Posted February 14th 2018 at 9:21 am by
in Community Media, New Orleans

The Politics of Community Media in the Post-Disaster City

this is what you paid to see

Photo credit: 2-Cent Media, New Orleans for Sale!

Disasters are times of information deficits and mass media misrepresentations. While mainstream media reports an array of narratives about crisis situations, it often ignores a variety of perspectives and the lived experiences of minority populations. This creates a biased knowledge base for city planners and the general public about the events before, during, immediately following, and long after the disaster. Accordingly, such events can trigger new forms of community media to amplify marginalized voices in the city. As information communication technologies (ICTs) become more accessible, it is easier for people to produce and disseminate community media, which manifests in varied forms with diverse purposes. 
In 2016, I analyzed the evolution of over forty initiatives including low-powered FM radio, neighborhood Wifi mesh networks, the innovative use of social networking sites, blogs, and participatory documentaries, among others, that emerged in post-Katrina New Orleans (2005) and in post-Sandy New York City (2012).  Through this process, I was able to learn about amazing digital activism and storytelling projects including 2-Cent MediaBridge the GulfLand of Opportunity, and Sandy Storyline among others. 
I developed a timeless Post-Disaster Community Media Typology that outlines the primary action(s) and progression of these digital activities including: to inform (resource-sharing), to investigate (bottom-up journalism), to incite (organize for place), to include (crowd-sourced deliberation), to interact (therapeutic networking), to interpret (memorialize), and to income-generate (economic self-determination). Two in-depth ethnographic case studies with youth of color in both cities further verify the typology and illustrate how the community media production process can be an emancipatory form of rebuilding.
My findings also have implications for a broader understanding of public participation in the digital age. The typology offers a framework to conceptualize how community development efforts make use of a variety of new media technologies and how to best characterize the impacts of such engagement. The outcomes of planning are evaluated through the ideals of procedural or distributive justice, but neither of these perspectives critically examine how individuals form and obtain knowledge to make sense of their environments in the first place. City planning practitioners and scholars must include access to communication and media production as an issue area in the field to effectively address inequality.
Note from the Editor: Below are the audio and slides from Aditi’s dissertation presentation. The timing for the slides is located in the description of the Soundcloud file.

This research was funded by the Harold Horowitz Student Research Fund, the MIT Priscilla King Gray Public Service Fellowship, the New York Public Library Research Fellowship, and the New Orleans Center for the Gulf South Research Fellowship. 
Aditi Mehta received her Ph.D. from the Department of Urban Studies and Planning in November 2017.

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