The media prophets report no future for capacity building of Community Media


Date: June 13, 2011
Contact: Belinda Rawlins, (617) 287-7371,

BOSTON – The FCC’s “The Information Needs of Communities,” released last Thursday, represents a departure from previous reports in that it more fully recognizes community media outlets as key providers of digital and media literacy. However, the report misses the opportunity to make specific recommendations for strengthening and expanding these organizations’ ability to meet the needs of communities:

We applaud the community media centers that have moved to become key venues to help train citizens in digital literacy. We recommend that community media centers explore ways to help increase digital literacy and broadband adoption, and that policymakers consider community media centers as a resource that can aid in efforts in those areas. (357)

The Transmission Project has ten years of experience building the capacity of community media organizations that deliver digital and media literacy. A national service initiative, our Digital Arts Service Corps places volunteers with organizations to complete yearlong capacity building projects. In fact, many of the report’s examples of strong community media organizations have benefited from our Digital Arts Service Corps. The report mentions CAN TV in Chicago, Cambridge Community Television, Boston Neighborhood Network, Media Bridges Cincinnati, and Saint Paul Neighborhood Network (SPNN), whose Community Technology Empowerment Project emerged out of a collaboration with the Transmission Project.

In the past, the FCC has explicitly acknowledged the value of service-based models in promoting digital literacy. It is therefore disappointing that missing from the report is any recommendation regarding what role service and volunteerism should play in meeting the digital literacy needs of communities. Recommendation 9.3 of the FCC’s National Broadband Plan provided a framework for the creation of a National Digital Literacy Corps under the NTIA that would possibly entail a collaboration with the Corporation for National and Community Service. The Plan also recommended capacity building of digital literacy partners under IMLS. As neither of these recommendations has come to fruition, the newly released report served as an opportunity to elaborate on or explore alternatives to the previously proposed partnerships.

The FCC’s “The Information Needs of Communities” alludes only once to volunteer corps when it criticizes the possibility of AmeriCorps volunteers serving as journalists. Indeed, Transmission Project Executive Director Belinda Rawlins provided the FCC report’s working group with comment to the same effect. The report echoes her words:

There is one public-private partnership we think would be a bad idea: some have suggested creating a federally-funded AmeriCorps program for journalists. Journalism should often be about challenging powerful institutions, which sometimes will draw political fire and controversy. AmeriCorps has grown and prospered by focusing on the forms of service on which most Americans can agree, such as tutoring, helping seniors, or working for Habitat for Humanity. Creating a government-financed AmeriCorps for reporters would potentially seriously harm AmeriCorps. (357)

Although the report correctly defines the limits of AmeriCorps involvement, it declines to discuss how other corps models can help. Paid volunteers should not be barred from building the capacity of community media organizations. The Transmission Project is pained to see that the report’s working group seems unable to imagine a role for national service in helping to build a robust, diverse media infrastructure beyond directly serving journalistic enterprises.

We are still taking in the sizable report, and in the coming weeks we plan to explore in more depth various digital and media literacy curricula. In the meantime, we hope readers will refer to the Transmission Project’s previous statements on service corps models and digital literacy.

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The Transmission Project amplifies the power of public media and technology. The Transmission Project supports a diverse network of partner organizations that serve communities nationwide. Through our primary initiative the Digital Arts Service Corps, we recruit and place full-time AmeriCorps*VISTAs (Volunteers in Service to America) with organizations to complete specific, yearlong capacity building projects.


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