Credit: Feng Yu

Alternative media as Lievrouw states in her book “Alternative and Activist New Media” in 2011 is “the latest incarnation of a long historical line of oppositional, radical, underground, or anarchist media” and “activist new media projects do not only reflect or critique mainstream media and culture, they constitute and intervene in them”. In her blog post, Diana Elena Gaftoneanu raises a valid point that the information alternative media produces is not necessarily always truth and we should be aware of that. With the rapid development of ICT as a source for providing alternative media there is one more concern that has to be raised. As digital technologies are becoming more and more preferred tool for capturing news and Internet is becoming more and more preferred place to share this news we have to think about the regulations or precisely the lack of regulations that rule the social spaces there. Of course, having no censorship in Internet is probably the most tempting reason communities to choose alternative media vehicles as a source of information. But is it always the freedom of speech a positive thing and how far people can go in their abuse of basic human ethic principles when they use unrestrictedly new technologies and social media as a tool for sharing news or as it will be in our case “achievements”. I will say No and will justify my statement with an example from the war in Iraq in 2003.

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Video and its use is a common theme running through ICT4D debates about the “framing” of communities in the global south. Andrea Cornwall spoke during her ORECOMM presentation “Reframing Development: From ‘Assistance’ to Global Justice” about our need to “re-frame realities” by rejecting the colonial frames imposed on developing world contexts—of women as either “heroines” or “victims”, for example—and providing opportunities for individuals within these communities to create the frames that best represent their own unique perspectives. Documentary video production is criticized for its outsider perspective (Cornwall critiques Prostitutes of God), and participatory video production hailed as its remedy (Cornwall references Save Us from Saviours).

Yet as I pointed out in an earlier post, participatory video practices present challenges in terms of resources, sustainability and scalability for development initiatives. InsightShare, for example, is a leading development NGO that facilitates locally led video production projects. In his TEDTalk “This is Not a Video Camera” (see video above), Chris Lunch speaks to the many ways in which the use of a video camera empowers community members to realize development objectives. It is an inspiring presentation, but no matter how many times Lunch reiterates, “This is not a video camera”—it really is a video camera. It is an expensive piece of technology that Lunch and his co-facilitators have lent to the community—along with an editing suite and viewing screen—for a finite period of time before, in most cases, it is packed up and shipped off to another community for another project. [click to continue…]

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Credit: Nicholas Kristof Facebook Page

At first glance, the headline for this blog is ridiculous. We all know that Nick Kristof isn’t a community. He’s an influential social justice columnist for the New York Times who has made his reputation by travelling to the world’s darkest places and bringing back compelling stories of misery that captivate his readers. For many years Kristof wrote columns, authored books, gave talks at prestigious universities, dined with presidents, and won awards, and his audience in the US grew with his celebrity. But in the late 2000s, something happened to Kristof that took his popularity to another level and, I will argue, changed his name from a proper noun to a collective noun.

Nick Kristof found social media.

Kristof’s initial foray into the social media space was at the behest of his book publisher (This information, by the way, is revealed in the New York Times Innovation Report, a confidential internal report on the paper’s new digital strategy that was leaked, ironically, to BuzzFeed). His publisher’s urged him to connect with his audience and market himself (and his books) online. But what began as a marketing exercise soon turned into something else. In a short space of time his followers on Facebook and Twitter numbered in the 100s of thousands, and they weren’t just Americans. A look at the faces and locations of some of his 621,268 followers on Facebook (as of 25 October) suggest they span the gamut of human difference: different race, cultures, religions, age, gender and class.

Kristof’s Facebook page is no longer a marketing vehicle for his books. Kristof posts content or questions about social issues that he is interested in or is writing about, and his audience then begins a discussion on the issues in the comments section. It is not unusual for the comment section to have more than a thousand responses. It’s also not unusual for his audience to donate hundreds of thousands and sometimes millions of dollars to the causes they discuss.

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The landscape of New Media has been enduring constant change since the rise of ICT and it’s social character. People have never had so many channels through which they can communicate, share, and make their voices heard and history has never seen so many people who wish to be heard. In the times of participatory media initiatives and programs such as local radio stations that would give a voice to small communities, there were a happy few that now had the opportunity to be heard and learn about broadcasting and a even happier majority that could hear local news and thus get informed about their community. Nowadays, even in remote, developing communities, you might find an internet connection, a Twitter account, a voice.

This raises some interesting questions: in times in which any member of a community has his own personal voice, propelled by social media channels, does the community combine everyone’s voice or are we witnessing a separation and discrepancy never seen before, where everyone talks but no one listens. Even more, is it prudent to listen to such news and assume its truthfulness? In other words, is Twitter news REAL news?

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Is it possible a local community media to be revived and engaged in global issues only with the intervention of new media technologies? Maybe not happening too often but yes, it is possible and exactly this is the case of Downtown Community Television and the production Bridge to Baghdad I.

Before exploring DCTV – a media that grew from recognizable only on the streets of Lower East Side, New York to one of the most popular in the United States, let me introduce you to some theoretical aspects of community media. In his book from 2005 “Community media. People, places, and communication technologies” Kevin Howley argues that community media is often empowered by the resistance of people to the lack of freedom in mainstream media and uses various technologies in order to form collective identity. Moreover, community media “represent a dynamic response to the forces of globalization” and has the ability “to interrogate the contradictory tendencies and countervailing trajectories associated with globalization” (p.33).

