CONNECTING COMMUNITIES TO PUBLIC MEDIA THROUGH DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY
The Public Media Corps Community Engagement Program
In 2010, the National Black Programming Consortium (NBPC) launched The Public Media Corps (PMC), an ambitious new project designed to re-engineer public media to better involve and inform diverse users in the digital, participatory era. The project builds upon NPBC’s experience as a national public media organization with a 30-year track record of increasing communications and production capacity among minority communities. Based on other service corps models, such as Teach for America, the PMC was conceptualized as a new national service to connect minority and low-income communities with both broadband-enabled public media resources and social media tools. The project aimed to show how public media could serve as driver for broadband adoption, civic engagement and collaboration between stations, community organizations, and members of the public.
Over a six-month period—June-December 2010—NBPC staff launched a beta test of the PMC project in Washington DC to determine how best to structure related fellowships, partnerships and engagement models. A central operating principle of the beta test was the understanding that underserved community members and organizations must be active participants in formulating production and engagement models in order to ensure their relevance to those communities. For this reason, the fellows selected came from the region, and were placed in three public media stations; two schools and six community-based institutions and organizations located in diverse and economically challenged neighborhoods. Throughout the beta test, PMC leaders and fellows engaged community members to provide feedback on their media and broadband use, topics of relevance, and reactions to both traditional public broadcasting and the new public media models being developed by the PMC.
In addition to testing out the viability of placing fellows in stations and community organizations, the readiness of public media organizations to engage communities via digital platforms, and the prospects for collaborative production across community organizations, PMC’s beta phase resulted in the creation and refinement of four demonstration models for media-based community engagement. These included What’s Good DC?, a teen issues show, with seven episodes produced for broadcast on partner station WHUT TV; Digital Media Arts Club (DMAC), a well-received digital production and literacy training program based at a under-performing high school; The Family Portrait Project, a library-based family portrait project with a goal of connecting community members to the library’s digital resources; and two town halls that brought community members together with policymakers and advocates to discuss issues related to education reform and broadband access.
The project also generated an array of tools and resources for stations and communities to adapt, including training materials and curricula for fellows, a branding guide, an online platform called Kindred that supports the creation of community-based collaborations, a toolkit designed to assist stations in implementing all or part of the PMC project in their own locale.
As noted in the influential 2009 Knight Commission report, Informing Communities: Sustaining Democracy in the Digital Age, America needs to support local resources and institutions to ensure that democratic values of openness, inclusion, participation, and empowerment thrive across all appropriate media, engaging members of the public in their role as active citizens.
With this in mind and building on the growing consensus that today’s public media must do more to fully reflect the public’s needs and engage the entire range of community members at the local level. The goal of the PMC for the 2011/2012 fiscal year is to identify five public media stations and/or public media institutions to road test the effectiveness of the PMC’s engagement models when adapted in new diverse communities and regions. The three engagement models that emerged from the beta that the PMC is seeking to adapt in new environments are:
Digital Media Arts Club (DMAC)
An after school multimedia production club designed to engage youth at underperforming high schools, the Digital Media Arts Club provides extracurricular sessions and workshops focused on teaching students in grades 9-12 about broadband literacy, media production, and civic engagement. Students participating in the DMAC learn to create their own audio and video content, websites and blogs, which support their educational attainment, offer new career options, and prepare them to produce community-focused public media content.
What’s Good DC?
What’s Good DC?, is a local, half hour teen talk show produced by PMC staff and fellows with the local DC station partner, WHUT. Conceived as a multi-platform, dynamic two-way conversation between public media and youth to give them a voice and engage them on issues directly impacting their lives. The show featured hosts recruited from Howard University and an area high school, local experts and performers, and a live audience recruited from area high schools. Interstitial content pieces included SMS-based audience polls, topical public affairs packages produced by DMAC students, man-on-the-street interviews, on-set youth DJ, and live performance by a local musical guest.
Family Portrait Project
Based at a community library, this project invited local families to have an annual family portrait taken and simultaneously introduce them to various training and digital resources at the library. Users were asked to sign up for a library card and check out a book or DVD, and to sign up for an email address if they didn’t have one already. Print and digital copies of the photos were given to the individual families. These photos are also meant to serve as a documentary record of the community, along with select oral histories that were taped for use by the library, public broadcast stations and other PMC partners.
The Grant Process
To support the implementation of the projects, stations or public media institutions will receive a matching grant of $15,000 to $30,000. The grant may be used to hire trainers, photographers, local travel for groups to activities, production equipment for participants’ use, and materials.
The projects must be implemented in 2012, with the length and duration determined by the engagement model and budget.
The projects may be implemented as an additional program component of an existing community engagement project, the American Graduate Initiative, a upcoming national broadcast, a pilot for a longer-term project, or adapted to the needs of the focus community the station or public media institution has identified. For example, the DMACs may be implemented in as an after school program in a public school, community center or public library. What’s Good DC? can be produced as a stand-alone half-hour series, a special one off, as interstitials, or as a web series. The Family Portrait Project also may be implemented in a community center setting, but best tied to a holiday period when portraits are frequently scheduled.
A grantee’s application should demonstrate that the project will:
- directly touch and involve residents of a specific community and introduce digital technologies not widely used or new uses of existing technologies;
- convene hyper-local publics around key issues of concern to community members;
- partner with influential local stakeholders in related fields of public media, social media, education, broadband access, or journalism that could expand the reach and impact of the project;
- benefit participants by offering them new skills, experience, and connections inside and outside of the public broadcasting sector.
- benefit partner sites by providing them with new or expanded opportunities to engage with public media stations or institutions;
- offer stations and national public broadcasting organizations a fresh vision and tools for serving diverse communities with emerging technologies—in the process highlighting key gaps within the sector;
- serve as a demonstration test bed for a number of proposed solutions in the national debates about public broadcasting, community information ecosystems, and broadband adoption.
Grantees will be provided curriculum materials for all training projects and a toolkit outlining the details concerning the design and implementation of each model. Grantees are free to adapt or modify the materials to suit the project and its audience’s needs.
The content produced by the projects shall be shared with the local partners, local public stations, NBPC, and made available to national public media institutions. All rights and licenses should cover local and national use of the content across broadcast, web and mobile platforms.