Yochai Benkler is the Berkman Professor of Entrepreneurial Legal Studies at Harvard, and faculty co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society.
Jessica Clark and Pat Aufderhaide have written the best current analysis of how we can pursue the core values underlying support for public media in the new, networked environment. Critical to their insight is the understanding that those values are best pursued through platforms that allow the individuals and groups who make up "the public" to engage in constructing their own political and cultural sphere.
Given that public media's objective is to facilitate the capabilities and practices of the population at large, what is the role of public media organizations (and their funding)? What is their institutional context? Professionalism still has its place in media, but public-media organizations need to focus on fostering and enabling the creation of distributed platforms for public self re-creation.
Public media's challenge will be to overcome the more controlling aspects of the 20th-century culture of professional media creation, both within the media and among funders and policy-makers. Leaders should not swamp media organizations' ability to transition from publishers of high-quality, “good for you” goods to orchestrators of political participation across engaged platforms. The transition is far from trivial, because professional judgment and technical ability historically went hand in hand with authority, as well as the responsibility to give the public what is good for it in forms that it could absorb. The passive view of the public was every bit as much a part of the mass-media culture as the focus on production values and professionalism. And it is that set of biases that need to be overcome. It will require public media to hire and promote people experienced with platforms for networked public engagement, rather than imagine that the same skills that went into superb traditional public-media creation will alone be sufficient to build a participatory platform. It will require funders to seek out organizations whose practices suggest a real understanding that the role of professional as enabler, curator, and interlocutor of participatory public media is fundamentally less authoritative and more discursive than that of the public mass media producer.
If these challenges are met, there is every reason to think that, unlike for commercial media, the new environment is more of an opportunity than a threat for public media.
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