Community Media Open Dialogue: What Was Said

Rachel Allen

Thursday, May 19th - NAMAC’s Open Dialogue brought together eight community media leaders to discuss current issues affecting the growth of the field. After generating ideas through All Our Ideas, the group decided on three topics for discussion:

* How Are Others Articulating The Need For Community Media And Demonstrating Its Value?

* Do We Have A Shared Definition Of Community Media? If So, What Is It?

* What Strategies Should Community Media Centers(CMC's) Take To Achieve The Same Stature As Public Libraries? How Do We Become Anchor Institutions?

Panelists had twenty minutes to address each question. As you might imagine, they had a lot to say. Laurie Cirivello, Executive Director of Grand Rapids Community Media Center, kicked things off by talking about how Community Media Centers should be less concerned with what "*we are* and what *we* need” and more concerned with “the problems/priorities of those we serve." Chad Johnston, Executive Director of The Peoples Channel and Durham Community Media, said it was important to see the value of Community Media Centers in terms of economic development and job transitions. To illustrate his point, he shared a story about a volunteer who was able to find a job after taking several media production classes through The Peoples Channel.

Gretchen Clausing, Executive Director of PhillyCAM, shared a strategy that her center uses to demonstrate their value. At many PhillyCAM events, staff members conduct video interviews with their own producers, members and general community supporters. Clausing explained, “A young producer in one of these interviews talked about how he has his work on the internet, but there is a 'different spiritual feeling when his show is going out live on cable.' Love that, chokes me up everytime I see it.”

Do We Have A Shared Definition Of Community Media?

“I'm wondering if it would help or hinder the larger movement to have a shared definition or a set of definitions,” commented jesikah maria ross, Director of UC Davis Art of Regional Change. Panelists did not reach a clear consensus on the definition of community media. As Sean McLaughlin, Executive Director of Access Humboldt pointed out, “We don't have a shared definition of "we!"

“I am more interested in a definition that positions us as servant leaders to the voices, issues and priorities of communities and those who live there, " added Cirivello.

Wendy Blom, Executive Director of Somerville Community Access Television and Sam Kaplan, Digital Arts Service Corps VISTA at Access Humboldt emphasized that distribution is an important service that Community Media Centers provide. “Distribution is that what makes us different than home movies," said Blom. 

What Strategies Should CMCs Take To Achieve The Same Stature As Public Libraries?

With twenty-two minutes remaining, the group discussed how community media centers might be seen as anchor institutions, similar to libraries. “[…] I might say that the history we keep/archive is timeless and not too often talked about in the same manner as libraries,” commented Johnston.

Many of the community media centers present in the discussion are already taking steps to partner with other community anchor institutions. Jason Daniels explained how Easton Community Access TV is partnering with a local library in their community. Both the library and the Easton Community Access TV have a shared account on the Internet Archive for Media and the library is also making the community center’s DVD’s available through their catalog.

Steve Ranieri, Executive Director of Quote…Unquote, Inc. discussed how their center founded a school, The Media Arts Collaborative Charter School. In addition to partnering with schools and libraries, Ranieri noted that media centers need to work harder to communicate their role as anchor institutions.  “I think the way to attain the status of a library or other institutions is not only the work we do but the image we put out to the community. Media Centers have often lagged in the area of promoting ourselves.”

Panelists devoted the final ten minutes to a topic that wasn’t originally on the docket: “How can we most effectively deliver transmedia content in a community setting?”

ross offered a good definition of transmedia to build from, “I think the concept of going "trans-media" often refers to a particular project which uses multiple channels/mediums/events to advance a conversation and action around the content in the project.”

Cirivello gave an example of a transmedia project Grand Rapids Community Media Center is working called the GR Tag Tour that involves integrating an audio history of Grand Rapids from podcasts, with radio, TV, web platforms and mobile QR codes for walking tours.

Clausing mentioned a project going on in Philadelphia called Messages in Motion that allows people to upload video postcards of their personal stories onto a community map.

At the end of the hour, participants came away with several kernels for future discussion. Join us for the next Community Media Open Dialogue on November 16th!

The archive of Thursday's Open Dialogue is here: