“Civic media” refers to the tools and technologies that facilitate the exchange of information and ideas between people, often in pursuit of common goals. Today, traditional forms of media (print, radio, etc.) have been overpowered by their digital successors: online journalism, blogging, and a vast range of other social networks that allow for two-way interactions with content. Civic media can be seen as crucial to sustaining (and in some contexts developing) civil societies in individual communities, as well as transnationally. In my understanding, the main principles/attributes of civic media are:
1) It’s Relational:
Much like civil society itself, civic media is relational: often tied to other social, political or economic causes – big or small. As I have found in my own research, the most popular Ukrainian bloggers (based on readership) are those that write about the government and/or identity politics. Current rankings of Ukrainian bloggers can be found here: http://rating.oboz.ua/ (in Russian). Moreover, the Ukrainian blogosphere is also becoming commodified as a tool for financial gain, via advertisements. See http://blogosphere.com.ua/ for numerous posts about how to profit from blogging and why it is important in the context of the developing Ukrainian webspace (in Ukrainian).
2) It allows for the two-way flow of content:
The internet in particular has allowed people to actively create and engage with information like never before. This feature is especially significant in post-totalitarian contexts, such as the former Soviet Union. Another example from Ukraine is the flourishing portal of reader blogs, Narodni blohi (“The People’s Blogs”) hosted on the website of Ukraine’s most prominent newspaper, Ukrajins’ka Pravda (http://narodna.pravda.com.ua/, in Ukrainian). In comparison with the newspaper’s professionally written articles, posts on the “People’s Blogs” garner many more reader comments – sometimes well over a thousand. Oftentimes, blog posts are written in response to news items.
3) Its definition is still rather fuzzy:
Due to the myriad forms and usages of civic media, it is difficult to reach any type of empirical definition. For this reason, it is important to avoid normative judgments. On the one hand, civic media can foster soidarity among otherwise fragmented groups (ex. diasporas around the world) and increase political involvement. (See Bernall, 2006 and Bennett, 2011 for a few examples.) On the other hand, it can merely reinforce the status quo (I found this to be the case in regards to the ethnolinguistic bifurcation of Ukraine), and can even be used in the interests of non-democratic regimes (see Morozov’s numerous analyses of how citizen bloggers unwittingly inform their governments). In short, civic media absorbs the traits and intentions of the people that are using/creating it.
I chose this course because I have long been interested in the development of civil society in the post-Soviet space. This summer, I spent six weeks in Kiev researching the nascent Ukrainian blogosphere, originally with the goal of focusing on the representations of prescribed ethnolinguistic identities online. Somewhere along the way, I realized that it would be more fruitful for me to study how social media affects civic engagement in Ukraine. I hope to learn more about how new forms of media are engaged so that I can better assess their potential in the Ukrainian context, and I would very much like to continue to work in this area after receiving my Master’s degree in May 2012.