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Active voice and community engagement: Transforming United States public service media through strategic communication

Alicia M Kemmitt, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation examines how a nonprofit media organization, Active Voice, uses reality-based film as a catalyst for audience engagement, dialogue, identification and social change. This ethnography of cultural production investigates Active Voice's pursuit of social justice goals through broad partnerships that include local and national non-profits, grassroots advocacy organizations, as well as policy makers and corporations. The fieldwork spanned 16 months of study at the Active Voice headquarters in San Francisco, California, when the organization developed from a public television initiative into a strategic, entrepreneurial organization that became an independent nonprofit in 2005. This field study centers on the multi-institutional production process of a community campaign that used the public television broadcast of the 3-part documentary series, The New Americans (2004), as a catalyst for community dialogue and activism on immigration issues. Through comparisons with U.S. public service media projects, such as public journalism and public television outreach, the dissertation identifies and analyzes complex links among documentary representation and advocacy; entrepreneurism and social change; information and entertainment. The study argues that Active Voice's collaborative campaign production process, as well as its engagement with popular genres and venues, answers some of the critiques of U.S. public television as irrelevant and elitist. Following this analysis, this dissertation recommends a cultural policy that fosters public service media projects that balance popular culture with community, nonprofit goals.

Subject Area

Mass media|Political science

Recommended Citation

Kemmitt, Alicia M, "Active voice and community engagement: Transforming United States public service media through strategic communication" (2006). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3206199.