At the beginning of the 21st century there was a story about the power of blogs and new media to radically transform the world of journalism, bringing back hard-nosed investigative journalists motivated by a stubborn insistence on holding those in power accountable. New “citizen journalists” would democratize the media by becoming the media. These citizen journalists were to be the answer to a growing crisis in journalism brought on by the rise of the Internet as a dominant media platform on the one one hand, and the consolidation, corporatization, and downsizing of established media outlets on the other. For a while that seemed to be working – bloggers, media activists, and digital media outlets broke major stories, earned respectability, and brought the stories of real people into the national conversation.
The spirit and energy of citizen journalists and media activists did not, however, translate into building new sustainable institutions to house and support this emergent form of journalism. New media democratized access to tools, platforms, and audiences as long as the the new journalists and media activists were willing to do their work for free or for poverty wages. In short, a new platform for a historic expansion in the ability for everyday people to tell their stories and to hold civic and corporate leaders accountable was emerging, but there was little discussion of how to provide a material and educational infrastructure to help make this new model sustainable.
Our three founders – Kevin Mahoney, Rick Smith, and Marlana Eck – all have direct experience trying to establish sustainable, citizen media projects. It was clear that there was some pretty amazing work happening in communities all across Pennsylvania and the country. There were political bloggers, independent documentarians, artists, public intellectuals, podcasters, YouTubers, digital storytellers…you name it. The things they all have in common is that they are all struggling to make ends meet; are frequently searching for technological training; and searching for ways to reach more people in their communities. The Citizen Media Center was founded to help nurture this new model of citizen media in Pennsylvania and across the region. It is our belief that such a citizen media can increase civic engagement and help ensure a vibrant democracy that is responsive to the needs and desires of everyday people.
The Citizen Media Center is designed to help train and support emerging and seasoned advocates for social justice and democracy in the effective use of citizen media. The CMC does this by providing direct assistance to working citizen journalists who are struggling to make their work sustainable; training students and community members in best practices in using digital and new media for the purposes of advocacy and civic engagement; assisting in the development of citizen media projects using new or emerging platforms; offering educational opportunities for students to gain hands-on experience working in the field of citizen media; and, serving as a central hub for citizen media projects in Pennsylvania and the region.
It’s not enough to hope for a media that covers the issues and concerns of our communities. We have to invest in and work for that media. That’s the purpose of the Citizen Media Center.
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