COM 371 • Fall ’16

COM 371 – Civic Media
Mike Lyons, Ph.D.
Office: Bronstein Hall
Office hours: MW – 1-2; Th – 1-3; and by appointment.


Digital media and the Internet have opened a multitude of new ways for people to engage with issues they care about, everything from repression in the Middle East to homelessness in their neighborhoods. Powerful tools of media production and distribution are in the hands of ordinary people. This is liberating (more people communicating), but it also makes it hard to get your ideas heard (more people communicating).

This course focuses on what people and organizations are doing – or not doing – with this new communicative power. We will observe, listen to and read about how citizens, community groups and governments are using digital tools and platforms to create “civic media,” any media – from graffiti to FM radio to Twitter – that intersects the broad areas of participatory digital communication and civic action.


Our goal is that by the end of the course you will:

• Understand how to research and analyze issues and policy related to communication.

•Develop an in-depth understanding of how digital media is being used to foster civic engagement and social change.

• Understand the historical antecedents of the contemporary use of digital media for social change.

• Create and share media that contributes to the understanding and awareness of a social or civic issue.

Required books/technology

• Eric Gordon and Paul Mihailidis, Civic Media: Technology Design and Practice
• Christina Dunbar-Hester, Low Power to the People: Pirates, Protests, and Politics in FM Radio Activism
• Reclaim hosting for a website (if you don’t already have it) – $25 for a year
• Minimum 16Gb SD card

Preparing for Class

Class discussion is critical to the success and enjoyment of the class. Make sure you do the reading/watching/listening(s) before class and be ready to participate.


Low-Power FM Project

Non-commercial community media is a vital part of the civic media landscape. These outlets represent media production that is infused with civic aspirations. People participate in them as political and civic acts and the content they create is often the only information of its kind available in communities.

These outlets also raise interesting questions about the politicizing of technology and the “emancipatory” impact of technological expertise. We will study low-power FM radio as an instructive window into this world of community media.

You will research and profile a low-power FM station anywhere in the country.

Neighborhood Gun Violence Project

This will be a joint project with SOC 365, Crime and Urban Communities. Together with students from that class you will use media to tell the story of a specific neighborhood and how violent crime impacts that community.

Blog Posts/quizzes

You will write 10 posts over the course of the semester. These posts should be good examples of writing for an online audience (we’ll talk about that). Often you will be expected to expand on the things we read/watch/listen to and on your own work. There will also occasionally be quizzes on the readings that will be announced ahead of time.

Students with Special Needs

Reasonable academic accommodations may be provided to students who submit appropriate documentation of their disability.  Students are encouraged to contact Dr. Christine Mecke in the Office of Student Disability Services, Bellarmine, B-10, at; or at 610.660.1774 (voice), or 610.660.1620 (TTY), for assistance with this issue.  The university also provides an appeal/grievance procedure regarding requested or offered reasonable accommodations through Dr. Mecke’s office.  More information:


Blog posts/quizes – 25 percent
Low-Power FM Project – 20 percent
Mid-term – 15 percent
Neighborhood Gun Violence Project – 25 percent
Final – 15 percent


The COM Studies department has most of the equipment what you will need to complete course assignments. Everyone in the department, including faculty, use the gear for their work, so it’s important that we all treat it kindly and return it on time.

Where is the gear?

The department equipment room is located on the second floor of Bronstein Hall. It is opened during limited hours during the semester, so be sure to plan ahead. A list of equipment is at

Gear hours.JPG


Equipment is available on a first-come, first-served basis. Equipment can be checked out for blocks of time. If you check something out on Mon.-Wednesday, it’s due on Thursday. If you check something out on Thursday, it’s due Monday. Check-outs are renewable if no one is waiting for it.

Loss and damage

You are responsible for the item that you check out. If you lose it or damage it, you are responsible for repairs or replacement.

Overdue gear

Overdue equipment will result in the suspension of borrowing privileges and could result in a hold placed on the borrower’s university account.


Please recharge the batteries before returning the item and make sure you remove your SD card (SD cards are not provided by the department).


The schedule is subject to shifts and tweaks as we see fit. But you will kept apprise of the shifts and tweaks before they occur.

Week of Aug. 29

M – Course introduction

• Website
• Questionnaire


W – Website design and management workshop – Bring laptop

As I mentioned Monday, today we will reboot your website (if you let it expire or stagnate). There are two steps to this process – buying or reactivating your domain name/installing wordpress and personalizing the theme/design.

Domain purchase and installation:
• Register your domain and install wordpress.
More wordpress and Reclaim tutorials

Web design tips:
• Jerry Cao, The Five Pillars of Visual Hierarchy in Web Design
• How to Create a Site Structure that Google Will Love
• Five Key Guidelines for Visual Web Design

The front page of your website should serve as a “landing page.” Create a blog on your site separate from your front or landing page. Likely it would be something like That’s where you will write your blog posts (not reading responses). This should help. Also create an “About” page. Here are some free, pretty good quality WordPress themes.

F – Read: Jurgen Habermas, The Public Sphere: An Encyclopedia ArticleHenry Jenkins What is Civic Media?

Blog post (due by 8 a.m.): For your first blog post, draw a visual representation of the public sphere as Habermas describes it. Take a picture of your drawing, post it on the “blog page” of your website and explain it in 150 words.

Week of Sept. 5 – Creating as civic engagement

M – Labor Day, no class


W – Peter Levine – What is Civic Engagement?; That article I mentioned on Monday from a student newspaper: “Social Media Increases Civic Engagement Among Users.”

Scores of writers have taken up this idea of what constitutes “civic engagement.” Think about your own definition. What “counts”?

F – Maura Greaney, “The Power of the Urban Canvas: Paint, Politics and Mural Art Policy

Things to think about: How would you define “social capital”? Why is it important? In what ways does creating murals – or any communal project – strengthen social capital?

Week of Sept. 12 – Stretching the definition
The “Building Brotherhood” mural at 40th and Chestnut (Photo by Mike Lyons).

M – Mural tour

I will ask you to compose a blog post about the murals you see, so you might want to take your own photos of them when we go.

Jon Hurdle, A City Uses Murals to Bridge Differences This piece includes information and a photograph of the “Peace Wall,” which we’ll visit. We will also see the “Communion Between a Rock and a Hard Place” and “Building Brotherhood.”

If you are in today’s group, please meet in front of Bronstein Hall (The COM building) at 11:15 a.m. The group is: Jake, Ciani, Madison, Alyssa, Maureen, Anna, Justin, Pat, Carolyn, Kaley.

W – Mural tour

If you are in today’s group, please meet in front of Bronstein Hall (The COM building) at 11:15 a.m.) The group is: Lizzie, Will, Hailey, Richie, Marisa, Katie, Maria, Charlie, Eric, Jordan.

F –  Hip Hop: Today’s Civil Rights Movement? (audio); Tommie Shelby, “Impure Dissent: Hip Hop and the Political Ethics of Marginalized Black Youth” (pdf) Impure dissent; Excerpt from Jay’s biography Decoded (pdf): jayz-decoded

Tommie Shelby writes that political hip hop “constitutes an assorted set of communicative acts in the public sphere about central civic questions” (p. 62) and a “reconceptualization of political participation” (p. 59). What does he mean? In what ways is that evident in Jay Z work that you read?

Some terms to keep in mind: subaltern counterpublics, parallel publics

Susan Clampet-Lundquist will be in class for the last 10 minutes or so to talk about her course, Crime and Urban Communities, and our joint project.

Week of Sept. 19- Looking back at media that was civic

M – Communication and the Other: Beyond Deliberative Democracy  (pdf) young-communication-and-the-other-beyond-deliberative-democracy

What does Young mean by “communicative democracy“? How is different than “deliberative democracy”?

Mural blog post (Blog post 1) due by class:

Murals (and graffiti) have often been called “communicative acts.” For this blog post, write about how those communicative acts are “civic” and why, in many neighborhoods, they are important civic expressions. Referring to the Maura Greaney article on murals from a couple of weeks ago might be useful. Draw on the murals you saw as examples.

W – Civic Media: Technology, Design and Practice (required book) – Colin Rhinesmith, “Community Media Infrastructure as Civic Engagement”

What is Rhinesmith’s argument here? In what ways do community media centers build community?


F –Guest speaker: Susan Clampet-Lundquist is in class again to talk about neighborhoods and crime in the city.

Review of Neighborhoods Project

Week of Sept. 26 – Civic media activism

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M – Introduction to low-power fm. Nancy Gohring, “Don’t Touch That Dial: Low Power Radio is About to Make FM Hot Again,Wired.

W – Low Power to the People – Ch. 1, Pirates, Hams and Protest: Radio Activism in Historical Context;

F – Low Power to the People – Ch. 2, Selfhoods: Geeks, Activists and Countercultures

  Neighborhood Project memo (hard copy) due to both professors: The memo should include a brief       introduction to your neighborhood (basic demographic information, a brief neighborhood history, the roles of each person in the group (who is handling what?) and a basic plan of how you plan to gather these stories).

