In 2006 I attended Beyond Broadcast. The conference was subtitled “reinventing public media in participatory culture.” I was struck by the energy of those involved from the public radio and television stations whom I’d not met prior. Most fascinatingly, the technologists among them were taking their passion for serving the public interest, that they had always had, and sharing ideas around open source platforms and helping each other well beyond the confines of their organizations. The listserv set up subsequently demonstrated (though only partially successful) that those technologists who had previously been only able to toil away to support the listeners or viewers of programs in their area could actually help define standards and build tools that would help their counterparts in other stations. That said, the challenges for traditional media were only just beginning to come into focus as the conference preceded much of the drop off in advertising revenue that has been driving cutbacks in newsroom staff ever since.
Last year a conference at Columbia ‘The Changing Dynamics of Public Controversies” brought into focus the challenge of oversight in an era where traditional public interest journalism is no longer funded as it was. Prof. Paul Starr provided his analysis of the challenge sharing his most recent article in TNR. Yochai Benkler provided a response that suggested a way out but attendees likely left with more questions than with which they arrived.
The conference at Yale in November, Journalism and the New Media Ecology, looks like it is focused squarely on the question of the moment given it’s subtitle — Who will pay the Messengers? I am not sure if it will deliver but as a preview the recent talk by Clay Shirky at the Shorenstein Center certainly lays out some of the questions and Shirky’s estimation of how the future could play out, which even he is not that optimistic about.