- supporting the communication and media for development community
The Newseum is now housed in a shiny new, modern, large, much-celebrated building in Washington, DC. As someone from a small town in rural New Zealand it is completely overwhelming - makes me feel so small. I fondly remember the old Newseum across the river in Arlington, Virginia. It was cozy, cramped, shambolic, and homely, oozing the spirit of the struggles of peoples to connect with each other, discuss, debate, analyse, sift fact from fiction, share knowledge and information, and fight for their understanding of what it meant to be free. It had the feel not of a modern temple to the gods of news but of a smoky back room, noisy kitchen, or community newspaper newsroom where communication and media processes made real things happen at the behest of real people. It made you feel a little taller.
One of the most striking aspects of the old Newseum was the very first thing you saw upon entering through the narrow, obscure, hallway: a drum. The new Newseum has a helicopter right smack bang in the huge amphitheater-style foyer - well, hanging above it, actually, in a very dominating manner indeed. Helicopter vs. drum? No competition in my mind. (Sorry, Guy - one of my brothers-in-law - he is a helicopter pilot!)
The drum was there in the old Newseum hallway because it was one of the very first forms of communication and media - the Twitter of its day. This old Newseum drum was labelled something like (if memory serves me right) "An African drum - a very early form of communication". That is why it was one of the first things you saw on entering. But really they could have chosen some form of percussion instrument from almost any culture.
The mention of a drum stimulates very powerful images related to communication and media. Drums have history - long history. They have been used in all sorts of ways across almost all cultures - as warning signals, to broadcast news, for celebration and mourning, to wage war and declare peace, for entertainment and education, to name just a few. The drum can communicate in many different tones - somnolent, happy, reflective, joyful, threatening - the whole range of emotions. We can all relate to a drum - from childhood to the later ages of life everyone at some time taps a rhythm out on something (I love doing that, but my kids object!).
Drums provide the driving pulse of music and life - figuratively and literally. Where goes the beat of the drum goes the music. We all move through life with slightly different beats and rhythms. Drums resonate - from the earliest use of a drum as a way of sharing knowledge to Ginger Baker [gotta love Cream] drums and the rhythms they produce have real meaning in different ways to all of us. (There are of course gender issues here - acknowledged! - see below!)
Resonance is a vitally important concept for everyone involved in media and communication for development action. Sure, concepts such as "independent" (as in "independent media"), "message" (as in "main messages to be delivered"), "free" (as in "journalistic freedom"), and "delivery" (as in "the media options to deliver your communication") are vitally important. But I think that there is something a little deeper than each of those vital concepts that provides huge compound value for each of them. That deeper element is resonance - the extent to which media and communication processes connect with people and reflect and convey their situations and dynamics - a connection at emotional, cultural, analytic, debate, and knowledge levels - real connection. Resonance ensures scale and depth. Drums resonate. It is resonance that creates the space for change - creation of space being a key communication and media for development principle.
Finally, there is something about the drum that feels grounded, earthy, and connected. Whereas helicopters fly high above the action looking down and observing, drums are right there smack bang in the middle of the action. Drums are not elite - they are common. We can pretty well all have one - and can all communicate with them. Helicopters - well - that is different story.
So when we were looking for a name for the e-magazine that we wanted to be such an important part of the still-to-be-born Communication Initiative 500 issues and 11 years ago, the most natural name seemed to be "The Drum Beat". The old Newseum experience and the image of that old drum at its battered doorway provided the initial spark for the name.
The beating of a drum encapsulates all we believe about the vital importance of communication and media for development - much of which is mentioned above. And the beating of a drum also worked for us - The Communication Initiative - as a highly resonant image for how we wished to try and support your vitally important work.
Much of the guidance and support provided in the international development "scene" is based on concepts such as "best practice" or "strategic guidance" or "operational notes". I am going to a meeting this Friday at which a leading development agency will propose a programme of work to "distill globally relevant best practices in the field of independent media development, along with actionable program advice for donor agency". It does not matter which agency is proposing this work on which subject or theme. These kinds of meetings take place almost every day on one or more development issues or strategies.
If international development is a music group (please help us), then the processes such as the one just described are attempts to create the lead singers or lead instrumentalist in that group - the ones that stand out and lead, the ones which everyone is encouraged to focus on and applaud. This may be important but it is not our vision, role, or mission.
Rather, what we try to be are the drummers at the back. Our role is to provide the platform (the drum beat - metaphor and actual e-magazine) upon which you can: share your knowledge with others; identify programmes, strategic thinking, and people that may be able to help you and your organisation strengthen your work; and draw upon support processes - training, materials, events, books, jobs, etc - that you identify as potentially adding value to your capacity to do what you want to do.
In these 500 issues of The Drum Beat we have received from the network and shared about 7,500 knowledge items with the same (or greater) number of contact people - a social network - and links to the in-depth information. We want to get as many people as possible off our URL and onto yours!
This knowledge is communicated without comment or qualification. There are no "bests", "global leading", or "universe shattering" descriptors in a Drum Beat. You will decide that - not us - and that is vitally important. The struggle to develop a national debate to increase participation in the political process in Morocco does not have the same dynamics or context or historical drivers as a similar process in Peru or Fiji or Kenya. The same applies across all issues. You will all get enough global advice on what to do. Our role is the drumming balancing act to those lead guitars and singers - to give you the space to describe what you want, to connect with whom you wish to connect and decide for yourselves what strategic and programmatic directions you wish to pursue in your specific contexts.
Central to the compilation of every issue of every Drum Beat is recognition that you are very busy with little time [sadly] to read and reflect and have virtually bulging in-boxes. We therefore take great care to add value to your day by writing short, well-crafted summaries - one paragraph for the Drum Beat and 6 to 8 paragraphs online. You will waste little time reading these. If they are valuable to you, then great - go further - if not - then not much lost.
From feedback we receive it is these factors that are central to each issue of The Drum Beat that has seen its subscriber base rise from 200 of my closest friends who had no option 11 years ago to 44,000-plus freely subscribing people and organisations today.
The focus here has been on The Drum Beat e-magazine and its 500th issue. But there have also been 241 issues of Son de Tambora and 147 issues of Soul Beat Africa. To close let me focus on Son de Tambora. There is a maxim that very much applies to communication for media and development - and to drumming, for that matter. Just when you find out where it is at - someone moves it! We are in a dynamic and fast-moving field.
Son de Tambora uses the female gender for Drum Beat. This in itself has attracted a lot of attention and debate. Even the name of the magazine creates the space - another vital concept for communication for a debate on gender and culture!
Such is the story of The Drum Beat and why we adopted this name for our e-magazines. Drums are percussive in the best sense of the word - a great beat that provides the platform for people to give voice to their perspectives and ideas and at the same time that beat shakes things up a little. We are honoured to support you as you perform this vitally important role. Hey, maybe we can also bring the drum - and all that it means - back to the Newseum entrance!
You do not get to 500 issues of an e-magazine like this [I thought we would be lucky to do 10!] without some incredibly skilled and dedicated staff. To all who have worked on this - Deborah, Kier, Deanna, Julie, Juana, Anja, and the list goes on... - the Drum Roll is for you - thanks!