The public sphere is the informal part of our lives where we manage the quality of our shared culture. Church, the post office, sidewalks, Starbucks, the water cooler—they are all places in the physical world (or what our digerati friends like to call “meat space”) where people bring along their experience with the media. It is an informally structured set of social relationships, where power can be mobilized against large institutions such as the state and large corporations.
Mass media have acted as a pseudo-public sphere. Broadcast news services were stand-ins for our collective, top-priority concerns of public life. Popular programs were, similarly, pseudo-public culture, distilled examples of how a culture understands itself—or at least as corporate broadcasters would like it to.
Public broadcasting has been a protected, if compromised, zone that provides some higher-quality opportunities for people to learn about each other and their problems, and to share a common cultural experience of consuming the same media. But public broadcasting is still a stand-in for public communication, because it is a mass medium. The broadcasters speak to the many, who then talk to each other.
Can digital media change this? Can new technologies bring media made by, with and for the public? Could pubcasters be part of it?