Nov. 22, 2003
11:15 am-12:15 pm
forums: Designing Cambridge: 21st-Century Communications for Our Community and
How Can Information Technologies
For over a decade, the convergence of the computer and telecommunications
industries has inspired grand predictions of a bright new world
of freedom and prosperity . . . an "e-topia." And
we have seen advanced communications technologies help to improve
business practices, enhance medical services, enrich educational
opportunities and deliver a wide array of entertainments to
our homes. But how can these advanced telecommunications services
be used to foster strong local democratic communities? How are
these communications technologies being used, if at all, in
the City of Cambridge? And what role, if any, does local government
play in making sure 21st-century communications technologies
serve public needs?
Michele Babineau is the editor of the Cambridge
Fleischmann is the executive director of Cambridge
Community Television (CCTV).
Goodman is the managing editor of the Boston Community Reporters
Andrea Walsh is a lecturer in the Program in Writing
and Humanistic Studies at MIT.
JACOBSON described a "snapshot" of local media
coverage of Cambridge city politics.
last fall in Mark Lloyd's MIT graduate course, "Democracy
and Communications Policy in Cambridge," Jacobson and the
class conducted a content analysis of media coverage during
the two weeks preceding the November Cambridge city council
elections. The goal of the study was to get a sense of the Cambridge-specific
coverage that the average Cambridge citizen could expect to
find using some of the major local media. The local media analyzed
were WBZ1030 radio's 7:30-8 am weekday and 8:30-9 am weekend
programming, WHDH television's daily 11pm newscast, and the
daily Boston Globe.
the result of the analysis was zero stories about Cambridge
in the two weeks preceding the elections, compared to 103 stories
covering the remainder of the greater Boston area. For WHDH,
three stories covered Cambridge, while 110 stories discussed
Greater Boston. Finally, for the Boston Globe, Cambridge
averaged two stories per day, and the Greater Boston area averaged
approximately eight stories. Jacobson finished by noting that,
although not included in the content analysis, the class found
that two other sources for Cambridge election information were
the Cambridge Chronicle-CCTV co-sponsored candidate debates
and the Cambridge Civic
Journal, found at www.rwinters.com.
Andrea Walsh followed the presentation by posing the first of
three questions to the panelists:
analysis suggests that Cambridge citizens cannot expect to receive
news about Cambridge from three of the major news sources serving
Cambridge. Do you think that the current media environment in
Cambridge sufficiently informs Cambridge citizens about topics
such as local politics, health and safety information, community
group concerns and activities, and local arts and entertainment?
Babineau (left), David Goodman and Susan Fleischmann
BABINEAU argued that the Cambridge Chronicle provided
better coverage of Cambridge politics than any other local newspaper.
She explained that the intention of the Chronicle, as
a weekly newspaper, was to focus on community journalism in
the context of how information impacts the local citizen.
GOODMAN addressed radio in Cambridge. Three radio stations
are physically located in Cambridge: MIT's WMBR, WHRB at Harvard,
and WJIB. He argued that local media generally do adequately
inform Cambridge citizens, and gave an example of a Cambridge
Chronicle story about local police educating citizens regarding
prevention of break-ins. Goodman explained that this is the
type of story often heard on local grassroots radio stations
in the developing world. He argued that WMBR does a fantastic
job of covering local arts and entertainment. He pointed out
that the local radio stations are non-profit stations, and are
"resource starved." He argued that, despite the good
job generally being done by local radio stations, due to these
stations' inability to promote themselves, citizens often are
not aware of the information to be found on local radio.
FLEISCHMANN began by describing CCTV's mission: "to
provide the access to training, facilities and the technology
that people need to create their own programs for the community
cable channels." Thus, the content is very different from
that found in the mainstream media. CCTV's intention is to generally
remain content neutral, and it is not a traditional news source.
According to Fleischmann, each candidate for City Council was
seen on CCTV prior to the election. She described some of the
programming to be found on CCTV, and explained that major media
are not interested in these programs due to the programs' lack
of commercial viability.
media that do focus on Cambridge, such as the Cambridge
Chronicle and Cambridge Community Television, are not as
heavily utilized by Cambridge citizens as other local media.
What are some reasons that the citizens of Cambridge choose
media with less focus on Cambridge, and how could the media
that do focus on Cambridge reach more Cambridge citizens?
said citizens are not likely to read the Cambridge Chronicle
for national or international news, and that these issues would
not be covered by the Chronicle except in cases in which national
or international stories intersected with a local event, such
as a large protest. She pointed out that Cantabrigians are well
educated, and may prefer newspapers such as the New York
Times. Also, citizens may not be interested in civic activities
in the community. In order to reach more readers, Babineau explained
that efforts are made to inform people who may be interested
in local issues, and that as a weekly newspaper the Chronicle
tried to provide context to issues such that citizens could
find relationships between the stories and their lives.
agreed with Babineau that entertainment news puts enormous pressure
on conventional news sources to find ways to situate themselves
in the news environment. He explained that one of WMBR's strategies
was to engage local community groups by interviewing them and
by putting group members on the air. He argued that if the mission
was to inform listeners, his strategy was civic journalism.
He described the town meeting as a means for bringing community
members to the local stations, and discussed the use of call-in
shows to get citizens involved in discussions of local issues.
He emphasized the importance of connecting with citizens on
a personal level.
argued that perhaps citizens do rely on local media, and that
further surveys should be done to address this issue. She argued
that most people get cable for entertainment rather than as
a source of information, and that the question for a non-profit
like CCTV is how to compete with the hundreds of channels that
come with cable. She discussed cross-promotion as an important
means for attracting viewers. She argued that cable companies,
rather than seeing the value of local community programming,
viewed this programming as a threat because the channels used
for local programming could be utilized by the cable companies
to generate profits in other ways. She pointed out that CCTV
pays the most attention to those who depend on them for the
resources to produce local programming, and that perhaps more
attention should be given to viewers.
and final question:
are some of the factors influencing the local media's coverage,
or lack of coverage, of issues particular to Cambridge?
pointed out that lack of coverage by the Cambridge Chronicle
could be explained in large part by the fact that it is a weekly
newspaper in a very large city. She also noted the small staff
of the Chronicle and the economic difficulties presented
by the low advertising revenues in Cambridge.
reemphasized the lack of resources and the inability of non-profit
radio stations to promote themselves. He also noted that with
a large coverage area and a volunteer staff, it is often difficult
to sufficiently cover local issues. He pointed out that it is
often easier to report national and international news because
these stories are often offered free of charge to stations.
He also noted that local groups often focus on national and
international issues, and thus it is important to cover national
and international issues while making the link to their local
explained that she was "appalled that in the City of Cambridge
there is no vision on a municipal level for what a telecommunications
infrastructure should be." She argued that the municipality
ignores local media, and that the city should pay attention
to the potential and need for a telecommunications infrastructure
to be provided for the public good.
by Brian Jacobson
--photo by Joellen Easton