{book project} Public Media: The 4th Estate in 4 Sectors

book project, Research

The first step of the book project: How to conceptualize the dimensions of  “Public Media” for Social Change?

Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 11.12.10 AMInitial Thought: Public Media as the 4th Estate?

The “Fourth Estate” describes the journalists’ role in representing the interests of “the people” in relation to the business and political elites who claim to be doing things in our names.

The idea of the news media as the Fourth Estate has a chequered history. It began life as a term of abuse for the scurillous and ill-principled scribes of the press gallery at the Palace of Westminister. Conservative Anglo-Irish MP Edmund Burke coined the phrase as a way of mocking the gentlemen of the press.

However, in the intervening centuries, the Fourth Estate has come to mean taking a principled position (…)

The intellectuals of the 18th and 19th centuries who gave us the conception of the Fourth Estate as a civil watchdog to keep an eye on those in power also provided the philosophical argument for defining the public citizenry and the nation-state as two separate entities with differing interests.

Today, governments that claim to act in the “public interest” must face daily scrutiny of their actions. They must be called to account when overstepping the bounds of what citizens will support, or when taking actions that are clearly not in our interests. We rely on journalists and the news media to do this job on our behalf.

– Martin Hirst

Public media, in its very essence, should represent the people, and various segments of the people, in a variety of way — right? So  the ideal and ideal of the 4th estate, the representative of people vis-a-vis decision makers and power elites seems like a fit for a core dimension or characteristics for what might define public media. Supply of information on common issues, and scrutiny of power, it seems to me, are some of the essential factors of social change: what needs to change, how can change happen, by whom?

Admittedly, the 4th estate or the watchdog function (in its many forms) is just a part of what public media is, can, should or could be. For example: public service broadcasting, in the Western European tradition, entails the Reithian Trinity of information, education, and entertainment (sometimes referred to as ‘full service’). But (as the above quote highlights) the 4th Estate is an evolving concept. In these times where much of content is a mixture of what used to “news-like” or “entertainment” in content as well as in production and form (just read a few blog posts about gamification of news and education) it seems very limiting to think about the concept of 4th Estate simply as professional, traditional news content.

At the same token, the power of the popular culture and entertainment, and the relationship between communication and education, in relation to social change, have been discussed for decades.

Whatever the content, at the core of public (interest/service) media seem to be empowerment by access, content — and increasingly, participation and co-creation.

Following Thought: Public Media in its Various Formations

Social change, social justice, democracy… Big concepts that, in real life, will need plenty of support, much scrutiny. Add Appadurian global flows that permeate culture and the media, finance, people, technology and ideas. Public media seems like more of an ideal than ever.

On thing seems certain: Public service broadcasting (PSB) can’t handle all this alone. Its legitimacy continuously being challenged, by governments and commercial competitors alike (and there’s a vast amount of research on this, especially in the RIPE@ collection by NORDICOM). The main arguments relate to the role of public organizations distorting the market place as “subsidized” legacy and digital competitors.

Different kinds of alternative models have been proposed, many of them focusing on public media de jure, i.e., institutional public service organizations. For instance, Bajomi-Lazar et al. (2012)  offer three revisionist frames to the way PSM should be redesigned in the drastically changed media landscape. The Liberal Approach believes that the role of PSM is to correct market imperfections, i.e., to fill in the gaps in content and services that the free market – the commercial competitors – do not find profitable to offer. This approach is very much synonymous to the Market Failure Perspective  on PSM: The role of demand is emphasized and the purpose of PSM is to serve those underserved by the free market. The Radical Democratic Approach, in contrast, focuses on the distinctiveness of PSM in its mission to serve the public interest. This means that PSM should to (continue to) offer news and journalism, music and culture, drama, children’s programming, as well as events that bring the nation together. As a new alternative, Bajomi-Lazar et al. propose an ecological mission for PSM in which public interest media could be reinterpreted, and serve as an ambassador for, ecological, sustainable life styles. A related frame to the ecological mission is that of public service organizations as human rights proponents. (More examples, here.)

