Referring to the definition of participatory journalism, participatory media can be described as media where the audience can play an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analyzing and disseminating content. Citizen journalism, citizen media and democratic media are related principles.
Nowadays the term participatory media is commonly used for new media and it is often equated with platforms like community media, blogs, wikis, RSS, tagging and social bookmarking, music-photo-video sharing, mashups, podcasts, participatory video projects and videoblogs. All together they can be described as “e-services, which involve end-users as active participants in the value creation process”. However, "active [...] uses of media are not exclusive to our times". "In the history of mediated communication we can find many variations of participatory practices. For instance, the initial phase of the radio knew many examples of non-professional broadcasters”.
Marshall MacLuhan discussed the participatory potential of media already in the 1970s but in the era of digital and social media, the theory of participatory culture becomes even more acute as the borders between audiences and media producers are blurring.
These distinctly different media share three common, interrelated characteristics:
- Many-to-many media now make it possible for every person connected to the network to broadcast and receive text, images, audio, video, software, data, discussions, transactions, computations, tags, or links to and from every other person. The asymmetry between broadcaster and audience that was dictated by the structure of pre-digital technologies dictated has changed radically. This is a technical-structural characteristic.
- Participatory media are social media whose value and power derives from the active participation of many people. This is a psychological and social characteristic. One example is StumbleUpon.
- Social networks, when amplified by information and communication networks, enable broader, faster, and lower cost coordination of activities. This is an economic and political characteristic.
With participatory media, the boundaries between audiences and creators become blurred and often invisible. In the words of David Sifry, the founder of Technorati, a search engine for blogs, one-to-many “lectures” (i.e., from media companies to their audiences) are transformed into “conversations” among “the people formerly known as the audience”. This changes the tone of public discussions. The mainstream media, says David Weinberger, a blogger, author and fellow at Harvard University's Berkman Centre, “don't get how subversive it is to take institutions and turn them into conversations”. That is because institutions are closed, assume a hierarchy and have trouble admitting fallibility, he says, whereas conversations are open-ended, assume equality and eagerly concede fallibility.
Some proposed that journalism can be more “participatory” because the World Wide Web has evolved from “read-only” to “read-write”. In other words, in the past only a small proportion of people had the means (in terms of time, money, and skills) to create content that could reach large audiences. Now the gap between the resources and skills needed to consume online content versus the means necessary to produce it have narrowed significantly to the point that nearly anyone with a web-connected device can create media. As Dan Gillmor, founder of the Center for Citizen Media declared in his 2004 book We the Media, journalism is evolving from a lecture into a conversation. He also points out that new interactive forms of media have blurred the distinction between producers of news and their audience. In fact, some view the term “audience” to be obsolete in the new world of interactive participatory media. New York University professor and blogger Jay Rosen refers to them as “the people formerly known as the audience.” In “We Media”, a treatise on participatory journalism, Shayne Bowman and Chris Willis suggest that the “audience” should be renamed “participants”.
Some even proposed that "all mass media should be abandoned", extending upon one of the four main arguments given by Jerry Mander in his case against television: Corporate domination of television used to mould humans for a commercial environment, and all mass media involve centralised power. Blogger Robin Good wrote, "With participatory media instead of mass media, governments and corporations would be far less able to control information and maintain their legitimacy... To bring about true participatory media (and society), it is also necessary to bring about participatory alternatives to present economic and political structures... In order for withdrawal from using the mass media to become more popular, participatory media must become more attractive: cheaper, more accessible, more fun, more relevant. In such an atmosphere, nonviolent action campaigns against the mass media and in support of participatory media become more feasible."
Although 'participatory media' has been viewed uncritically by many writers, others, such as Daniel Palmer, have argued that media participation must also "be understood in relation to defining characteristics of contemporary capitalism – namely its user-focused, customised and individuated orientation."
- The phrase Participatory Media was first used publicly by Greg Ruggiero and later popularized by blog researcher Rebecca Blood and others, such as Furukawa. In April 2006, journalist and media researcher Jim McClellan used the phrase Personal Participatory Media, which may distinguish between objective social media (scientific, corporate, pure information) and subjective/personal social media (value-laden, opinion, religious).
See also 
- Bowman, S., Willis, C. "We Media: How Audiences are Shaping the Future of News and Information." 2003: The Media Center at the American Press Institute.
- Ekström, A., Jülich, S., Lundgren, F., Wisselgren, P. "History of Participatory Media". 2011: Taylor & Francis Group.
- Carpentier, Nico. "Participation Is Not Enough: The Conditions of Possibility of Mediated Participatory Practices" 2009: European Journal of Communication 2009 24: 407-419.
- Jenkins, Henry. "Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide" 2006: New York University Press.
- Rheingold, Howard. "Using Participatory Media and Public Voice to Encourage Civic Engagement". 2007: Thesis, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
- Kluth, Andreas (20 April 2006). "Among the Audience". 2006: Economist.
- MacKinnon, Rebecca. "Blogging, Journalism and Credibility: The Future of Global Participatory Media". 2007: Seikai Shisosya.
- Gilmor, Dan. "We the Media". 2004: O’Reilly.
- Rosen, Jay. "Top Ten Ideas of '04: News Turns from a Lecture to a Conversation". 2006: Pressthink.
- Good, Robin. "The Power Of Open Participatory Media And Why Mass Media Must Be Abandoned". 2003: blog.
- Palmer, Daniel. "Participatory Media: Visual Culture in Real Time". 2004: University of Melbourne.
- The SocialTechnographic Ladder: A graphic tool developed by Forrester to indicate the six levels of participation among social media users.
- Participatory Media Literacy: A site developed by media theorist Howard Rheingold on the pedagogical implications and uses of participatory media.
- Intro to Online Participatory Media: Zones of Emergency - Networks, Tactics, Breakdown: A public course taught by Amber Frid-Jimenez and Dan Van Roekel at MIT.
- Networked Cultures and Participatory Media: Media City: A course taught by Amber Frid-Jimenez at MIT.
- Participatory Media/Collective Action[dead link], Class taught by Xiao Qiang and Howard Rheingold, School of Information, University of California at Berkeley.
- Webpublishing in Open Participatory Environments: a 6-week workshop given by Barbara Dieu, Patricia Glogowski, Graham Stanley, Nick Noakes and Scott Lockman for the Electronic Village Online 2007 Session.
- Social Media in ELT: a 6-week workshop given by Barbara Dieu, Rudolf Ammann, Illya Arnet_Clark, Patricia Glogowski, Jennifer Verschoor for the Electronic Village Online 2008 Session.
- Translation and Participatory Media: Experiences from Global Voices article by Chris Salzberg.
- Inclusion Through Media: First hand accounts and critical analysis of work across the Inclusion Through Media prgramme edited by Tony Dowmunt, Mark Dunford and Nicole van Hemert.