Frog, lily, pond. Media, center, community.
Reformers want to create community media to serve neighborhoods or affinity groups who fall through the cracks of mass media. There was much talk of community media at the Journalism that Matters conference I attended last week. The focus was on non-profit or advocacy media. But how are such a media enterprises to be organized and supported? As volunteer efforts or with paid staff? And where will such media live?
Maybe the business model for grassroots media reformers is to create non-profit community centers. Doing what? Whatever is needed in a given community. It could be job placement and training; or a day care center for working families. For virtual communities conferences or conventions could substitute for such a center. But I do not believe that community can be entirely virtual. A lasting community cannot live solely in ideas. People must feel some personal affinity with their fellows and physical contact is a condition for building or maintaining that bond. Let the media grow out of the community center.
The center model makes financial sense for non-profit media startups. Many foundations exist to serve needy communities. To create a community media outlet start by identifying a need that could be delivered in a storefront setting; cost out the service (day-care could be useful almost anywhere); build in an additional expense to fund the media overlay on top of the real-world service; and create a plan to make this enterprise into a self-sustaining non-profit institution.
Idealistic? Yes but not implausible. When I mentioned this idea a friend in San Francisco his immediate comment was, “Oh, like 826 Valencia!” That is the name of a community center started by writer Dave Eggers to teach expository writing to children 8-18, especially those for whom English is a second language.
I’m not aware that media is part of the 826 Valencia mission. But the general notion of creating a place to deliver useful services is a great starting point. People are busy. They need help with finances, health and education before they can become engaged in civics. A community center that addresses their real world needs can grow a media overlay that brings them into the civic discussion. Help first, media second.
(This posting was inspired in part by Maurreen Skowran, who I met st the JTM event. She wants to put Internet-connected computer kiosks in laundromats thinking moms ands dads will bring the kids while they do the clothes, the kids will get on the computers and show the folks a thing or two. Simple, personal, concrete and more likely to have a positive effective than some fleeting form of media.)