Prezi on pirate radio and ch. 2.

Week of Oct. 3

MLow Power to the People – Ch. 3, The Tools of Gender Production

Dunbar-Hester in this chapter writes about gender and technology, a “gender gap” in radio activism. She also writes, “Selfhood constructed around radio became tools for social action. ” What does she mean?

W – Low Power to the People – Ch. 4, The Work of Pedagogy in Technological Activism

F – Quiz on Chapters 1-4

This quiz will be one question related to the quote from Zane Ibrahim, founder of Bush Radio in South Africa, that community radio is “10 percent radio and 90 percent community.”

First off, what does he mean by that and why is that the case? Where does social capital come in to play? Christina Dunbar-Hester complicates this idea in the book we are reading. She argues that it’s hard to build community around a technology. Why?

Quiz on first five chapters of Low Power to the People.

Week of Oct. 10

M – Fall Break, no class
W – Low Power to the People – Ch. 6, Making Old Technology Anew: Reinventing FM Radio in the 21st Century
F – Low Power to the People – Ch. 7, Do New Media Have Old Politics?

Week of Oct. 17 – Low-power FM projects

M – No class today.

W – In-class word/discussion of neighborhood project.

Thursday (Oct. 20) – National Community Media Day and opening of WPPM.

F – No class today

Week of Oct. 24

M – Civic Media: Technology, Design and Practice – Peter Levine, “Democracy in the Digital Age” (p. 29)

W –Civic Media: Technology, Design and Practice – Ethan Zuckerman, “Effective Civics” (p. 49)

What does Zuckerman mean by “monitorial citizenship”? Also, what’s this?: BP+∑I>C

F – Case study: “Marriage Equality, Facebook Profile Pictures and Civic Participation” (p. 131)

Week of Oct. 31

M – Continue with Zuckerman framework and Marriage Equality case study

W – Class is at the Foley Center for talk by Immaculée Ilibagiza.

Extra credit opportunity – Listening event with Sam Broun, audio documentarian, Foley Center at 4 p.m. (there will be food).

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F – Meeting in Bronstein on Neighborhood project from 11:15 to 12:45. Pizza and drinks will be provided.

Week of Nov. 7

M – Civic Media: Technology, Design and Practice – Caesar McDowell and Melissa Yvonne Chinchilla, “Design and Practice, Partnering with Communities and Institutions” (p. 461)

• What are social categorization theory and Optimal distinctiveness theory
• What do they mean by “full frame thinking”?
•  What is “co-design”?

W – No class

F – Blog Post: Write a blog post of at least 300 words that considers the following questions related to the site you were assigned in class. Remember that good blog posts use a conversational tone, links and images.

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Week of Nov. 14

M -Kahne, Middaugh and Allen, “Youth, New Media and the Rise of Participatory Politics” in From Voice to Influence: Understanding Citizenship in a Digital Age (PDF) kahne-middaugh-and-allen-youth-and-participatory-politics

Case Study: “Strike Debt and the Rolling Jubilee – Building a Debt Resistance Movement” (p. 137)

W – Neighborhood Project

F – Neighborhood Project

Week of Nov. 21


W – Thanksgiving Break, no class

F – Thanksgiving Break, no class

Week of Nov. 28

M – Intro to civic storytelling and “public narrative”

In-class: Analysis of Kony 2012

W – Narrative, storytelling and social change – The story of self, the story of us, the story of now

• Read: Marshall Ganz, Narrative, Collective Action and Power (pdf)
A little background on Marshall Ganz (pretty awesome guy).

In Ganz’s “head, heart, hands” model, what is the role of what he calls “public narrative?”

F – Storytelling, civic media and organizing: Dreamers and undocumented immigrants

• Read: Jose Antonio Vargas, The New York Times, “My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant”
• Watch: Define American: Jose’s Story

Week of Dec. 5

M – In-class work on neighborhood projects.

Tuesday – screening of Documented in Bronstein during free period.

W – Neighborhood project work.

F – Watch Documented on your digital venue of choice (you can rent on Amazon, YouTube and iTunes)

As you watch, think about:

• Framing – How does he shape his story? What points does he stress and how does explicate those in the documentary?

• Agenda Setting – How does he get his story on the “agenda” or policymakers and the media?


• The digital strategy of Define American

Week of Dec. 12

M – Course wrap-up