Beyond Broadcasting: Mapping Public Media

Branching out of geo-specific conferences, I attended the Beyond Broadcast conference yesterday. In it's fourth year, Beyond Broadcast is a one-day meeting of Public Media organizations, producers, and groups discussing the current state and future directions of television, radio, video, interactive, and other mediums.

The theme this year was actually "Mapping Public Media" - so perhaps I cheated a little on going to a non-geo conference. However, only half the conference was specifically about mapping, or as many of the attendees considered more generally, visualization.

It is quite obvious the very prevalent impact and interest in mapping and geographic visualization of data. The tools have become approachable and the public comfortable, even expecting, rich cartographic interfaces and exploration. Also, being a US Election year, voting maps are obviously in high supply.

One major issue I raised with the current offering of maps in media is that they are created with Flash, which is acceptable for the powerful capabilities and unique interfaces. However, the underlying data that is being aggregated and collated isn't being shared. This is a primary issue because of the transparency and openness that is valued in public media. Similar to previous discussions on the importance of the government to share underlying data foremost and build portals secondary, I think it is important that public media organizations view the sharing of their data with the same priority as creating interfaces and analysis of the information.

Fortunately, names in the field like Paula Le Dieu of Magic Lantern and Lee Banville of NewsHour are entirely on board and pushing this themselves. In fact, Paula even name-dropped OpenStreetMap and its efforts in providing open licensed geographic data that should be essential to public media organizations when evaluating their mapping solutions.

As an outsider it was interesting to gain the perspective of public media people. There is a striking resemblance to the Open-Source community. Public media has a high set of ideals and goals for the greater common good, while also wrestling with questions of funding, licensing, corporate interests, and impact.

An underlying question that arose several times was regarding the future place of public media bodies. There new competition isn't necessarily large media, but instead digital services such as YouTube, Flickr, NewsVine, and Google. These services allow for public engagement, curation, discovery, awareness, aggregation, and viewing. What is the purpose of an organization to perform the similar role?

One attendee discussed their value as a professional. They have the experience to qualify news, curate, build and disseminate. Instead of working against this rising tide of user-generated and shared media, they should be working to provide their expertise in using this information. They should be engaging with groups inside of these services, providing links back from their organization's sites and articles to these larger bodies, and continuing to integrate their services with these new web applications.

Another answer lies in the inclusion of all communities, especially minority or disenfranchised groups. There were many jokes on the current composition of new and old media - but the general agreement is that there is a lack of diversity in many of these domains and a requirement for organizations to provide support and promotion of the works and ideals of these communities.

Again, this is similar to Open-Source. Because the specific need for large market desire and value is removed, developers and projects can work towards an ideal goal and address niche issues. In addition, because there isn't "lock-in", they are also forced to provide good service and applications to their users.

I'd like to see if Public Media could also follow Open-Source in discovering new methods of revenue generation. They've already been doing this by offering their content for free via one medium (radio, website) but then paying for this same content via disparate mediums (CD, podcast). This is the same as RedHat offering RH-Linux for free download, or pay for CD's, manual, and support.

Other potential options may include consulting or trading of knowledge between either companies or other organizations. Various public media entities have worked hard to develop new tools, methods of production, and evaluation of markets - this information and techniques have value.

Thanks for the enlightening and thought-provoking discussions. It's great to meet both users of, as well as new concepts for, mapping tools and interfaces.

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About the Author

Andrew Turner is an advocate of open standards and open data. He is actively involved in many organizations developing and supporting open standards, including OpenStreetMap, Open Geospatial Consortium, Open Web Foundation, OSGeo, and the World Wide Web Consortium. He co-founded CrisisCommons, a community of volunteers that, in coordination with government agencies and disaster response groups, build technology tools to help people in need during and after a crisis such as an earthquake, tsunami, tornado, hurricane, flood, or wildfire.