alongside youth media productions and nonprofessional commentary and contributions. The work of WITNESS, a human rights organization that features video contributions documenting violations around the world, also exemplifies the power of storytelling by combining the strengths of professional and nonprofessional.33

Peer-to-Peer Public Media Training

Networks of media outlets, such as OneWorld (, the Integrated Media Association (, New America Media (, and The Media Consortium (, working together to share and assess strategies for producing effective, public-minded content for the digital, participatory environment. Individual producers are also sharing strategies through projects such as Shooting People (, an international networking organization for independent filmmakers." (

Participatory Documentaries

Documentary Films as Public Engagement

Already practiced in partnering for impact—with activist organizations, universities, public broadcasters—documentarians are now tapping online tools to attract and mobilize publics.

  • Not in Our Town, Patrice O’Neill

First broadcast as a half-hour special on PBS in 1995, Not in Our Town I told the story of how the people of Billings, Montana—including grassroots activists, elected officials, schools, unions, newspapers, and churches— got together in the face of assaults on Native American, Latino, and Jewish residents to create an initiative that continues as part of the civic life of the city. This model of citizen action—the diversity of which is traced in many more NIOT films—has inspired a nationwide movement. In 2007, leaders from more than 50 towns and cities gathered to share information and discuss the formation of a national organization and the creation of a social networking site.

  • State of Fear: The Truth about Terrorism, Pamela Yates, Paco de Onis, Peter Kinoy

Addressing the anti-terrorist policies of Peru’s Fujimori government, State of Fear became an international platform to discuss suspension of civil liberties under the threat of terrorism. In addition to English- and Spanish-language versions of the award-winning film, a Quechua- language version is being shown in Andean regions where 70 percent of the 69,000 victims of the Shining Path and government terrorism died. The film was translated and used by the democracy movement in Nepal and has triggered discussion in Russia, Morocco, Turkey, and other countries that see analogous situations in their own countries. It played a key role in the movement to return Fujimori to Peru, where he is now on trial. It has recently entered into public discourse—particularly in the Andean region—to contest denials of complicity by the members of the current government. Using Flip video cameras and the film’s Internet platform, Quechua Indians are adding their own stories to current political debate about reparations.

  • Beyond Beats and Rhymes, Byron Hurt

A critique of violence and misogyny in hip-hop, Beyond Beats and Rhymes has become much more than an award-winning movie. ITVS, which sponsored community screenings nationwide aimed at young audiences, created a comprehensive curriculum that is downloadable on its Web site. In addition to a tour of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Firelight Films organized a national outreach campaign involving organizations from women’s shelters to Boys and Girls Clubs of America and YO! TV. It is now a part of The Masculinity Project (, a Ford-funded initiative of ITVS and the National Black Programming Consortium that invites multi-generational voices to discuss issues of race and gender.

  • Lioness, Meg McLagan and Daria Sommers

Lioness, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and was broadcast nationally on the ITVS television series Independent Lens, is designed to stimulate a national dialogue about the shifting role of women in the military. It tells the stories of five female soldiers, sent to Iraq as cooks, mechanics, clerks, and engineers, who became the first women in American history to engage in direct ground combat —a direct violation of U.S. laws prohibiting the assignment of women to armed combat units. The film’s outreach includes screenings on military bases and human rights and community circuits, as well as policy- making venues. Partnerships have been established with veterans service organizations, military families, and groups advocating for better services for returning women and gender equity among veterans." (

More Information

  • Calabrese, M., & C. Carter (2005). Digital Future Initiative Final Report: Challenges and opportunities for public service media in the digital age: New American Foundation.
  • Goodman, E.P. (2009). Public service media 2.0. …And Communications for All: A Policy Agenda for a New Administration, (Amit M. Schjecter, ed.) Lexington Books.