The big unresolved issue is: What, in fact, could public service media be? Aufderheide & Clark have tacked this afresh, from the perspective of an individual, with his/her many needs of media. They expand the idea of full service to what I’d like to call abundant service. All of this, available as the figure indicates, in many devices and platforms, seems like an enormous task for any one organization:

Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 1.00.49 PM

They also note that the individual may belong to many different kinds of publics. Again – a tough task for one organization:

Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 1.01.11 PM

In the light of above, it is perhaps symptomatic that public media de jure has been often offered a specific, limited role, whether from the market failure or the distinction perspective.  But how to define that distinction, from the perspective of serving as a support mechanism for democracy and social change? In that regard, how to move from the individual focus (of the above model) to mechanisms that support collective publics of many kinds? A fair assumption would be that different publics may need different content and form/platforms to function as their 4th Estates. They must depend on contextual matters — or issues, location, access… We need public media de facto that can be manifested in many ways.

Since we exist in the landscape of existing institutions as well as platforms, and ever globalizing media landscape, I then came up with this simple matrix that combines the geographical dimension with the functional-organizational dimension of a media outlet. The reason I title the latter with the dual meaning is that the function of the organization is very much connected to the form, content, and strategies the organization takes.

The Matrix also gives a few examples. They are just that: The matrix would require tons of related research to have empirical backing. Also, some of the examples are deliberately (seemingly) anti-public service. This is in purpose, to highlight the existing landscape and to identify needs and opportunities for new forms of public media de facto. At this point, the matrix is simply a note, a stepping stone.

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Final Thought: From a Matrix to an Ecosystem

When I look at the above matrix it’s clear to me that many of the its sections are in-between organizational or geographic borders (or fit in several slots). In addition, most of them share same social media platforms. And, as I have already advocated, there’s more room for collaboration.

It thus follows that eventually, I want to suggest a public media ecosystem: actors that all serve “the public”, actors that (I propose) are interconnected, and that also could collaborate.

In everyday parlance, or at least in the circles of marketing and advertising, the concept of social media ecosystem seems to be commonplace. Here the focus is on how that system captures consumers.

As C.W. Anderson has argued, in discussing the buzzword “media ecosystem in relation to journalism research:

The ultimate understanding of the news consumer in the more environmental approaches to news ecosystems is of an organism at the center of a webbed environment of overlapping influences—but a citizen who is sick due to a lack of proper nutritional sustenance.

While critiquing the focus on citizens, and calling for understanding of the many processes embedded in journalism to understand its challenges; he also gives a somewhat skeptical description of media ecology‘s focus on technology as the center of the media ecosystem. His argumentation is valid for news production research — but the ultimate challenge for me will be to determine, what the basic parameters are for a lively, diverse and dynamic, organic and healthy model for a public media ecosystem.

It will be a fascinating project to find examples of if and how different  segments of the media matrix can be merged into an ecosystem, and what roles different actors can play. We know already that in some countries, commercial players have public service obligations, and that many thinkers have positioned PSB  at the center of the abundance -=- as public service commissioner/programmer or navigator of public-service-oriented content. One could also argue that the cases of Wikileaks, and Ed Snowden  — as controversial as they may be — already point to that direction of projects by semi-structured groups and individuals meeting legacy media nationally and globally.

Briefly on Policy Briefs…


Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 9.57.47 AMWhat: “A policy brief is: A short document that presents the
findings and recommendations of research
• A stand alone document
• Focused on a single topic
• No more than 2-4 pages” (or 6-8 or 10-12, or…. This varies…)

Why: “Policy briefs are designed to support more informed evidence-based policy-making or decision-making within relevant organizations”.

For whom:  “The most common audience for a policy brief is the decision-maker but it is also not  unusual to use the document to support broader advocacy initiatives targeting a wide but knowledgeable audience (e.g. decision makers, journalists, diplomats, administrators, researchers).”

How:  “A policy brief must advance a persuasive argument in a concise, clearly organized fashion. A policy brief does not include a lengthy analysis or review of the literature.”

Scholarly Paper vs PB:

Great Resources:


The best policy brief instructions I know:  Policy_Brief_instructions.

