Empowering Media That Matters
Home >> Blog >> Future Public Media >> Beyond Broadcast: ripples in the pond

Beyond Broadcast: ripples in the pond

It's been a month since Beyond Broadcast, and lots of positive feedback has been filtering in, both from public broadcasters and from cutting-edge makers of media for public knowledge and action.

Current, which reports on the pubcasting industry, ran a long and thoughtful feature on the event. As the story notes, keynote speaker Larry Irving made a splash with his remarks on policy, diversity and innovation. We've since received requests for copies of Irving's remarks to distribute within public broadcasting organizations. The research that Diane Mermigas conducted on public media business models for Beyond Broadcast has also made waves; Interim NPR CEO Dennis Haarsager cites her related columns on his blog, Technology 360.

While it may be too slow for many, pubcasters do seem to be in a moment of accelerating innovation. As PBS CEO Paula Kerger told the Kansas City Star a few weeks ago, "One of the things we should be trying to do is new stuff," citing examples such as the Web-based PBS political show, "Your Week," now in beta. NPR also took a notable step this week, opening up their API to allow Web and mobile programmers to build feeds, widgets and mashups featuring content that NPR owns the rights to. (Andy Carvin demystifies this here.) As Jason Kincaid of TechCrunch notes, NPR is one of the first media companies to take such a step, beating even the New York Times to the punch. One of the first mashups? A map. (Don't say we didn't warn you!)

But with every step forward there's the chance of a misstep. The news that NPR was cancelling the "Bryant Park Project" kicked off a wave of analysis via mainstream media, the public media blogosphere, and the growing public media Twitter community. Social media tools are now regularly facilitating rapid response and armchair quarterbacking from both inside and outside of media organizations, exposing and dissecting decisions that were once internal and top-down. Events like Beyond Broadcast become part of the innovation cycle, bringing together insiders and outsiders face-to-face. As blogger Todd Mundt, who followed the conference online notes:

I’ve always thought this conference was particularly provocative and invigorating; the other "public media" conferences belong exclusively to the wealthiest branch of public media, the radio and television stations that serve a well-educated and largely passive audience (in the case of television, a mostly diapered audience). ...I’m happily a part of that elite public media segment and I like those other conferences (I’m a PRPD board member and we put on a pretty good conference ourselves), but as someone who is supposed to be making decisions about the future of public media, it doesn’t hurt to be reminded that public media is much bigger than Public Radio and Public Television; that there are smart ways that we can all work together, if we’re willing to experiment thoughtfully; and that we bear the special burden of preserving democracy in a country where it’s under attack on many fronts.

Digital producers also drew inspiration from Beyond Broadcast. Leslie Rule, who ran our locative media demo, mused on the MediaShift IdeaLab about the epiphanies she experienced after attending Beyond Broadcast and a crop of other summer tech and media conferences. "The guiding questions of the Beyond Broadcast conference seemed especially relevant for my locative media practice," she writes. "How are media makers using online mapping and visualization tools to tell stories and engage communities? What can those same tools tell us about changes in the public media landscape?" Writing on his blog High Earth Orbit, neogeographer Andrew Turner drew some parallels to his own milieu: "As an outsider it was interesting to gain the perspective of public media people. There is a striking resemblance to the Open-Source community. Public media has a high set of ideals and goals for the greater common good, while also wrestling with questions of funding, licensing, corporate interests, and impact."

It is new players like these that will be charting the future of public media. At the Independent site, Randi Cecchine features interviews with few more innovative Beyond Broadcast attendees: Pete Tridish from the Prometheus Radio Project, Kevin Weston from New American Media, and Ivan Sigal from the United States Institute of Peace. The efforts over the years to create openings for such independent voices in pubcasting are now dovetailing with the surge in participatory platforms; the trick will be to keep the creation of publics in focus. As Noelle McAfee, formerly the associate director of the CSM and now a visiting professor at George Mason, live-blogged from Beyond Broadcast, "The presentations and videos this mornings so far show how powerful and innovative new uses of media are, how they provide new content and perspectives for journalistic practice. I worry that the innovations begin to be seen as ends in themselves, rather than as means for helping a public form in the Deweyan sense. There’s a profusion of content with a great deal of democratic potential, but the next step has to be how to help people connect."