Reimagine CBC: Canadians come together to think big in troubled times

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Reilly Yeo, a member of the Reimagine CBC team, holds the Reimagined CBC logo that participants created at the Reimagine launch. Photo: Angus Wong

In late January, a small team gleaned from the ranks of Vancouver-based citizens' organizations OpenMedia.ca and Leadnow.ca took the wraps off an exciting new project called Reimagine CBC. The goal was simple, but ambitious: to spark a massive brainstorm on the future of public media in Canada by asking Canadians how the CBC, as a public broadcaster, could be reimagined as a leader in participatory, innovative and engaging media production.

Now, after only a month, that tiny project team has grown into a diverse national network. Hundreds of Canadians from all corners of the country, representing all kinds of communities, have joined the conversation and established a vibrant space of collaboration. Together, they have submitted more than 30 pages of ideas to our online forum and created a 900-member-strong (and growing) Facebook community.

The diversity of our contributors is apparent in the amazing range of ideas we've received. We're seeing calls for deeper interaction between community media producers and CBC decision-makers, more open and democratic governance, brave reporting that holds power to account, and robust digital services that connect local stories with national audiences.

Such thoughtful engagement in these early days is, of course, heartening. But more importantly, it's a powerful rebuttal against those who would claim that the CBC is no longer relevant; that there is no place for public media in the age of narrowcasting. While it's certainly true that there is no single "public" anymore (if there ever was one), the diversity of the Reimagine community shows us that the CBC is indeed a broadcaster of and for many publics -- publics that are ready to work together to support its growth.

Reimagine comes at a challenging and exciting time for CBC. Even as the broadcaster reflects upon 75 years of service, it is grappling with the coming federal budget, which could deliver cuts as high as $170 million. All the same, the CBC is looking toward the future with the launch of new services like CBC Music: a digital streaming platform and app that consolidates the broadcaster's musical programming into one easy-to-navigate and mobile-friendly interface.

For a broadcaster often charged with being out-of-date and out-of-touch, it's a major step forward; a real effort to make outstanding Canadian content accessible, interactive, and experimental. Naveet Alang of the Toronto Standard gets it right when he says that CBC Music "suggests that the abundance of the web, far from making the CBC irrelevant, will simply force it to do different work."

The shape and direction of that work, we think, should be informed by Canadians -- the people who rely on the CBC to feel connected to their communities, their heritage and increasingly, their future. And that's what Reimagine is about: engaging Canadians directly in the future of their media landscape.

So how are we going to do it? We've collected hundreds of suggestions, and more are coming in every day, but how are we going to turn those ideas into action?

Right now, we're carefully categorizing every submission we receive and, based on user voting, identifying the themes, values, and projects that seem most compelling to Canadians. These priority themes will anchor a second, more focused round of discussion and voting that will launch in mid-April with an exciting live event at Vancouver's Vogue Theatre.

This second round of voting will narrow the discussion to a final set of values, projects, and big-picture changes. We will bring these ideas to Canadians for final thoughts using a unique peer-to-peer sharing tool set to be unveiled at a second live event in Toronto in May. Finally, consulting with institutional change experts and decision-makers within the CBC -- the people who know what it takes to bring your ideas to life -- we'll turn all this conversation into a crowdsourced report and deliver it to the CBC and the CRTC.

At first blush, this might seem a bit much. Why bother with all of this if neither the CBC nor the federal government have contracted us to do so?

Simply put, we think that an innovative public media infrastructure is essential to the health of our democracy, the well being of our digital economy, and the richness of the culture that we share. The rapid growth of the Reimagine project has shown us, in no uncertain terms, that Canadians agree. Communities across the country are eager to build a vibrant future for their public broadcaster, even (or especially) in the face of deep cuts.

With digital technologies changing how we tell stories and challenging the old economics of media production, it's time to think big about the future of public media in Canada; it's time to reimagine CBC.

Tyler Morgenstern is a Vancouver-based writer, activist, and agitator. He is currently serves as spokesperson for Reimagine CBC.

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