Another source of clear instructions.

A visual slideshow on how to write a policy brief.

More discussion about PBs, here.

A not-so-good policy brief. And a better version.

Issue that emerged during PB workshops: The importance of visualization. Here, a basic overview (“the quick and dirty”) by Harvard Business Review on how to visualize data.


**** A MUST READ policy brief by the World Bank on Media Governance.****

A policy brief of GOOD GOVERNANCE  by Institute on Governance (ICM835 will use this late in the semester to discuss ASSESSMENT of governance).

A policy brief on GOOD GLOBAL GOVERNANCE (UN post-2015), by Transparency International (ICM835 will use this late in the semester to discuss ASSESSMENT of governance.)

A policy brief about media pluralism, by the London School of Economics.

A policy brief about copyrights and content creation, by the London School of Economics.

A policy brief about migrants and open internet, by Media Action Grassroots Network.

Media Governance – Cultural Perspectives

Featured Image -- 52Week 3: Times have changed (or have they?)

This week, we are going to look at governance with a broader, cultural lens. Media policies and surrounding politics, policy-making, and regulation often get examined via empirical analyses by political scientists,  media economists, and legal scholars.  But politics, policy- and law-making are not separate from cultural values and contexts.  In addition, governance is also always about power. Many scholars and other thinkers are looking at the power dynamics between different interest groups of mediated/communication and power from a cultural perspective. Here are some broader frameworks/perspectives:

Context #1: Cultural Flows

Thanks to Andrew, Bree & Frank (and Michelle Obama’s dress code) for making me add this segment. The core idea of cultural flows is founded on theorization around globalization. It’s partly economic (how media products = ideas travel around the world) but also how cultures change because of that (the key thinker, Arjun Appadurai, is an anthropologist after all). The political scientists Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart have looked at different theories of the impact of global cultural flows (they call it Cosmopolitan Communication)and map them as follows (summary below by the media anthropologist John Postill) :

1) Convergence of national cultures around Western values (LA effect): cultural imperialism/Americanization thesis (we all know this: some call it Disneyification);

2) Polarization of national cultures (Taliban effect): people can resist and reject alien media messages and values;

3) Fusion of national cultures (Bangalore effect): hybridity, multidirectional flows prevail (think of world music, for instance);

4) Firewall model of conditional effects (authors’ proposed theory), i.e. national cultures are far better insulated from the impact of cosmopolitan communication than previously thought (letting in content/values that is easily acceptable, leaving other things out).

What does the above has to do with media governance? Culture defines what is tolerated, accepted, supported. And we have seen clashes: #JesuisCharlie.

Context #2: Technology

Global communication flows are naturally related to technology that allows quicker, faster, more borderless flows than ever before. In addition, local/national cultures change from within; power dynamics change. No longer do we live in the era of mass communication, dominated by few media outlets and corporations. Instead, we are in the middle of the culture of convergence, as Henry Jenkins (also the author of one of W3 readings) explains below:

Jenkins’ chapter highlights what first happened when the mass media logic (and regulation) meets the unleashed creative power of people.

Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 5.17.46 PM

Changes in Governance

The above changes are intertwined and have broader consequences. In other words, as insinuated last week, cultures have changed, and aspects of media governance with them. Here’s my simple summary table. Please critique, comment, etc. below as comments to this blog (this is NOT part of your assignment, but I’d love any feedback!)

Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 4.52.11 PM

Or, the main difference could be described as “The Multitudes of the Social“:

And yet…

Change is not a-historical. Cultures (as even Norris & Inglehart insinuate) resist change, or don’t change completely, overnight. Diversity of voices, conversations, in mass media as well as new platforms — in the public sphere — is still a challenge – as it was in 1999 when your W3 reading by Jacobs was written.  Access to content (and production) divides us according to our economic and now also generational standing. Hate speech and flaming (whether based on gender, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation) can spread like wildfire. And, while diversity of content online is practically infinite, our consumption is perhaps even more ‘narrow’ than during the mass media era: We often live in information filter bubbles formed by our choices to search for/read/follow content and sources that are only to our liking (see the below examples of Scott and David):

Assignment of Week 3 (due 2/13 at midnight):
  • Read the readings marked with W3  — access them on Facebook or Blackboard.
  • Join the debate on Blackboard under Assignment Discussions — detailed instructions posted there.

