On Oct. 21, the brisk morning air met an assemblage of the media innovation vanguard as its members made their way into the CBC/Radio-Canada’s Annual Public Meeting (APM) in Vancouver. The plan was unspoken, but the wry smiles exchanged amongst us were more than enough to acknowledge our purpose. After all, while insidious, our goal was quite simple; infiltrate the CBC and make it more community based, participatory, and awesome.

Not long into the meeting executives of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation described their network as a “public space.” They also noted that Canada is at the centre of a revolution in media, with more opportunity for citizen participation than ever before. “We want what Canadians want,” said CBC President and CEO Hubert Lacroix, “a vibrant CBC/Radio-Canada that gives voice to a creative nation.”

Wait a second — were they on to us? They were speaking our language, but why?

To get to the bottom of this, I took advantage of the APM question period to ask CBC Vancouver’s Managing Director, Johnny Michel, whether the Corporation planned to experiment more with participatory media, and if they planned to partner with community-based media organizations like the W2 Community Media Arts Centre. Michel could not confirm future plans due to uncertainties surrounding funding, but he did cite News Day, a program that allows student reporters to cover the stories that are important to them.

While there was evidence of a shift in thinking at the CBC, it didn’t feel tangible enough to satisfy us. We mingled with local CBC personnel after the event. Several of us innocent looking “citizens” encircled a CBC person and repeated our points while trying to avoid giving away our secret plan to make the CBC more awesome. “One of the best ways to ensure the CBC’s survival and growth is for it to be more community based,” one of us said earnestly. “Yes, why not partner with community groups to cover local stories?” another blurted out. “Use web tools to engage people and provide a platform for creativity and dialogue,” another chimed in.

I motioned for us to make our way to the door — we’d done all we could here.

But our work wasn’t finished yet. We needed to find out if there were people on the inside who agree with our media awesomeness worldview. We needed a champion of media innovation.

We set out to find an open-minded CBC person we could invite into our Fresh Media community, and evaluate. We chose Steve Pratt, director of CBC Radio 3 and CBC Digital Programming. We would host him at our next Fresh Media ReMixology event.

On Nov. 8 at 5pm the festivities began. Live DJs, a twitter wall that displayed comments from the audience and the Internet, a live web TV feed that enabled anyone on the web to watch and comment on the talk, cash bar and snacks: would this prove to be just too awesome for Pratt to handle? It turns out not.

Pratt said things like: “Turn the keys over to the audience, and start empowering the audience to help each find what they want, and give up control.”

Pratt also talked about how “Radio 3 is an innovation centre for the public broadcaster,” and added, “we’re not a radio station, we’re a music discovery service.”

He may not have known it at the time, but Pratt was one of us — a Freshie as we sometimes call ourselves. Turns out we have a whole project within the CBC that has put innovation and participation at the forefront. Now the next stage of infiltration is to support and champion Radio 3 so it can bleed values of community control, participation and innovation into CBC proper.

Add the transforming media landscape to the recent firing of the much-derided vice-president of English Services at the CBC, Richard Stursberg, and you get a CBC very much in soul-searching mode. With its public financing and social mandate the CBC is well positioned to take a lead role in our digital media ecology. However, to do so the CBC will need to stop seeing success measured in dollar signs and instead more wholeheartedly embrace local communities and online tools.

The best way for the CBC to ensure its survival is to build a community of supporters that truly has a sense of ownership over the organization. As Steve Pratt put it, “empower the people and you’ll get a level of trust and ownership you never thought possible.” Incorporating digital tools and open processes is a good way for the CBC to get started.

Let’s not sit on the sidelines and wait for the CBC to move in the right direction. If we believe in the potential of public media in a digital era, it’s our responsibility to do our part to ensure that potential is realized. Through engaging with the CBC, particularly the elements most conducive to participation, we can enable it to act as an open platform for media innovation and community collaboration.

Let’s infiltrate the CBC with awesomeness.

Steve Anderson is the National Co-ordinator of OpenMedia.ca.

Reach him at:
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Media Links is a syndicated column supported by CommonGround, TheTyee, Rabble.ca, and VUE Weekly.

Steve Anderson

Steve Anderson

Steve Anderson is the founder and executive director of OpenMedia.ca. OpenMedia.ca is an award-winning Canadian nonprofit organization working to advance and support an open and innovative communications...