By Ryan McGreal
Published January 29, 2009
Yesterday, I had the honour of giving a talk on the role of community media at Mohawk College as part of their speaker series for the Active Citizenship program. (Nothing like a mandatory course to drum up attendance. :)
To produce social change, citizens need to care, to have access to information, and to have the means to collaborate.
We need both mainstream and community/alternative media to form a more complete picture of what's going on and what we can do about it.
There's a role for advocacy journalism, which serves a political or social purpose, is open about having an agenda, and is fact-based but not neutral.
Online technologies (internet, email) have collapsed the cost of publishing and distributing content, which dramatically lowers the barriers to entry for community media.
A major gap remains in Hamilton between information and action: there's still no easy way for people to collaborate, organize, and advocate effectively for change.
Online technologies could change this if we understand the importance behind the fact that a few people care a lot and a lot of people care a little.
When people are free to contribute as much or as little as they want, you end up with a power law distribution of effort.
In a power law distribution, the long tail of many people contributing a little collectively adds up to at least as much as the "short head" of few people contributing a lot.
Right now, barriers to participation shut out all the people who care a little and would be willing to do a little bit of work toward a goal.
If we eliminate those barriers, we could benefit from the participation of all those mildly dedicated people.
At the same time, many people are willing to help out if someone else is willing to lead. If we make it easier for highly dedicated people to start groups, we also make it easier for others to join those groups.
Raise the Hammer is working toward creating new applications that will make it much easier to form an organization around an issue. More to come in the near future - we'll definitely need lots of help!