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What is Participatory Media?

What is Participatory Media?

Participatory media is media in which actual participants are the ones who contribute to the body of knowledge through the process of collection, reporting, analysis and/or dissemination, rather than simply acting as consumers.

Examples of this phenomenon are numerous and include video blogs, podcasts, tagging, message boards, music-photo-video sharing, and social networking. In particular, this type of media is produced on sites such as Wikipedia, Tumblr, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and the like.

The two chief characteristics of participatory media are that it only succeeds with a copious amount of participants, and that it enables broader, faster, and cheaper dissemination of information. While one may argue for the negatives of the matter, the positives can make the deed worth it.

Negative aspects include the participation gap (which argues unequal access), transparency problem (which speaks to the shaping of perceptions of the world by media- regardless of the truth), and ethics challenge (which alludes to the breakdown of traditional forms of professional training and socialization). However, positives embrace interconnected, peer-to-peer learning, diversification of cultural expressions, the ability for anyone to have a voice, and the development of useful skills for the modern workplace (Ross, 2013).

Rather than traditional media, participatory media is fast becoming the medium in which news is broken to the public, by the public. Real world examples of this are the Egyptian elections, the revolution in Iran, the Arab Spring, Invisible Children’s KONY 2012, LGBT Rights, and the Trayvon Martin Shooting.

Participatory Media

For the first time in seven centuries, Egyptians were allowed to democratically vote for their president. Images of inked fingers were posted on social media platform throughout the election, with hashtags such as #EgyPresElex and #Egyelections attached to them to spread the word. In

Iran, the members of the “Green Revolution” opposing the 2009 victory of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took to Twitter. With the hashtag #Iranrevolution, the Internet united to provide and show support for these people.

The wave of pro-democracy movements across the Middle East that came to be known as the “Arab Spring” was quickly known world-wide. Activists of the cause used technology and social media to share ideas and tactics across borders.

Gaining popularity through YouTube, in 2012 the KONY movement exposed the actions of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and its leader in Africa. Beginning as an hour-long video on YouTube, the campaign quickly attracted viewers and was spread to other platforms such as Twitter where users identify their involvement with the hashtags #KONY2012 #SERVICE #[YOURCITY]. (Clark, 2012).

With modern-day society evolving into a participatory culture, one must understand what it entails. Media scholar Henry Jenkins describes this culture as one with low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations with others, some type of informal mentorship, where participants feel that their contributions matter, and where they feel some degree of social connection with one another.

In addition to traditional literacy, research skills, technical skills, and critical analysis skills taught in the classroom, supplementary skills are necessary to survive in this new age. These skills may include performance, simulation, appropriation, multi-tasking, distributed cognition, collective intelligence, judgment, transmedia navigation, networking, and negotiation (Jenkins, Purushotma, Clinton, Weigel, & Robison, 2005). Thus, long-standing education objectives must be re-evaluated to reflect this contemporary age.


Clark, L. (2012). Impact of Social Media on Society: 5 Times Social Changed the World.

Jenkins, H., Purushotma, R., Clinton, K., Weigel, M., & Robison, A. J. (2005). Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century. Chicago: MacArthur Foundation.

Ross, J. (2013, October 9). Participatory Media.

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