Communications Research in Action: Scholar-Activist Collaborations for a Democratic Public Sphere

Communications Research in Action: Scholar-Activist Collaborations for a Democratic Public Sphere

Philip M. Napoli
Minna Aslama
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    Communications Research in Action: Scholar-Activist Collaborations for a Democratic Public Sphere
    Book Description:

    A synergy between academia and activism has long been a goal of both scholars and advocacy organizations in communications research. The essays in Communications Research in Action demonstrate, for the first time in one volume, how an effective partnership between the two can contribute to a more democratic public sphere by helping to break down the digital divide to allow greater access to critical technologies, democratizing the corporate ownership of the media industry, and offering myriad opportunities for varied articulation of individuals' ideas. Essays spanning topics such as the effect of ownership concentration on children's television programming, the media's impact on community building, and the global consequences of communications research will not only be valuable to scholars, activists, and media policy makers but will also be instrumental in serving as a template for further exploration in collaboration.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-4883-4
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    Becky Lentz

    Communications Research in Actionis a timely and important book for scholars, legal advocates, and community organizers interested in making a difference in communication and information policy (CIP) but not sure quite where to begin. CIP is a broad, interdisciplinary, and international arena of scholarship and practice that includes several overlapping policy sectors: broadcasting, telecommunications, the Internet, freedom of information, technology, and intellectual property. The work in this volume is also a gift to community organizers, policy advocates, and their funders who may have experienced the disappointment of calling, in vain, for help from the academic community. These contributions represent...

    (pp. xv-xviii)
    (pp. 1-6)

    Research and praxis are great partners in theory. In the social sciences, normative concerns—such as conceptions of the means through which a functioning democracy is achieved—often guide research topics, questions, and conclusions. However, scholarly analyses seldom reach the relevant stakeholders outside the walls of academia. This is particularly the case in the field of media and communications research. The relationship between communications research and the media and communications industries, which used to be relatively strong and mutually enriching in the early days of the field (the 1930s and 1940s), has long since tapered off. The relationship between communications...

    • [PART I Introduction]
      (pp. 7-10)

      This part is devoted to research that has examined the activities, needs, and effectiveness of organizations dedicated to the improvement of our media system. Public interest media advocacy and activism has become an increasingly common focus of research. Scholars are interested in these organizations for a variety of reasons, including trying to enhance our understanding of the policymaking process and social movements (Napoli 2009). And, of course, scholars often become members of these organizations in an effort to affect social change with their scholarship. The media reform/media justice movement is increasingly perceived as a social movement in its own right....

    • CHAPTER 1 Digital Inclusion: Working Both Sides of the Equation
      (pp. 11-27)

      This action research project examined efforts to enhancedigital inclusionin San Antonio, a working-class immigrant neighborhood of East Oakland, California. Part of a longer-term collaboration between the researcher (Department of Media Studies at the University of San Francisco) and an advocacy organization (Media Alliance), it took place during the fall of 2008 and first half of 2009. The research encompassed the design, implementation, and evaluation of three interconnected initiatives: a media training program for women community leaders calledRaising Our Voices(ROV); the planning of a local digital media production and distribution site; and municipal and national policy interventions...

    • CHAPTER 2 Engaging in Scholar-Activist Communications in Canada
      (pp. 28-44)

      I participated in the Necessary Knowledge for a Democratic Public Sphere (NKDPS) program as a member of the selection committee for the Collaborative Grants Program beginning in February 2008. My experiences working on various projects funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) sensitized me to the challenges and the opportunities of collaborative partnerships and the need to craft diverse modes of research dissemination to influence various policy outcomes for the public interest. I realized in the course of my work with NKDPS that our ability as Canadian academics to apply for and secure funding (albeit...

    • CHAPTER 3 Toward a Taxonomy for Public Interest Communications Infrastructure
      (pp. 45-66)

      Since 1998, Prometheus Radio Project has been the reluctant bearer of bad news. Week-in and week-out, people from all over the United States call or write them asking how they can start a radio station. Most of the time the request for information comes with a heart-felt account of how their community lacks venues for critical civic information and outlets vital for community building. Most of the time, Prometheus has to let them down gently. Under current broadcasting policy, new radio licenses will never be available to the vast majority of people in the United States—no matter how much...

    • [PART II Introduction]
      (pp. 67-70)

      One of the most prominent communications policy issues in recent years has been the issue of media ownership. Concerns about concentration of media ownership have, in the United States in particular, mobilized academics, advocates, and the citizenry to a degree that may be unprecedented in the history of communications policymaking. The 2003 media ownership proceeding conducted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been widely credited as playing a significant role in revitalizing the media reform and media justice movement in the United States (Kidd 2005; Scott 2004).

      One of the most challenging aspects of media ownership policymaking has involved...

