My proposal for an American public internet

This is more than a bit off topic, but I was just reading this Washington Post op-ed by Erik Martin, a former policy advisor for President Obama’s Office of Science and Technology Policy.

He calls for a “fresh infusion of public media” onto the internet, paid for at least in part by federal and state government – then distributed by some form of government fiat on major tech platforms.

I am wary of any government involvement, and outright mistrustful of government regulation in this area.

But I share Martin’s enthusiasm for some internet analog to 1967’s Public Broadcasting Act, which funded the development of noncommercial radio and TV programming “responsive to the interests of people.”

So what vacuum left by corporate media would an “American Public Internet” fill?

My answer is that it would tell American stories.

Right now, they are hard to find. And there is certainly no place to go on the web to find out what real American life is like in any sweeping way, what American experiences are in different places and at different socio-economic levels, and how Americans navigate the joys and struggles of everyday existence. (The closest we come now, not surprisingly, are the NPR and PBS websites, but they are not organized around the story-telling mission.)

I think there is a need for such a website — possibly launched with government money but sustainable (through a membership model) without.

So, for what it’s worth, I have dusted off my more-than-a-decade-old list of bullet points describing what an would do:

  • It would aggregate and call attention to the best storytelling in newspapers, magazines, books, TV, multi-media, music.
  • It would also solicit, contribute and collate personal stories, categorizing them by theme, demographics, etc.
  • It would focus not on political issues, but on human ones: Overcoming adversity, seeking justice, helping others, public service, finding common ground, melting pot, loving the country.
  • For structure, it would feature weekly themes: love stories, tragedy and suffering, loneliness, not being alone, community, addiction, celebration, hobbies, neighborhoods, heroes, villains, the everyday, making a home, memoirs, crossing boundaries, generational change, impact of technology, justice achieved, justice denied, male misogyny, female misogyny, effects of misogyny, families (traditional and not) (divided and not), turning life around/redemption, lives of crime, lives of despair, mentors, when government succeeds (and fails), poverty, wealth, military lives, special needs, second childhoods, dying, rituals (graduations, weddings, birthdays), trials, social change, tolerance, intolerance, minority status, power, powerlessness, appreciations of the dead, the immigrant experience, the expat experience, coming of age, coming out, illness, religious observances, religious communities, prayer, work (hated and loved), coming to the city, getting out of the city, vacations, being exploited, being the exploiter, victims of capitalism, capitalist success stories, the invisible.

And it would have a secret agenda: It would help Americans see how much they have in common, rather than encouraging them to tear the country apart.

Slightly updated on Feb. 27.