Community media in a new light

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What can a Haitian radio station teach people about building a successful local news website?

Something about what it means to really be vital to your community.

Imagine a town of 25,000 people (easy for me, I grew up in one). Now imagine that, for whatever reason, there is really only one news source (in the US, until recently, this would often be nearly true of the local newspaper; we semi-affectionately called ours the Piddletown Mess).  Now imagine that one local news outlet (doesn’t matter – newspaper, radio, TV, website) having 200 fan clubs of 10-50 people each meeting regularly to talk about the outlet’s content, contribute money, discuss how they can help. Are you thinking about that? Somewhere between 8 and 40% of all the men, women and children in an extremely poor community volunteering their time and money to support independent local news and information.

I don’t care where you are, that’s serious community involvement!

With my year as a Berkman fellow officially at an end, I’m now focused on trying to bring what I learned there back into my old life in international media development. First attempt at this was in writing a small piece for a publication put together by Internews on community media and sustainability. The Community Media Sustainability Guide: The Business of Changing Lives (3 MB PDF), is out now and although most of the advice is aimed at and examples (except for my small piece) are drawn from community radio, mostly in developing countries, I think it’s well worth reading for anyone working on not-for-profit media online or otherwise in any country. In fact, there are similarities between the struggles to sustain a radio station in Nepal and a cooperative hyperlocal site in New Hampshire. So much of the time when I was at Berkman, I found myself referring to the same discussions about what is needed for small media outlets to succeed that we had when working with local TV in the former Soviet Union:

  • How can low-budget local content best compete against big-buck national outlets?
  • Should we try to be a one-stop shop, including (or linking to) national/international news or should we focus on original, local content?
  • How do you go beyond your instinct or the comments from your friends and family to learn what your audience is really interested in?
  • How do you achieve the critical mass needed to attract advertisers?
  • What kind of partnerships might bring in useful content or new audiences without threatening your independence or credibility?

I hope this community media guide starts some conversations about how media outlets of different kinds in  in radically different communities might actually have experiences to share with each other. Naturally, as I post this I’m listening to my favorite community radio, even though it’s not my community, vocalo.org’s weird and wonderful mix of talk and music.

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Whole world(wideweb) in my hand(held device)
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Media Cloud, because media are like weather, isn’t it?

1 Comment

  1. Reading the Community Media Sustainability Guide

    March 8, 2009 @ 10:52 pm

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    […] discover the “Community Media Sustainability Guide: The Business of Changing Lives” via Persephone Miel, author of one its articles, entitled “Small Towns Find a Voice Online” and speaker at […]