Clemencia Rodríguez discovered her passion for local media in the rural mountains of Colombia in 1984. Back then, the area was mostly devoid of mass media and communications.
Rodríguez had just graduated with a bachelor’s degree in communications from Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Bogotá, Colombia, where she grew up. Her first job after graduation was working with grassroots organizations to help them produce their own media.
She was in nearby mountains to help teach rural coffee farmers video production skills, specifically how to use a portable camcorder, which had just become available for the first time. The farmers had joined together, forming a coffee farmers co-op, to protect themselves from being forced to accept below-market-value prices for their products. They wanted to produce a video about their story.
“I was kneeling to connect the camera with the television set, and [when] I pushed play and I turned around, I will never forget what I saw,” said Rodríguez, now a media studies and production professor. “This farming community, men, women, children and youth, looking at images of themselves on screen for the first time ever. They were fascinated.”
Rodríguez now serves on the board of directors for the local community radio station, G-town Radio, which is Germantown and Mt. Airy’s online radio station. She is currently working with them to move G-town Radio to a local FM radio station.
“Clemencia has been a godsend,” said Jim Bear, the founder of G-town radio. “She has connections within the radio community all over the world. … She is the perfect person to come at the perfect time as we are moving onto the radio.”
Rodríguez has used her connection with Temple to help G-town Radio grow as a station. She hosted a training day at the station with Thea Chaloner, a media studies and production adjunct instructor and an associate producer for “Fresh Air with Terry Gross,” a weekly national radio show on WHYY.
“It empowers people on a very basic level,” Chaloner said. “What I am always surprised about when I teach these types of workshops is how quickly regular people can go out with their smartphones and talk to people and get really great tape on [subjects] that are very present-tense and immediate.”
Since that moment in the Colombian mountains, Rodríguez knew she wanted to focus on the empowering effects of technology in the hands of people.
She eventually classified this type of media — which is produced by members of a community for their specific community — as “citizens’ media.”
The awe she experienced the day she spent with the coffee farmers inspired her to make citizens’ media the focus of her career, which has most recently brought her to Philadelphia, where she has lived for a year now.
Rodríguez’s studies have taken her across the world, from various parts of Latin America to Spain and England, giving her experiences that she can now share with her students and fellow station members.
In Colombia, she studied the impact of citizens’ media in a small Afro-Colombian community, where a school teacher began his own radio program, not in the official language of Spanish, but in the lesser known locally used languages called Bantú, originating from central and southern Africa. The teacher involved his 9- and 10-year-old students as a way for them to practice writing and communication skills.
“In this way, the local media helped to preserve a language,” Rodríguez said. “There are many unique ways to use technology to maintain processes in the community that have to do with tradition and cultural practices and native languages…the environment, and gender equity, and climate change and even fun things too, like hip-hop.”
Citizens’ media has increased in importance as mass communication becomes more consolidated under corporations, simultaneously narrowing the number of places and stories that receive coverage, Rodríguez said.
She added that citizens’ media fills in the gaps in most local news coverage and shows more human interest stories.
“If a certain area only receives media attention when there is a shooting or drug violence, people develop a simplified, negative image of that community,” Rodríguez said.
Bear created G-town radio in 2007 after the local newspaper, the Germantown Courier, and later the Mt. Airy Times Express, folded due to financial struggles.
“There is definitely a vacuum when it comes to local information,” Bear said. “So what happens is, if someone has something engaging or news they want to share…we present ourselves as a platform for people to share their ideas, their thoughts, their music, what they like, their passions, and things like that.”
“[The station] is very hyperlocal,” added Tom Casetta, the station’s program director. “It’s not something that gets filtered out to meet a wide range, like a lowest common denominator.”
Rodríguez always finds the community’s reaction to the station to be rewarding.
“It’s magical,” she said. “People are always so surprised at the thought that they could be on the radio…but [community radio] has so much potential. … I find local radio is often the glue that holds communities together.”