COM 371 – Civic Media • Spring 2017

“Our visions of technology and design and entertainment and creativity have to be married with visions of humanity, compassion and justice.”    – Bryan Stevenson

COM 371 – Civic Media
Mike Lyons, Ph.D.
Office: Bronstein Hall, 3rd floor
Office hours: M – 1-2; Th 12:30-2; and by appointment (e-mail me)


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 low-power FM radio to Twitter – that intersects the broad areas of participatory communication and civic action.


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

• Understand key concepts related to civic media, including public sphere, networked public sphere, public narrative, media justice and transmedia organizing.

•Develop a deep understanding of how digital media is being used to foster civic engagement and social movements.

• Understand the civic role of grassroots, DIY and community media in an urban environment.

• Conceive, develop and present a significant project related to civic media.

Required books/technology

• Danielle Allen and Jennifer Light, From Voice to Influence: Understanding Citizenship in a Digital Age
• Christina Dunbar-Hester, Low Power to the People: Pirates, Protests, and Politics in FM Radio Activism
• Sasha Constanza-Chock, Out of the Shadows, Into the Streets: Transmedia Organizing and the Immigrant Rights Movement (this is available free online download here).

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.


Reading responses 

Your reading/listening/watching of assigned material is critical to the success of the course. I want to make sure you have a chance to demonstrate your understanding of the material so I require written responses to readings. These should be submitted on Blackboard at least two hours before each class (that gives me a chance to read them before class). These will help guide our class discussion.

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.

This project consists of two parts. You will research and profile a low-power FM station anywhere in the country and you will construct a small (very small) FM transmitter from scratch. The department supplies the transmitter parts and the soldering irons and other necessary tools to build them. You will also write a reflection paper on that process.

Final Project proposal midterm 

The proposal for your final project is due halfway through the semester. This is something that you should think of well before that. See below for a description of the project parameters.

Final Project and presentation

You will devise your own final project. It should be a significant piece work that reflects an understanding of what we covered during the semester. Your project can be completed alone or within a group of no more than 3. If you choose the group option, a significantly bigger project is expected. Your project should generally fall within the following categories:

• A case study research project that includes an original research paper. Expected length is 2,500-3,000 words.
• Extended participation in a civic media practice (for example attending Code for Philly or taking a class at a community media center) and a reflection essay of about 1,500 words.
• Working in cooperation with a non-profit, create a significant piece of media (for example, a video) and short reflection.
• A project you come up with that is of commensurate scope and breadth with those mentioned above.

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:

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 will be available at


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).


• Reading/watching/listening responses – 25 percent
• Low-Power FM case study and reflection – 20 percent
• Out of the Shadows essay – 10 percent
• Final project proposal (mid-term) – 10 percent
• Final Project – 35 percent


Week of Jan. 16

W – Course intro

Civic media?

F – Read: From Voice to Influence, Introduction

Week of Jan. 23 – “Civics” and the (networked) public sphere

M – Ethan Zuckerman, “Effective Civics” (pdf)

W -The Public Sphere? Read Habermas, The Public Sphere: An Encyclopedia Article (1964)

F – Reimagining the Public Sphere in the 21st Century. Read: in From Voice to Influence, Danielle Allen, “Reconceiving Public Spheres.”

Week of Jan. 30 – Networked social movements

M – Read: in From Voice to Influence: Ch. 12, “Acting Politically in a Digital Age”; Read: Brady Robards, “Case Study: Marriage Equality, Facebook Profile Photos, and Civic Participation” (pdf)

W – Read: in From Voice to Influence: Kahne et al.,”Youth, New Media and the Rise Participatory Politics.”

F -Read: Alicia Garza, “A Herstory of the #BlackLivesMatter movement” Watch in class: Stay Woke: Black Lives Matter

Week of Feb. 6 – Backing Up

M – Read: in From Voice to Influence: Jennifer S. Light, “Putting Our Conversation in Context: Youth, Old Media and Political Participation”

W – Read: Bennett, “The Logic of Connective Action: Digital Media and the Personalization of Contentious Politics” (pdf).


Week of Feb. 13 – Transmedia organizing

M  – Read: Chock, Out of the Shadows Into the Streets!: Transmedia Organizing and the Immigrant Rights Movement, Introduction:¡Escucha! ¡Escucha! ¡Estamos en la Lucha!

Today we begin in depth study of transmedia organizing around an issue – the immigrant rights movement. We will spend a lot of time reading and discussing issues and tactics from Out of the Shadows. This is one of the required books. It’s free online. You can buy a hard copy if you like, but it’s not necessary.

W – “Media ecology”and networked organizing. Read: Out of the Shadows, “A Day Without an Immigrant: Social Movements and the Media Ecology”

F – Read: in Out of the Shadows: “Walkout Warriors: Transmedia Organizing”

Final project proposal assigned (see Blackboard)

Week of Feb. 20 – Transmedia organizing

M – Read: in Out of the Shadows: “MacArthur Park Melee: From Spokespeople to Amplifiers”

W -Read: in Out of the Shadows: “APPO-LA: Translocal Media Practices”

F – Read: in Out of the Shadows: “Worker Centers, Popular Education, and Critical Digital Media”

Assign Out of The Shadows Essay (see Blackboard)

Week of Feb. 27

M – Read in Out of the Shadows: “Out of the Closets, Out of the Shadows, and Into the Streets: Pathways to Participation in DREAM Activist Networks”

W – Read in Out of the Shadows: “Define American, The Dream is Now, and Professionalization and Accountability in Transmedia Organizing”

F – Out of the Shadows essay due by 5 p.m.

Week of March 6 – Public narrative and digital media

M – Read: Marshall Ganz, Narrative, Collective Action and Power (pdf)

W -Read: Jose Antonio Vargas, The New York Times, “My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant” In class: Watch/discuss Documented

F – In class: Watch/discuss Documented

Final project proposal due by 5 p.m.

Week of March 13 – Spring Break

Week of March 22 – Media policy and DIY civic media

M – Free Press: Media Policy 101:

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

In class watch: Drowned City, a documentary on pirate (underground) radio in London

F – Finish Drowned City on your own. Read in Low Power to the People (required): “Pirates, Hams and Protests: Radio Activism in Historical Context”

Today we begin an deep dive into DIY media by looking at low power FM radio and community media. Low power FM provides an ideal case study to help us understand media policy, grassroots media activism and increasing the number of voices in the public sphere. We will spend a couple of weeks on it.

Low Power FM Project assigned (see Blackboard)

Week of March 29

M – Read in Low Power to the People: “Selfhoods, Geeks and Countercultures”

W – Read in Low Power to the People: “The Tools of Gender Production”

F – Read in Low Power to the People: “The Work of Pedagogy in Technological Activism”

Week of April 3

M – Read in Low Power to the People: Fine-Tuning Boundaries

W – Read in Low Power to the People: Making Old Technology Anew: Reinventing FM Radio in the 21st Century

F – Read in Low Power to the People: Do Old Media Have New Politics?

Week of April 10

M – In-class work on FM transmitter/Individual meetings on final project

W – In-class work on FM transmitter/Individual meetings on final project

Th – Low Power FM project due by 5 p.m. (Paper)

F – No class – Easter break

Week of April 17

M- No class – Easter Break

T – Tour of PhillyCAM and WPPM

W – Tour of PhillyCAM and WPPM

F – Individual meetings on Final Project

Week of April 24

M – Individual meetings on Final Project


F – Final Project Presentation

Week of May 1

M – Final Project Presentation

W – Final Project presentations