Fall-Winter 2002-2003

Fred Johnson Comes to UMass/Boston
by Melissa Daigle

Despite the entanglements that accompany a move to a new area and a new job (in this case, finding housing and wading through the university's red tape), Fred Johnson is quickly finding his niche in the Boston area and on the campus of the University of Massachusetts/Boston. This fall, the College of Public and Community Service (CPCS) at UMB welcomed Johnson as the new—and first—professor of Community Media and Technology.

James Fishwick, Melissa Daigle, and Fred Johnson

Since the beginning of his career, Fred Johnson (pictured here, far right, with CTC VISTAs James Fishwick and Melissa Daigle) has focused on the importance of using advanced technology for local democracy. He earned his Masters in Communication in the 1970s and has since worked as a telecommunications policy analyst, a cable access center director, and a teacher of community media topics at universities including Antioch College and Portland State University. Johnson has produced a number of documentaries independently, for PBS, and for the BBC. In 1987, Johnson founded the Media Working Group, an organization created to encourage critical thinking about the impact of electronic media on art, society, and culture, and in 2000, he was Planning Project Director for the Ford Foundation's "Digital Directions,"a study on the effect of digital conversion on media arts.

In each role, Johnson has gained the praises of community media movers-and-shakers and has found a place among their ranks. When asked which role he enjoyed most, Johnson replied in his light Appalachian drawl, "I like it all...The exception, most probably, is making documentaries about social issues and doing it with groups or organizations in such a way that expresses things from their point-of-view—arts, social issues—with people rather than about people. I love the process of making documentaries for TV, the web, etc... But jumping to other jobs is not hard to understand: it's all quite interrelated actually."

When he first heard about the UMB's Community Media and Technology program, Johnson was interested, but didn't immediately see his role in it. "Later, I saw the job listing on a listserv, but I was in Ireland [filming a documentary]. When I got back in the country that spring, I thought that I might enjoy teaching full-time, so I got in touch with Peter Miller and Reebee Garofalo at UMB."

"To me Fred embodies the ideal of a CPCS faculty member," says Reebee Garofalo, the coordinator of the CMT Program at UMB. "[He's] someone who combines practical skills—in this case, documentary film-making, video production, and digital editing—with the theory and analysis that encourages critical reflection on how such skills are used. He is a true scholar/activist, with a commitment to giving voice to unheard populations, and as such he represents an excellent fit with the mission of the College."

Community Media and Technology is already a certificate option for students at UMB—and elsewhere, anywhere, since it's offered online as well as on campus—and a groundbreaking major is being developed. This degree program will train current and future community leaders in the significance and application of technology and media in nonprofit and community building. Johnson sees the degree having an impact in two major ways. "First, the program will help define the community technology movement by training people as technologists and media builders and by setting standards to create a culture around these movements. They'll be trained professionals in that area, accredited, with a demonstrated background set in a program specifically designed to meet community technology needs."

The second, more immediate impact involves the program's Boston location. "There's a critical mass here, a highly developed group of community media and technology practitioners... We hope to engage [these groups] in a critical dialogue about the future of the CMT program, such as what kinds of development changes should be undertaken."

"Media and technology are the way that the status quo is maintained. They'll be tools for the powerful until we change that," says Johnson. "I feel a responsibility; I feel a desire and a delight in being involved in the policy and democracy of media. Media must be inclusive of populations and ideas, and the policies must reflect the diversity and social makeup of our society."

Fred Johnson has indeed followed his desire and his sense of responsibility throughout the years. Those of us at UMB and in the Boston area are glad that the path has led him here, and we are eager to tap into his talents and passion in the community media and technology field.

Melissa Daigle is Assistant Editor of the Community Technology Review and a CTC VISTA at the College of Public and Community Service.

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