Pop Culture Goes Local
NB: this post will be edited later to include links galore. Please come back tonight to see the new, improved version of this post.
Right now, my local NPR station is broadcasting an interview with Eric Klinenberg, a sociology prof at NYU and the author of the recent book Fighting for Air: The Battle to Control America's Media. The book talks a great deal about the consolidation and homogenization of radio and television stations and newspapers in the US following the Telecommunications Act of 1996. You can hear it streaming right now, and will be able to listen to it via Real Audio later today. If you're in Philly, Klinenberg will be speaking at the Annenberg Center at 5 PM today.
I find this topic fascinating, because so much of what is interesting about pop culture is the stuff that burbles up from local scenes -- think about the two totally different punk scenes in LA and New York in the late 1960s and 1970s. Think about the hardcore scene in DC in the early 1980s, the distinctive hip-hop scenes in Houston, Detroit, Philadelphia, Atlanta, and New Orleans. Think about, as Klinenberg points out, the local reporting in the Boston Globe that led to breaking the international story about pedophilia in the Catholic Church. And yet large companies like ClearChannel are permitted to own 6 stations in each large market, and are pushing the FCC to be permitted to own 10 or 12 stations. We're seeing the stripmall-ificiation of the airwaves.
Now, think about local culture blogs like Gothamist and Londonist. Look at citizen reportage on political blogs. Look at the proliferation of local papers in my area -- the Voorhees Sun, the Haddonfield Sun, What's On Collingswood -- or the underground trend of low-power FM stations (primarily in rural and semirural areas). People are finding ways to subvert the dominant, monolithic media culture, which is great. But what about people who don't have access to broadband connections to access the Internet at the high speeds that are increasingly necessary to access the content they want, or who don't know that low-power FM stations even exist in their area?
This is an area where libraries can help. A lot. Obviously, we can continue to offer free access to high speed Internet connections. Beyond that, we can partner with broadcasters on low-power FM stations to hold public information sessions, display copies of local newspapers, link to authoritative and well-written local news blogs from our websites. We are an important conduit to more than just blockbusters & bestsellers. Let's not miss this important opportunity to fill the niches our patrons crave.