    • CHAPTER 4 Big Media, Little Kids: The Impact of Ownership Concentration on the Availability of Television Programming for Children
      (pp. 71-87)

      Television has an extraordinarily powerful influence on children’s lives. Virtually all U.S. children watch television before their first exposure to formal education, and once they are in school children spend an average of three hours a day watching television (Roberts, Foehr, and Rideout 2005). While there is significant concern about the harmful effects of television exposure on children, watching developmentally appropriate educational programming has been shown to play a constructive role in children’s cognitive development. Research has shown that viewing quality educational television programming can positively affect children’s school readiness and success (Wright et al. 2001; Zill 2001).

      Children benefit...

    • CHAPTER 5 Minority Commercial Radio Ownership: Assessing FCC Licensing and Consolidation Policies
      (pp. 88-113)

      This study examines more than 11,000 records from the Consolidated Database System (CDBS) at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as well as Internet sources on radio ownership and program formats in mid-2009 to analyze the effect of FCC licensing and multiple ownership policies on minority ownership of commercial radio stations, program diversification, and service to the American public.¹ This analysis is timely and important as the FCC prepares for its quadrennial review of broadcasting rules in 2010, mandated by the Telecommunications Act of 1996 [§202(h)]. Analyzing media ownership is critical because “[i] t is upon ownership that public policy places...

    • CHAPTER 6 Cross-Ownership, Markets, and Content on Local TV News
      (pp. 114-136)

      This study examined the effect that the cross-ownership of local television stations and newspapers may have on the local content of newscasts across television markets.¹ It was carried out as a partnership between researchers (University of Delaware) and activists (Consumer Federation of America and Free Press) in response to the actions of a regulating agency that, for the most part, dismissed policy research that did not comply with its preferred policy choices. The purpose of the project was to subject data that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) controlled to outside scrutiny. It is particularly timely for two reasons: first, the...

    • [PART III Introduction]
      (pp. 137-138)

      The chapters in this section describe collaborative efforts directed at the development and support of alternative and community media. One of the most prominent fields of activity for the public interest and advocacy communities in recent years has been work to develop new approaches to supporting alternative media systems—systems that are often noncommercial in their orientation and typically are more closely tied to the needs and interests of local communities than are traditional commercial media.

      Historically, research on local and community media has been dominated by four general themes: democratic processes, cultural identity, the concept of community itself, and...

    • CHAPTER 7 Measuring Community Radio’s Impact: Lessons in Collaboration
      (pp. 139-156)

      Community radio stations are mission driven. For WMMT-FM, a community radio station in Whitesburg, Kentucky, the mission is to document, disseminate, and revitalize the lasting traditions and contemporary creativity of Appalachia by providing local people with the means to tell their own stories, and to hear each other’s stories—stories the commercial industries do not tell. WMMT challenges common Appalachian stereotypes of ignorance and backwardness with the real voices of Appalachian people, whose culturally rich history remains alive in songs, stories, and other arts. WMMT accomplishes this through programming traditional Appalachian music and its descendant, bluegrass, other forms of music,...

    • CHAPTER 8 Youth Channel All-City: Mapping the Media Needs and Interests of Urban Youth
      (pp. 157-176)

      Around the country, public access media centers are facing an identity crisis, an identity opportunity, or perhaps a combination of the two. These centers are a part of a larger media democracy and education movement that seeks to transform the structural, social, and representational arrangements of the current media system.

      Public access centers are noncommercial spaces for individuals to produce and air their own media. However, their role as a relevant public and free form of communication is currently being questioned by the local municipalities who financially and politically support these centers. New digital technologies and inexpensive consumer equipment allow...

    • CHAPTER 9 Mobile Voices: Projecting the Voices of Immigrant Workers by Appropriating Mobile Phones for Popular Communication
      (pp. 177-196)

      Mobile Voices, also known as VozMob (, is a digital storytelling platform for first-generation, low-wage immigrants in Los Angeles to create and publish stories about their communities, directly from cell phones. The project is a partnership between the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California (USC) and the Institute of Popular Education of Southern California (IDEPSCA), a nonprofit that organizes low-income immigrants in Los Angeles. Founded in 1984, IDEPSCA’s programs are focused on education, economic development, health access and reform, popular communication, and worker rights. Currently IDEPSCA runs six day laborer and household worker centers and two...

    • CHAPTER 10 Community Connect: A Network of Civic Spaces for Public Communication in North Dakota
      (pp. 197-218)

      These were the questions we faced as we started on a grassroots project to create a network of civic spaces for public communication in North Dakota that people will use. We thought these questions were important because we were aware of the paucity of such projects, of venues that were created but not used, and of initiatives with only short-term success. Our work began in 2006 with a handful of community residents and of members of the University of North Dakota who were concerned about the shortage and the shortcomings of means for participating and for sharing information in the...

    • [PART IV Introduction]
      (pp. 219-220)

      The chapters included in this section focus on collaborative efforts related to the development and operation of fundamental communications infrastructures. In the contemporary media environment, issues of access to—and openness of—key communications infrastructures are becoming increasingly important. Network neutrality, overcoming the digital divide, and broadband infrastructure development represent some of the most pressing communications policy concerns today. Since those themes directly relate to citizen’s media use, the concerns are also addressed by many civic organizations, ranging from small grassroots activist groups to networked global advocacy organizations.

