WHAT IS CIVIC MEDIA?
THE PUBLIC AND THE COMMUNITY
Every fellow interviewed stressed the importance of the public or the community to their understanding of civic media. Strategist, writer, and organizer Charlene Carruthers defined it as “media that engages the public with some purpose.” That purpose, she added, can be anything, such that civic media is “value neutral” and not limited to particular political leanings or movements. Writer, technologist, and gamer Latoya Peterson echoed that “civic media is media for the public.” For her, this definition demands that we fund public access outlets that focus on high quality, meaningful content rather than prioritizing content that draws the most clicks and views. Rather than moving classic educational shows like Sesame Street behind HBO’s paywall, for example, Latoya stressed that we need to “take our responsibility to each other seriously” and recognize the value that community-oriented public TV can continue to offer, especially for low-income audiences.
Other fellows defined civic media with a greater emphasis on community rather than the public at large. Artist and curator Susu Attar referred to one definition she had encountered that framed civic media as “using media to communicate within, about, or outside of one’s community.” She liked the definition because it is “basically saying, using media in any way shape or form” but with a “consciousness of community embedded into it.” Even if someone is using media “outside” of their community, this understanding of civic media still frames their work in relation to that community. Author, media creator, and LGBTQ+ advocate Jackson Bird stressed that “community” is not just a geographic concept, especially in our current age of social media. He explained:
The LGBTQ community is very different in that it’s not based in family, it’s not based in something that you inherit, and it’s not based in geography. So it can be harder to find that community sometimes. And that’s where I think the age of social media has helped so much in helping people find that community and find those resources that they need. It has totally changed the game for LGBTQ+ youth. Or, anyone of any age really.
In this sense, the media itself has actually facilitated or brought together community.
Even those fellows who referred to the public more generally in their definition of civic media, several had a specific community in mind when they thought about their own audience(s). Latoya’s past blogging work, for example, intentionally aimed to carve out a space for different communities of color to talk to each other, while Charlene’s primary audience is black women, even though she has found her writing often resonates with others too.
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