Summer 2004

Emergence, Convergence, and Empowerment
by Daniel Schackman

While the latter part of the twentieth century witnessed a growth in alternatives to mainstream corporate media, the technological advances of the 1990's--particularly the arrival of the World Wide Web--signaled the delivery of increasingly narrow distribution of specialized content to more fragmented audiences. In response to a growing tide of content offerings that are detached from, if not dissonant with, the real world, a small but growing number of individuals around the world are turning to alternative sources of news and information.

A new form of media convergence is rising at the grassroots level, empowering communities by giving people the tools to express themselves. Community technology centers, community media centers, telecenters, and independent media centers serve as agents of progressive social change, providing computer labs and digital media training to connect individuals, interest groups, and institutions with their neighborhoods, harnessing their shared strength and collective wisdom to create media that reflect the circumstances and experiences of real people. A team of leading media artists and educators is introducing workshop attendees to the exciting possibilities of this movement, offering strategies and practical advice on how to participate as national and international sites of civic expression and media production.

Fred Johnson
Spearheading this initiative is Fred Johnson, an Associate Professor at the University of Massachusetts-Boston's College of Public and Community Service, in the Community Media and Technology program. Johnson is a media artist, educator, documentary maker, policy analyst, and a consultant in communications and development. He has received a Fulbright Fellowship for the Television Arts, producing and directing documentaries for the BBC and for public television in the US. Johnson previously directed the Digital Directions project, a national planning process focused on the impact of digitization on the media arts, funded by the Ford Foundation, for the National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture (NAMAC). Johnson stresses that we are at a point in time when it is both possible and advisable to envision something other than a marginalized alternative media culture: "I can not let go of the idea that in this moment there may be an opportunity in the next few years to create the distribution systems, production and social practices and politics necessary for the creation of a much more robust, non-commercial media culture."

Other indy media leaders participating in this workshop include Nettrice Gaskins, Director of the Commonwealth Broadband Collaborative (CBC). Gaskins has over ten years experience in multimedia/digital media, education/training, leadership, and program development, most recently as the director of the Multimedia Center at Boston Neighborhood Network (BNN). She has been a member of the CBC steering committee since its inception, is on the national board of CTCNet, and has developed online community media and technology courses for UMass Boston/College for Public and Community Service. Gaskins states, "While new technologies such as wireless broadband and 'broadcatching' are emerging, convergence is creating virtual and actual environments where media makers are exploring ways to become more empowered."

In keeping with the theme of this year's Annual CTCNet Conference, this team is leading the way by showing how creative use of technology can help empower communities. Independent community media are a vital resource. At a time in which divergent and diffuse voices are being drowned out in mainstream media, the emergence of creative outlets and alternatives is crucial. CTCs can be leaders in this movement, by using the resources that they already have, creatively using new tools, and understanding the transformational power that they have at hand.


Dan Schackman has served as CTCNet's CTC AmeriCorps VISTA Member and Information Management Associate from June 2002-June 2004.

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