Media Governance? Basic Perspectives


This is an introduction to Week 2 of ICM 835.

As this is our first content session, here is a road map to how we can understand the basics of MG.

We start from the perspectives that most often use the very term Media Governance, that is, fields that are interested in policies (whether their implementations, e.g., laws = legal studies, or policies as a larger part of societies = social scientists, esp. political scientists and political economists). The look is often that of the macro-level — societies — but implications pertain to the meso level (individual organizartions) as well as the micro level (us individuals).


Discussion on the definition of this buzzword by Karppinen & Moe, in their critique of ‘Media Governance’:

‘Media governance’ has been one of the most influential notions in the field of media and communication policy in recent years.

Media governance as an umbrella term … “covers all means by which the mass media are limited, directed, encouraged, managed, or called into account, ranging from the most binding laws to the most resistible of pressures and self-chosen disciplines.”

As such, the term encompasses both policy and regulation, to depict “the sum total of mechanisms, both formal and informal, national and supranational, centralized and dispersed, that aim to organize media systems according to the resolution of media policy debates” …

Scope of governance:
  • Macro-level – societies
  • Meso-level – organizations
  • Micro-level – individuals

AS WELL ASScreen Shot 2015-01-30 at 11.57.38 AM

  • Local
  • National
  • International
Governance and its Off-Springs – the Policy Perspective
Dr. Des Freedman of Goldsmiths College, London.

Dr. Des Freedman of Goldsmiths College, London.

As Des Freedman (Week 2 readings) notes, governance is the umbrella concept under which policies (specific to different aspects of our media and communication landscapes) are formed. Regulation, then, forms a specific set of tools to implement policies.

Philosophies – The Policy Perspective

Phil Napoli (Week 2 readings) highlights the three main foundations, or views, or philosophies that tend to inform media governance and policy-making. They are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but in real life, one of them tends to dominate in a society:

  • Free Speech
  • Public Interest
  • Marketplace of Ideas (see the video):
Key Areas – The Policy Perspective

Phil Napoli’s text also highlights the basic areas of governance:

  • Content
  • Structure
  • Infrastructure

[Minna’s note: in the mass media era, the idea of diversity was at the core of media governance debates: diverse voices as represented in media contents and diversity of ownership vis-a-vis monopolies. The Internet has brought us questions of infrastructure and access, but also brought back issues of censorship and surveillance in the era of seemingly infinite amount of content and content-creators.]

Assignment of Week 2

Due 2/6 by midnight. Individual assignment, submitted via email to aslamam@stjohns.edu

In our mediated world many unexpected, not-so-evident issues relate to media governance. Also, there are many contradictory developments that policy-making needs to tackle.

On one hand, we hear about our digital footprints that will exist online until eternity. The EU and Argentina have instituted policies about ‘the Right to Be Forgotten‘, i.e., the right of a citizen to demand that information about him/her must be erased (see the fact sheet about this recent case Google vs. a Spanish Citizen — the right is by no means without controversy.)

Screen Shot 2015-01-30 at 1.13.15 PMOn the other hand, we have the problem of the Web erasing itself, as depicted in this recent article by the New Yorker – for you to read for Week 2 assignment. I chose it precisely in that it describes a complex, many-sided, and not-so-evident media governance issue — that has several serious implications regarding societies and democracy.

Your task is the following:
  1. Read the above mentioned article.
  2. Read the texts shared on BlackBoard / Facebook, marked W2 (by Freedman & Napoli).
  3. Reflect on the NYer article from a policy-making & legal perspective:
    • Identify a key governance issue/problem/dilemma mentioned in the article (you can be broad or focus on a specific issue discussed in the article);
    • Identify its scope or scopes – can you see what it might mean for a society, for an organization, and for an individual (lay person); can you see whether it’s more of a local, national, or international question;
    • Think of the key area or areas the issue addresses; and
    • Come up with a policy suggestion as well as a proposal for a concrete regulatory measurement

Write a short, 1-3 paragraph account of the above and email it to me.

