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Public Media 2.0

An interesting new white paper contrasts “Public Media 1.0” (public broadcasting, cable access, nonprofit satellite set-asides) with “Public Media 2.0” (multiplatform, participatory, centered around informing and mobilizing networks of engaged users). It says that “the individual user has moved from being an anonymous part of a mass to being the center of the media picture.”

Public broadcasting and other “public media” are facing challenges similar to those that newspapers and libraries are facing in the digital information age. This white paper attempts to re-envision public media, just as many people are trying to re-envision newspapers/journalism and libraries.

The paper focuses more on “content” creation and user-collaboration than on preservation of information, but it does acknowledge the need for funding for what it calls “curation” and archiving. It says that “Commercial platforms do not have the same incentives to preserve historically relevant content that public media outlets do.”

The terms “curation” and “stewardship” are often used in discussion of long-term preservation and access to information, but different writers use the terms differently, even interchangeably. This leads to vague, conflicting, and confusing arguments. This white paper defines “curation” more as presentation and commentary than as preservation. In doing so, they miss an opportunity to address the issues of long-term, free, usable, public access to information.

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.

Clark and Aufderheide do include libraries as one of the potential partners for public media projects along with other institutions in the nonprofit sector such as universities, museums, and issue-focused educational and social organizations. They note that these institutions have “assets” that “include archives and databases, issue expertise, legitimacy, and trusted brands.”

This vision certainly fits in with what John Shuler has been describing in his series on libraries as centers for education and civic engagement. I think libraries looking for service ideas could get some good ones from this report.

But I also think that libraries will need to read beyond this report to find their unique role in society and in facilitating and participating in “Public Media 2.0.” Libraries can fill the long-term preservation-and-use gap in the report. Specifically, civic participation needs trusted institutions to select, acquire, organize, and preserve information and provide that information in usable formats in an environment that encourages re-use and the kind of participation described in the white paper. Libraries need to concentrate on those “assets” — not in the economic sense of private property that is owned and controlled for the benefit of the owners, but as valuable community property, managed and maintained for the community by information professionals.

For Public Media 2.0 to succeed and flourish, for citizens to be able to reliably “aggregate, share, rank, tag, and critique,” society needs more than content creators (journalists, broadcasters, writers, analysts, etc.); it also needs institutions that guarantee access and usability of information. It needs libraries.

Thanks to Kevin Taglang, Editor, Communications-related Headlines, Benton Foundation for the pointer to this report!

CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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