      The chapters in this part provide examples of how research can enhance...

    • CHAPTER 11 Telecommunications Convergence and Consumer Rights in Brazil
      (pp. 221-239)

      For over two decades, communication services have been a central item on the agenda of consumer defense organizations. In the past ten years, however, the number of issues related to this sector has grown—and continues to grow—exponentially, which increases the pressure to find answers for the numerous problems and demands arising from the offering of both old and new services to the consumer.

      With recent technological developments in telecommunications, other services have been added to the landline, such as mobile telephony, pay TV, and Internet access. As they expand, these services reveal, with greater or lesser intensity, their...

    • CHAPTER 12 Citizen Political Enfranchisement and Information Access: Telecommunications Services in Rural and Remote Areas
      (pp. 240-256)

      As an increasing number of participatory democratic processes assume access to modern, high-speed telecommunications services, this study addressed the question: Are citizens in rural/remote areas being politically disenfranchised by lack of adequate, affordable, and equal communications infrastructure? Electronic media, including high-speed Internet access and local broadcast, play an important role in the democratic process. Citizen enfranchisement is increasingly equated with online activities from blogging to e-government. Residents in metropolitan areas, where high-speed wired and wireless connectivity is widely available, can readily be included in these processes. They can go online to get notices and agendas of community meetings, receive information...

    • CHAPTER 13 Open Access in Africa: The Case of Mauritius
      (pp. 257-270)

      How do African countries expand access to the Internet? A significant barrier to the region’s development has been the high price of bandwidth into and out of African countries, which has until recently come through a single submarine cable—the South Atlantic Telephony-3/West African Submarine Cable (SAT-3/WASC). The prices charged for international bandwidth in countries connected to the cable are controlled by the SAT3consortium member for each country, each of which has been granted a national monopoly. The consortium member is also the country’s largest incumbent telecom operator.

      In 2006, thirteen SAT3/WASC/SAFE member countries met to discuss the...

    • CHAPTER 14 The Public FM Project: Supporting the Licensing of New Noncommercial FM Radio Stations for Student and Community Usage
      (pp. 271-284)

      Common Frequency’s Public FM project dealt with organizing and disseminating information concerning the licensing of new noncommercial radio stations. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) opened a limited filing window in 2007 for entities to apply for some of the last remaining reserved educational FM radio channels. Since the opportunity was not well publicized, and the vacant frequency locations were not disclosed by the government, this presented an information gap for those desiring to start a radio station. The Social Science Research Council provided a small grant for the nonprofit Common Frequency to work with students at the University of California,...

    • [PART V Introduction]
      (pp. 285-286)

      As was noted by Becky Lentz in her Foreword, all of the research projects in this book were the outcome of a multiyear collaborative, multipronged effort on the part of a number of organizations—including the Social Science Research Council, the Center for International Media Action, and the Ford Foundation—to cultivate and support scholar-activist collaborations in the media and communications field. This initiative was dubbed the Necessary Knowledge for a Democratic Public Sphere program. The chapters contained in this part present the reflections of two of the lead actors in this program on the lessons learned from this collaborative...

    • CHAPTER 15 Cultures of Collaboration in Media Research
      (pp. 287-312)

      My goal in this chapter is to offer some provisional thoughts on the efforts of the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) to build a “culture of collaboration” between academic researchers and the media reform and media justice communities. Broadly speaking, our program tried to make the field better at producing and using research in the service of public-interest policy agendas, and more generally in support of a more diverse and participatory public sphere. The centerpiece of this effort was the “Collaborative Grants in Media and Communications” project, through which we funded some forty-four research partnerships between 2006 and 2008.¹ The...

    • CHAPTER 16 Engendering Scholar-Activist Collaborations: An Evaluator’s Perspective
      (pp. 313-332)

      This chapter offers some reflections based upon my role as an evaluator for the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) Collaborative Grants program, which was the primary component of the Necessary Knowledge for a Democratic Public Sphere (NK) demonstration project that is described in the previous chapter by Joe Karaganis.¹ The NK project offered the emerging field of media reform and justice grants and technical assistance to facilitate scholar-activist partnerships. These partnerships had both a tactical and strategic purpose. Tactically, they were intended to produce research that could help bring about progressive policy change in the U.S. media and communications system....

  11. CONCLUSION: Bridging Gaps, Crossing Boundaries
    (pp. 333-336)

    This volume exemplifies just some of the ways that communications research, when put into action, can contribute to the knowledge necessary to enhance democracy and build a more democratic public sphere. According to Habermas (1996), “if the public sphere can be best described as a network for communicating information and points of view” in which “the streams of communication are . . . filtered and synthesized in such a way that they coalesce into bundles of topically specified public opinions” (30), then it is of paramount importance that there are no impediments to access, or obstacles of freedom of expression,...

  12. List of Contributors
    (pp. 337-346)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 347-366)