This assignment means getting our hands dirty right away; diving into the practice of analysing governance and translating it into policies and regulation during our 2nd week. Please dare to try, even if it feels foreign at this stage. For this reason, your submissions are individual and emailed to me directly. I will share a compilation of good responses (anonymously) with you after 2/6.

Teaser for Week 3

Media governance can also be looked at from a more cultural perspective — socio-cultural norms and values inform governance and policy-making. Bree, Andrew, & Frank pointed this out already on our Facebook conversations. Week 3 will be about exploring this aspect.

{discovery, research} Bridges Global and other forms of collaboration

Discovery, Friends involved..., Good News, Research, Teaching

Screen shot 2014-06-13 at 8.50.03 AM This post is inspired by the brand new venture, Bridges Global, by my friend Elizabeth Soltis. Her organization provides workshops and other kinds of training regarding empowerment, leadership, and collaboration, including:

  • Partnership Negotiation:  Practicing Nonviolent Communication
  • Service Excellence:  Exceeding Client Expectations
  • Trust and Innovation:  Developing Accountability and Creativity
  • Complaints:  Transforming Breakdowns into Inspired Action


In terms of media and development, social-media induced collaboration and participation have become crucial aspects, in many regards, as the below graph shows: Screen Shot 2013-12-10 at 8.36.35 AM [Image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/oscarberg/ under Creative Commons license.]


Doing Good Together Online

In this field, we need much more research and education to harness the potential of participation fully. While collaboration is more possible than ever, it also causes challenges. Clay Shirky, in Cognitive Surplus, outlines three important aspects of online participation for common good:

  • Motive (think of, e.g., passionate fans — how to create that kind of motivation?);
  • Opportunity (This does not only mean access to technologies that allow participation. Shirky writes: “While treating one another well…we can create environments where the group can do more than the individuals could do on their own”); and
  • Culture (for Shirky, this means the trend dominating online communities: The opening up of knowledge, bypassing old definitions of who is an expert, the collaborative spirit).

But not so fast. As Shirky  also notes, there are different values of participation: Some forms of participation are motivated by mere joy and fun, some participate to engage with friends, some participate to make the world a better place. One question is, what kind of participation value due we want to and need to create? This may be very different for a brand of sneakers and a non-profit fundraising for micro-loans. Also, we should perhaps not expect the creation of ‘Cognitive Surplus’ from everyone, in every situation. There are questions of access, skills, even (self)censorship as to how we can and do participate. For instance, Henry Jenkins et al. (a team of famous scholars of fan and online participation) argue in their new book titled Spreadable Media (pg. 194) that:

[T]he nature of participation in the digital age is a complicated matter. For even those groups who have greater access to digital technologies and have mastered the skills to deploy them effectively…our capacity to participate can be complicated by issues of who owns the platforms through which communication occurs and how their agendas shape how those tools can be deployed. And, even if we get our messages through, there is often the question of whether anyone is listening.

Scholar-Activist Collaborations The other aspect is: How do we collaborate to support (democratic) media development in today’s comlex media environment? The past decade has seen a notable increase in public interest–oriented civil society activism and advocacy around media-related change. These activities represent a distinctive, developing social movement. These efforts have become a developing point of intersection between scholars and activists. And there are numerous examples, some of them known world-wide: Robert McChesney is the co-founder of  Free PressLawrence Lessig is the co-founder of  Creative Commons. Until lately, the practices of engaged research by academic researchers in collaboration with movement actors has been sparse, and such collaborations have been subjected to relatively little attention. Communications Research in Action: Scholar-Activist Collaborations for a Democratic Public Sphere (a volume is a collection edited by Phil Napoli and myself)  highlights the multitude of ways in which scholars can participate as members of the MR movement/s. This (latter) kind of collaboration is needed to promote (the former) opportunities for collaboration and participation to everyone.


[More about participation, collaboration, media development, and governance to follow!]