On a local level, DCTV has been an excellent example of what community media is in reality. Founded in 1972 by Jon Alpert and Keiko Tsuno, its main goal was freedom of expression by expanding the access to electronic media for the members of a community. Moreover, it became main source for media education for people in this community and at the same time was reflecting the everyday life, the problems, and achievements of the people from Lower East Side.

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Credit: The Times Live

In his October 18 post, Andrew Perrin asks, “Can community media lead to positive social change?”.

My answer to his question is a qualified MAYBE, with a critical focus on the qualifications that can quickly shift a YES to a NO answer.

It depends. It depends on the nature and objectives of that community. It depends on the circumstances of their non-digital reality. And it depends on how a community chooses to define and use media to realize common goals.

Jan Nederveen Pieterse and Jenna Burrell caution that ICT is not a standalone entity, one set apart from the political, economic and social dynamics that impact community development. As Pieterse observes, “The digital divide is…not digital but socioeconomic but representing the divide in technical terms suggests technical solutions. It suggests digital solutions for digital problems” (12).

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Credit: Banksy

Can community media lead to positive social change?

It seems like a fairly straight forward question to which the development community should have a clear answer and yet, surprisingly, after decades of development trials and programs, the jury is still out.

Theoretically, it can. The textbooks tell us that traditional media, for all of its persuasive power, is limited in its ability to affect social change because its one-way channel of communication made the audience a passive receptacle for information rather than an active participant in the information flow. Community media, on the other hand, is by definition designed to actively involve people in the process. Whether these community members are helping to create a radio program in south Sudan or clicking “like” on a climate change group page on Facebook, they are participating in the media process like they never were before. And participation, argues Mark Deuze in Leah Lievrouw’s 2011 book Alternative and Activist New Media, makes people “active agents in the process of meaning making.” In other words, the more involved you are in the process, the more committed you are to the cause.

While this sounds reasonable in theory, the problem that has emerged is that community media is often used as a tool in development strategies that are designed to solve issues, such as political and economic problems, that might be beyond the scope (or interest) of the community concerned. As Ellie Rennie points out in her 2006 book Community Media: A Global Introduction, these problems occur when “social change is not generated from within the group but by outside planners.” Community media tends to work best, Rennie says, when it’s “entirely run by the community according to its own systems and imperatives.” It tends not to work so well when it’s at the center of a modernist development agenda designed to save the world.

“If nothing else,” Rennie writes, “that is a big responsibility for communities to bear. Are they a failure when change does not eventuate?”

Good question. What do you think?

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The Future Is Now

by Andrew Perrin on October 18, 2014


This 9-minute long youtube video, made in 2003, is called EPIC 2015. It presents a vision of the future where mainstream media is about to be replaced by, what Leah Lievrouw describes in her 2011 book Alternative and Activist New Media as, “ad hoc, hyperlocal” news produced by “amateurs with time on their hands” and online social media in the palm of their hands.

From our privileged vantage point of 2014, we can see that the producers of this mock documentary, Robin Sloan and Matt Thompson, get a lot of things wrong: mainstream media still has a pulse, Google hasn’t merged with Amazon, and new media is yet to rule the world.

But that’s not the point.

Sloan and Thompson didn’t set out to create an accurate vision of the future. Their inspiration for creating the short film was their unique insight into a future where journalism was – Thompson later wrote on – like a “massive multiplayer online role-playing game” where “as people play, they add to all the other players’ experiences of the game, altering the whole fabric of the medium through their interactions with it. Robin and I wondered, ‘what if you could apply that model to journalism?’ What if individuals could create and affect news stories simply by reading, viewing, and/or listening to them? … We envisioned reporters hunting down facts not to meet their quota of inches in a news hole or fill a few minutes in a broadcast, but to add to an ever-expanding database of information. All of it would be marked up automatically with copious metadata describing where the facts came from, and when, and what they related to.”

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Credit: News Ltd

As someone who hasn’t watched prime time TV for at least a decade, it’s somewhat surprising that I found Faye Ginsburg’s keynote address “Global Collaborations, Local Stories, and ‘Televisual Sovereignty’ in Indigenous Australia” one of the most intriguing, even inspirational, ORECOMM sessions I attended. Of course, Ginsburg is a vibrant, engaging academic who speaks from a position of informed expertise in her area, yet she clearly makes an effort to connect with—and include—those outside of the academic world. For someone who began by professing her lack of background in ‘Development’, to me, she embodied an approach to ‘development communication’ I wish was more widely practiced: the use of accessible, plain language; the deliberate inclusion and privileging of indigenous expression, or “voices”, throughout her presentation; references to Aboriginal theory; and, most of all, her self-identification as an “ally” who facilitates opportunities for indigenous peoples (such as Australian Aborigines) to explore, develop and exploit the talent and infrastructure required to produce prime-time TV series (such as Redfern Now). She is, in the most positive sense, a classic ‘enabler’ and, as such, inhabits the role most appropriate, I believe, to anyone who aspires to become a ‘development communicator’.

But what of her theories, given their critical assessment is the whole point of this exercise?

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