Friday, November 21, 2008

A Response to David Sasaki's Very Interesting Post

On November 18th, David Sasaki posted a very compelling post titled "Toward a National Journalism Foundation" on PBS's MediaShift Lab. As I said, I thought it interesting, but I believe it was too narrow for what public broadcasting is (could) become. My response posted on the MediaShift Lab is below:

The premise of David Sasaki's argument is only true if it is viewed through two, limiting filters: that journalism or in a broader sense 'information' is the ultimate goal of public broadcasting and that public media management means institutionalization.

I would urge a broader view of Public Broadcasting in the form of "public purpose media", meaning that public + media could suggest a wider range of roles of different players, especially in realm of digital media. Public media of all stripes is one of the most focused (rigid?)forms of intentional media with a legislated purpose to inform and educate. However, like all things Internet-related, the old formulations are being subverted as technology allows viewers to become users that work together in new ways to take personal and collective action.

A founding principle of public broadcasting that I believe is widely shared is that quality of life largely depends on the quality of information that we can access. Everybody has the opportunity to make decisions and the fundamental question for policymakers and 'public purpose media' providers is how to help individuals become informed decision makers, achieving better outcomes.

Rather than just to be informed, the point of public media has to be how it can materially improve our lives. This takes us well beyond the traditional province of Public Broadcasting. Beyond a goal of an informed citizenry it requires public media to wrestle with the challenge of producing tangible, positive outcomes.

The new public purpose media should look to supporting outcomes that have been referenced in the current media environment, but never truly addressed, such as improving access to financial services (and financial management skills), access to health care, educational attainment, ability to secure a safe and affordable home...namely just addressing the 'should haves' and directly into the 'must haves' of a life.

Beyond broadcast in the digital medium means two things to me; one, we can erase the divide between inspiration and action (you watch, you click to finding a job), and two, the valued providers of 'public purpose media' are wide and varied, and might include folks without a broadcasting license.

Moving beyond broadcast means that content can come in smaller packets of information and action that are consumed across a wider digital universe. The News Hour is truly journalism at its best, but David rightly points out EveryBlock as a valid news source, another example of packetization of media.

However, I think his proposal and viewpoint are two narrow for the true meaning of public media. Where is the place of the financial skills management site in the public broadcasting universe? What is the responsibility for public media to move beyond the 'companion web site' to the the power and authority of public broadcasting to organize a digital diabetes program and into an ongoing resource for helping low-income Americans manage their chronic disease regime?

There are organizations - public organizations, individuals, nonprofits - that are doing this work everyday and using the ubiquity of the web to reach new audiences with new transactions and services, as well as information and education. What is their role in the future of public broadcasting, or for that matter in the proposed National Journalism Foundation?

No comments: