Development Rhetoric in Community-Access Cable Programming in Southwestern Newfoundland

Ivan Emke, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Sir Wilfred Grenfell College
Memorial University of Newfoundland
Corner Brook, NF
A2H 6P9

709-637-6200, ext. 6322
709-639-8125 (fax)

For presentation at the Canadian Sociology and Anthropology Association, Sherbrooke, June 1999.

DRAFT COPY: Comments and suggestions are welcome.


Issues of communication and culture are relevant to community development in that they involve local pride and tenacity in the struggle to survive. This presentation reports a content analysis of intra-community discussions about local development, using a sampling of programs run by community-owned and operated, popular cable television stations in two fishing villages in southwestern Newfoundland that have been working actively, since 1992, to secure their economic futures.

The paper also discusses the relationship between cable programming and the major industrial players in each community, offers observations about the ways communitites can "think out loud," and assesses the efficacy of local cable programming as a community economic development tool.

"The task of building and preserving a community-based culture is a daunting one given the powerful forces of mass culture and globalization which are working to erase local culture from our memories and imaginations" Nozick, 1994: 87.

"If we continue to be locked into the past, we will miss the future" -- Ramea Industrial Adjustment Services Committee, 1994: 17.

There are a variety of paths which are taken by communities in their attempts at development (and survival). Many of these focus exclusively on economic or political strategies, such as the fostering of entrepreneurship or the identification of niche products or competitive advantages. However, some of these development strategies also (at least implicitly) refer to issues of communication and culture. Indeed, the type of intra-community communication which is nurtured has a significant effect on the success of economic and political initiatives. Furthermore, one of the prime reasons for community tenacity (in the face of such post-modern monsters as "downsizing" and "globalization") is pride of culture. Whenever this pride is maintained and celebrated, the resolve to survive is also strengthened. Given the importance of communication and culture, this paper will look more closely at one specific mode of communication (community broadcasting) and the references to culture and development which are used in the programs.

The primary site for this study is two communities in southwestern Newfoundland, Burgeo and Ramea. Both of these communities have historically relied on the fishery for their major economic resources. Since 1992, they have worked (in their own separate ways) at securing an economic future for their communities. Both places also have their own community-owned and operated cable television systems which produce local programming on a regular basis. These organizations could be seen as belonging in the "third sector," as they are neither government nor corporate in their initiation, values or direction. Indeed, a prime mode of intra-community discussion in Burgeo and Ramea is now through cable television, to which virtually all residents subscribe. A 1998 survey of Burgeo found that 80% of respondents watched the local programs "usually" or "always;" in Ramea 71% of respondents gave the same answer (Emke and Blanchard, 1998a; 1998b). In order to understand the discussion about community economic development in these towns, it is thus necessary to pay attention to the content of these programs.

This paper begins with a discussion of background issues, such as the nature of development and the importance of communication and culture to a community's pride and self-confidence. Then the paper moves to the two communities, providing some historical and economic context on their current situation and the origins of the two cable companies. The focus then moves to some observations based on a content analysis of a sample of community cable programs. A number of questions were central in the study of these programs: What is the rhetoric of the discussion (the types of persuasive arguments which are made)? What kind of analyses are being offered to understand the community's problems? What solutions are being put forward? Do they focus on external actors (government, outside industries) or internal actors (self development, community organization)? What litanies of complaint and celebration are cultivated? Finally, the paper discusses the complex relationship between cable programming and the major industrial player in the community, with direct reference to Burgeo. (For example, is the relationship generally supportive, benign, or critical and analytical, and does it change over time?) The paper concludes with some final observations regarding one of the ways in which a community can "think out loud."

First, however, it would be useful to refine what is meant by "rhetoric." Traditionally, it is known as the art of public speaking and debate, but the term has a pejorative meaning these days, implying an attempt to hide or subvert true communication of meaning. For example, one frequently sees dichotomies such as "rhetoric or reality?" However, in the more classical sense, rhetoric is the application of one's logical thought to concrete problem areas. Rhetoric requires a justification behind it and it also implies that the listeners/readers have some free choice in accepting or rejecting the arguments (Golden et al., 1978). Rhetoric is thus a richer term for the process of developing some form of consensus on the path forward in the community development process. Government and academic "experts" commonly provide a stream of rhetoric regarding how communities need to develop. But communities themselves develop an analysis of their situation, a set of ideas for what should be done, and some form of evidence to support their position. It is this rhetoric (which also implies a process of message construction) that is the focus of this paper.

What is development?

One of the regular hesitancies in articles on community economic development is the debate over how to define "development." There has been a spreading disenchantment with the idea that development is simply some kind of measurable increase in the aggregate economic indicators of a region. One of the results of this narrow definition of community development has been an emphasis on economics at the expense of social factors. For example, federal attempts at regional industrial expansion have often relied on either resource extraction (which may not give a region any autonomy) or global competitiveness and export maximization (which may ignore the local social effects of such activity).

One option has been to look at development as "social transformation," still an admittedly-vague term. Pieterse (1998) compares the growth model with the social transformation model and shows that some of the primary differences relate to the extent to which the community input is legitimized and the types of methods of development and discussion which are employed (participative versus expert-driven). Thus, it is assumed that there is a significant relationship between communication within a community (consensus building, etc.) and successful economic development. And, as a result of the process of coming to a consensus, a community is able to think about its situation in more creative ways.

In this context, the goal of community economic development is more than just to create jobs and improve economic indicators, but also to strengthen a community's ability to regenerate and sustain itself over time. Part of this regeneration involves a community's level of self-confidence, and ability to take risks together. O'Neill refers to a form of entrepreneurship which he called "community" or "collective entrepreneurship" (1994: 60). Such an ability to risk needs to be built and nurtured.

Others have argued that successful development has more to do with internal community factors than external factors (such as globalization). For example, Lean argues that it is a sense of hope, and even spirituality, which helps a community to develop. She writes that "what happens inside people is a key to what happens around them" (Lean, 1995: 4). Getting people to work together can be seen to be not only a political problem, but also a spiritual one (defining "spiritual" very broadly here).

In reference to this project, "pride in place" is essentially a sense of communion and connection with a piece of history and land -- essentially a tie that exists on the plane of the spirit, rather than the plane of nuts and bolts and sinews and blood. If we only use economic indicators, it is hard to understand why marginal communities continue to exist. To a society which generally isolates and marginalizes spirituality, it makes no sense whatsoever that people continue to insist on living in towns like Burgeo and Ramea. But it doesn't make sense simply because we have thrown out some of the major criteria which local people use for staying -- the emotional and spiritual connections to a place, a set of people, and a pattern of life.

The importance of communication

A community can talk to itself. But a healthy community also listens to itself and talks back. Carey argued that communication has a ritual aspect, as it involves the "creation, representation and celebration of shared values" and it is through communication that communities are "created, maintained, and transformed" (Carey, 1985: 33). But in order to facilitate this important process, a community needs to use technologies of communication which provide images of itself. There also appear to be some advantages to technologies which allow people to get the same information at the same time -- how and when they get information may be as important as what they get access to.

This idea of the need of a community to speak with itself to determine what to do about its problems is not some kind of an innovation in thinking. For instance, the Newfoundland Department of Rural Reconstruction released a pamphlet in 1936 called "Let's Talk It Over" (Richardson, 1936). It specifically suggested that communities develop study groups where all of the people get a chance to discuss the problems and possible solutions. These groups were not just for what we would today call "empowerment," but very real ways for an impoverished colony at that time to deal with some rather formidable economic problems. As the document notes: "In these difficult times the most urgent question in the minds of everybody is how to assure ourselves of the necessities of life----food, shelter, clothing, work, and play. Consequently, undertake the study of some common problem, the solution of which will be of material benefit to all the members" (Richardson, 1936: 4). Indeed, the province of Newfoundland has a history in the use of communication technology for development, from the activities of the National Film Board of Canada (and the development of the Fogo Process) to Memorial University's Extension Service experiments in short-term community broadcasting (Extension Service, 1972; Harris, 1992; Quarry, 1984; Williamson, 1991). These early experiments are certainly an inspiration in the current projects related to community development.

Community broadcasting has some potential to offer support to communities and to strengthen local cultures. But as Fairchild (1998) argues, in relation to community radio and aboriginal cultural identity, it is crucial that the communication medium elicits the input of a wide variety of positions, rather than becoming associated with one specific interest group within the community. This is a difficult line to walk, since certain people within both Ramea and Burgeo have become very closely associated with their television programming. While they may attempt to attract broader participation, it is still not the case that most people in the communities feel empowered to produce their own material. Community television should not simply put the same talking heads on people's screens that they would see at a town council meeting. Nor should it further ossify the informal structure of power in a community.

The technology itself can impose some limits on participation. For example, the fear of the media technology itself (and the mystery surrounding it) may be a part of the reticence of some to be involved. Thus, any attempts to humanize the technology is useful (no matter whether the content be the high school graduation ceremonies or a local music festival).

Earlier, the paper noted the concept of "collective entrepreneurship." But how does a community develop the confidence to take collective risks? This is where community story-telling, community broadcasting and its use in cultural survival fits in -- the technologies, and their use, can increase local identity and pride. In sum, when asking whether local broadcasting initiatives are of any value, one needs to remember that economic development should not be seen in narrow economistic terms, and that economic benefits can accrue from social and cultural strengths.

Culture and Pride in Place

Widespread participation in the discussion of local issues is both a goal and a method of bringing about change (Kaufman, 1997). The attempts to bring people together through local technology should also attempt to overcome the other divisions of class, gender, age and politics. And one way to bring these groups together is a pride in place and a sense of self-confidence (or pride in the local people).

Some versions of "globalization" and technology transfer suggest that the "end of place" is upon us -- that location and geography are increasingly irrelevant. In almost the same breath, the differences between rural and urban are seen to be either eroded or insignificant. If this were true, then the pride-in-place that is seen in so many cable programs would be rendered obsolete and incomprehensible.

However, I find this idea of the "end of place" to be unconvincing, and still maintain that it is important to understand the essentially cultural difference between rural experience and urban experience. I would concur with Creed and Ching, who wrote: "Given the pervasiveness of the rural/urban opposition and its related significance in the construction of identity, it is remarkable that the explosion of scholarly interest in identity politics has generally failed to address the rural/urban axis" (Creed and Ching, 1997: 3). There is a trend to look at a limited range of variables as central aspects of identity, without recognizing that being a woman in an urban area may differ from being a woman in a rural area, and so on.

There has also been a subtext that rural values/places are backward and rural culture has been devalued and marginalized. This might be the case within dominant culture, but also within economic thought. The rural may be the site of raw materials and resources, but it is not seen as the engine of growth or the source of new economic ideas. When urban dwellers attempt to speak for rural areas, there are some obvious liberties being taken. As a result of these biases, part of the important development work of rural communities is to re-value their own location and way of life, essentially to foster a pride in their own culture.

Culture can sometimes constrain development, or it can stimulate social change. In both cases, it should be considered as an important factor/variable in development strategies. But culture is dynamic and undergoes changes, and is influenced from the outside. One of the effects of development can be seen in culture, whereby old patterns of social control have broken down which causes further difficulties and a sense of rootlessness. Unesco (1995) outlines two categories of culture, one that features the continuity of a group (variables which are slow to change) and one that features the creative and adaptive abilities of a culture (the fast variables). Continuity variables include traditional beliefs, values, family norms, power structures and hierarchies, modes of life, production practices, eating habits, distribution of tasks, languages and historical or religious celebrations. Factors of change (fast variables) include survival strategies, needs and aspirations, knowledge, innovation, creativity, spoken language, technology transfers, economic exchanges and trade (Unesco, 1995: 93). These factors are dynamic, as there is some interplay and they may even work against each other.

A key in development is using the factors of change to allow a group to survive without major changes in the continuity of a group. That is why a fishing community may continually seek outside investors to run its fish plant, rather than to operate it on its own. That is why the rhetoric of the cable programs tend toward discussions of known ways of making a living. According to Unesco, part of the task of development is to identify these factors of continuity within a community -- what is of value? What defines a group? What are the reasons for staying here? Community broadcasting serves this purpose, by providing a litany of why the community exists and what its values are. Furthermore, the intensive discussion of economic issues at this community level may give their application more validity, as the ideas appear to be flowing from within the community.

Community Self-Confidence and Pride in Local People

Demoralization and general feelings of inefficacy or local incompetence will work against development activities. Effective community developers have to fight these feelings of loss and defeat as much as the facts of the corporations who pack up and leave or the fish that just don't come back. One of the values of local discussion is that it nurtures a belief that local knowledge has some important value. In the area of CED, as with many others, there are struggles over knowledge -- or, better put, capital-K "Knowledge." Not particularly what it is, but who gets to determine legitimated knowledge. Who, for example, gets to decide what "development" means? Who gets to speak for the interests of a community? Often decision makers and policy makers have a different kind of knowledge than the people in the communities who live out these policy initiatives (see, for example, Gaventa, 1993). The area of CED has its own knowledge elite. They could be academics, government functionaries, free-ranging after-dinner speakers who focus on entrepreneurship, and so on. But we could ask where they get their information and how it is collected? (We may move a bit too close to home when we ask these questions. Who benefits from this paper, for example? The author, clearly. The communities? That is not so clear.)

Gaventa (1993) argues that one way for community groups to work through this issue of legitimated knowledge is to seek a reform of the knowledge production system, partly through the production of their own forms of community-based knowledge. The hiring of community development workers from within the community is a response of this kind -- to invest local people with an important role and power. Part of the value of community broadcasting is the process of nurturing local self-confidence in the people in the community.

There is a kind of knowledge that comes from living in a place that is different from that gained by visiting it or understanding it theoretically or looking at its economic indicators. Local people always have some form of knowledge about their surroundings (sometimes called TEK knowledge, or "traditional environmental knowledge"). For example, Scott (1996) outlines how the James Bay Cree have a kind of knowledge about their location and the migration patterns of the animals that live there (and changes in those patterns) which informs their understanding of the state of the environment. "The idea that local experts are often better informed than their scientific peers is at last receiving significant acknowledgement beyond the boundaries of anthropology" (Scott, 1996: 71). Likewise with social phenomena, sometimes local people have a perspective and analysis which needs to be legitimized and celebrated locally. For example, Ryakuga's guide to community television is used by some programmers in southwestern Newfoundland. The guide suggests that when a panel of presenters is used, they all be local people, rather than the "experts" from outside. The manual states: "Actually, when outside experts are present, it can be very effective to insist that they talk from the audience while the head table is restricted to local people representing community-based knowledge" (Ryakuga, no date).

This nurturing of a pride in local people is something of an antidote to the predominance of external controls and external models of development. In discussing the reasons why the Antigonish Movement would probably not be successful today, Dodaro and Pluta (1995) argue that one factor is the growth of the public sector and the rise of experts in regional development programs. This has downplayed the importance of widespread community involvement and the value of community-derived solutions to economic challenges. They write: "More importantly, these [government-funded] programs and agencies have entrenched the top-down, politically motivated model of development. More than ever before, the solution to regional problems has come to be seen as strictly a function of the government rather than as a function of the people themselves, despite the fact that for various reasons the government initiatives, including ACOA at the present time, have generally been relatively ineffective" (Dodaro and Pluto, 1995). This government involvement also reduces the public feeling that individuals are responsible for making changes to improve the quality of their own communities, and it undermines a community's sense of self-reliance. Federal programs such as DRIE and ACOA have been attempts at making links between local regions and the national economy, but they do not necessarily help communities in their independent development. The provision of seed funding by government is crucial, but the "top-down" nature of such programs often "undermine their grassroots goals" (van Geest, 1994: 22).

There is a recognition among many local leaders in community development that leadership should come from the communities themselves. Jim Marsden, an important voice for community development in Ramea, wrote: "We have a choice to make in rural Newfoundland and Labrador as we approach the new millennium. We can meet the challenges ahead with the attitude that we will triumph or we can stay the course and blame others for our economic problems. Regardless of the choice we make, the challenge remains; the difference, however, will be the outcome" (Marsden, 1998A).

However, the situation in Ramea is instructive in understanding not only the possibility of success, but also the limits to that success. While the community did undergo a period of intense discussion, and opted to purchase the local fish plant in something of an act of faith, it was obvious from the beginning that they still clung to a model that it would be someone from the outside who would come in to operate the plant. And, when an operator arrived who was interested in purchasing the plant, they decided to sell it. Indeed, to compete for capital nationally, communities often primp themselves as being as attractive as possible (low wages are a big draw, in most cases, or a lack of environmental controls). The ultimate answer in many cases is still an external one -- outside capital and operators, which puts communities in constant competition with other communities for mobile capital (Gunn and Gunn, 1991: 9).

Or, to take an example from Burgeo, when a new mayor was elected in late 1997, his first written message to the people included the following analysis of the responsibility of external forces to "make it right" for his town:
I feel that someone owes something to Burgeo.... whether its the Provincial Government or the Federal Government - it doesn't matter to me who it is.... Burgeo is a fishing town, it will always be a fishing town and someone has to take the blame for shutting this town down, and that's just the way I feel (Hann, 1997: 3).

Burgeo and Ramea: The Local Contexts

In many ways, Burgeo and Ramea in southwestern Newfoundland share a common history as isolated towns which were populated by people who were devoted to extracting the bounty of the sea for a living. Due to the old truck system (whereby merchants maintained a strong control over the cash flow of a community), people were not particularly wealthy. However, until recently there was full employment in the towns and, especially since the move away from salt fish to fresh fish and the rise of union-level wages, people in both communities were relatively prosperous. As several residents of the towns have told me, they have no real history of or experience with poverty and unemployment in the area, and so it is hard for the people to adapt to the post-moratorium economic situation.

Despite this common experience, the two communities are different from each other (and there are intense rivalries which have waned and surged over the years). They were connected by regular ferry service only in 1968, and a road was completed in 1979 to link Burgeo to the Trans Canada Highway and the rest of Newfoundland.

For most of their history, both Burgeo and Ramea were controlled by powerful families of fish merchants -- the Penny family in Ramea and the Lake family in Burgeo. However, in the early 1970s, and after a long and divisive battle, the Newfoundland Fisheries, Food and Allied Workers Union finally won its first contract in Burgeo (Inglis, 1985; Gillespie, 1986). (The NFFAWU is now the FFAW, and it sometimes uses the slogan, "It started in Burgeo.") The drive to unionization (which also included a strike, the decision by Lake to sell the fish plant and the temporary takeover of the plant by the provincial government) resulted in deep divisions in the community which continue until this day.

In the face of these difficulties and the problems of community cohesion, Burgeo has also illustrated a certain resilience. The Burgeo Broadcasting System (BBS) was the first community-owned and operated cable station in Newfoundland. It began in 1981 with 5 channels, and now offers subscribers about 30, including two local channels (one of commercial advertisements and the other for community programming). The first community-produced program in the BBS library is from 1986, a concert of elementary school students. Many of the early programs on the community channel were actually videotapes that people brought in to the studio, and the station ran them (usually without editing). BBS began to make its own community programs on a regular basis in 1988, and have a paid staff member who devotes her time to programming. Regular weekly programs include the Sunday night local news show "This Week in Review," a popular music show called "Bandwagon," and a kid's show called "Pansy's Garden." BBS also broadcasts public meetings, graduations, school concerts, church services, the Santa Claus parade, the Lion's Club mock jail, and so on.

The system was built through a sale of shares (at $150 each) and a bank loan. Currently, about 95 to 98 percent of the households in Burgeo are hooked up to BBS, and they pay $19.50 per month (taxes included). There is a great deal of devotion within the town to the BBS (some people even pay their cable bills a year in advance, and they rarely have to send a bill to subscribers). Since it is a non-profit organization, BBS puts all of its surpluses back into either purchasing more channels or equipment or producing more community programming. This is what I call the "Burgeo Process" -- community-owned and community-controlled cable, which then supports the production of local materials on an ongoing basis. It combines some of the advantages of the earlier processes (community control, a reflection of the community, a forum for the discussion of local issues) along with a solid and continuing financial basis.

BBS uses its various types of programming to solicit opinions and arguments on matters relating to the town's future and its strategic economic plans. The events of early June 1998 illustrate the central importance of BBS to Burgeo's continuing economic struggle. At 10:45 a.m., on the first of June, after a set of contentious DFO regulations were released, BBS aired a call to join a protest. At 12:30 pm, over 300 residents had already gathered at the ballfield (despite high winds and rain). Others joined along the way. They occupied (or denied access to) DFO offices, HRD offices, and the DFO boat. These occupations continued until Wednesday afternoon, when over 1,000 residents congregated at the Town Hall. Businesses closed to show their support. The local FFAW continued to update the public on the status of negotiations with DFO through BBS. This is not to suggest that without the community channel these protests would not have happened. But clearly, the communication regarding the reasons for the protest, the protest itself, and how to react was central to this successful community action.

The town of Ramea is located on the main island of a group of islands (that are also called the Ramea Islands). The islands were known to Portuguese fishers as early as the 1500s, but permanent settlement did not begin for another 300 years. In 1822, W.E. Cormack spent the night in Ramea and reported that two families were resident there at the time (Kendall and Kendall, 1991: 7). In 1974, Decks Awash (the MUN Extension Service publication) provided the following comparison of Burgeo and Ramea: "Ramea is as neat and tidy as Burgeo is sprawling and ungainly. With large well-kept houses, Ramea gives the feeling of stability and money" (Decks Awash, 1974B). While this was not very generous to Burgeo, it did recognize the differences in the two towns, separated by only 16 kilometres of fitful ocean.

A number of Ramea residents began discussing the possibility of setting up their own cable company in the early 1980s. A meeting was called and a group decided to pursue the idea, which later became concrete as the Ramea Broadcasting Company (RBC). To get the capital, they formed a company and had bake sales, etc., to buy letterhead and get a phone. They sold shares at $140 each (each share guaranteed a cable hookup). Then they went to the bank and got a $25,000 loan and this (along with 355 shares sold at $140 each) paid for the entire system. Volunteers hooked up the lines from the poles to the houses -- almost all in one weekend. RBC began broadcasting in November 1985, after several years of planning, with 5 channels. Now it has over 20 TV channels and 5 FM radio signals, which costs subscribers (currently about 330) $20 per month (taxes included). The original loan has been paid off and profits go into getting more channels.

RBC started producing programming about 1990, using a little shack for its control headquarters. A studio with two stationary cameras was put up by 1995 in a house trailer that was converted from a former Pentecostal Church. Local programs are broadcast on Sundays at 1:00. They include music programming, children reading local news, church services, school events, public forums on local topics, and so on. Other times, the community channel has text and advertising. Just about everybody watches on Sunday afternoons, and approximately 95 percent of the town's households are hooked up to cable.

After the 1992 moratorium on the Northern Cod stocks, the local fish plant (then owned by Fisheries Products International) was closed down. The company showed little interest in ever re-opening the Ramea plant, having done some restructuring and shifting of quota and trawler fleets to other plants. In response, the town set up the Ramea Economic Development Corporation to look into development options, one of which was to purchase the fish plant from FPI. In December of 1994, in a secret ballot, 95 percent of Ramea voters opted to buy the plant (for one dollar, the going rate these days for old fish plants!). After the purchase, rumours continued to circulate about plans for the plant, so REDC used the Ramea Broadcasting Company to hold regular updates (instead of having public meetings, which were not always very well attended). Even in a small community, the need to keep people involved is crucial (and difficult). For example, attendance at the 1995 annual general meeting of the Ramea Economic Development Corporation was so low that Tom Hutchings (the Development Officer at the time) was quoted as saying that "public interest in the economic survival of our community seems to have declined" (quoted in Western Star, 1995). And this just after the decision to take over the local fish plant.

Thus far, Ramea has had some limited short-term success with finding outside operators, but nothing long-term. In summer 1995, the plant was briefly leased to an operator. In 1996, a different leasee was being courted, and so on. In August 1997, after years of trying to attract a long-term operator for the plant, the REDC noted that there was still no news of the fish plant reopening, which "must really satisfy all the 'armchair critics' out there to know that they have been right again" (REDC, 1997: 1).

To be fair, government policies have affected this, as community-based fish plants have not been able to get quota (as no new quota is being allowed). Getting quota was the key to being able to operate a community-based plant. But without that possibility, the town has to look for an outside investor with quota to bring in. In another economic and environmental situation, maybe Ramea could have procured its own quota to process fish. However, if there were plenty of fish, it is likely that there would be operators interested in helping out.

For both Ramea and Burgeo, community programming has been important in helping the towns to "think out loud" about their future. However, what these programs often have not been able to accomplish is concrete thinking outside the box -- there is still a general sense that the future is tied up in the fishery, and the fish plant, and an external organization/operator running the fish plant. To some extent, the 70,000 hours of community labour and the donated bags of cement that went in to keeping the Ramea plant up to standard simply made the place more attractive to outside investors.

Listening to the Voices: a Sample of Community Programs

This section of the paper provides some analysis of the development rhetoric in a number of community cable programs from small cable companies in southwestern Newfoundland. They have been selected from not only the archives of BBS, but also from a group of programs produced in 1996-97 through the Communication for Survival Initiative. Communication for Survival (CFS) operated in southwestern Newfoundland with funding from Human Resource Development Canada, from June 1995 to March 1997. CFS was animated by Bruce Gilbert and Ryakuga, a grassroots communications company that believes people should take control of the communication processes, in order to gain in self-confidence and the ability to analyze and alter their own situation. CFS worked with RBC and BBS to produce programs, helped with tourism awareness, newsletter production, workshops on communication in groups, and tried to help Mainland and Lourdes (two communities on the Port au Port Peninsula) to develop a community TV capability. One of the major events for the organization was Communication for Survival Week, in October 1996, which took place in the four communities. In Burgeo and Ramea, CFS used the local cable stations, but in Lourdes and Mainland they set up temporary studios broadcasting local programming and special events on the local private cable system. The CFS related material is at least implicitly related to development issues, and some of it was also supported by the Zonal board, so there was a primary interest in community economic survival. In general, these programs were chosen as they represent a significant community investment in speaking with itself about its current problems.

The programming was a mixture of live and taped materials, generally issue driven, often related to economic issues (tourism, the economic development zone board, fisheries news and fish plant news, youth issues, community TV bingo). Phone-ins and phone-outs were used, and there was some sharing of information from one community to another. As with all of the CFS material, other important elements of the programs included taped scenery with music (to make people feel good about where they live), interviews about the past, school kids reading local news and live entertainment. There is an unrehearsed feel to the shows; singers sometimes forget the words and hosts might not be sure what's happening next, let alone which camera to look at. But the agenda of the programs is clearly community-driven. Below are a number of general observations and interpretations that derive from these programs.

(i) The Need for Communication

While some forms of community development have involved the use of outside facilitators who assist in the process, these programs tend to rely on people from within the community to stimulate participation. A common reference point is the need for communication, both within the community and also across the entire economic zone. Burgeo groups used the frequent TV panels to solicit information on its strategic economic plan, and held call-ins to get feedback from the community. In many ways, BBS has replaced the general store or the fishing stages as the major location of community communication. A significant amount of the discussion in the public updates also centred on the process that was undertaken to achieve their findings, and encouraged people to get involved if they had something to add. For example, during a show when the Industrial Adjustment Services Committee provided its final report, it congratulated BBS for providing the space for communication with the public.

In some of the programs there was explicit support for the Communications For Survival initiative because "it lets you get to know the people in your zone." (Newfoundland is divided into 20 economic zones, each of which is responsible for coordinating a strategic economic plan.) There was frequent reference to zonal unity, and the need for the region bounded by the zone to begin thinking like a group. In return, officials from the zone noted their optimism about the whole process of communication within the zone.

However, communications is often one-way (due to the nature of the medium) and sometimes call-ins get no calls whatsoever. This included, ironically, a Ramea-based call-in show on community policing and a Burgeo-based call-in show on the just-released economic development strategy. Two issues that did get good viewer response were youth issues (which received calls from both youth and adults) and the issue of access to water in Mainland/La Grande Terre.

(ii) A Pride in Place

Almost without exception, there are prominent segments with scenes of local areas in the videos. These occur not only at the beginning of shows (such as the weekly "This Week in Review" at BBS, which begins with a set of shots of the town and harbour, etc.), but also throughout the program. For example, one RBC show included a taped segment called "Gardens of Ramea," which featured scenes of local gardens. The programs also make liberal use of outdoor music festivals which are held in the region. Ramea and Burgeo both have weekend festivals in August (one week apart), as do several Port au Port communities. This not only highlights the music, but also the general scenery of the area and the interaction of people within their environment.

Other segments that highlight a pride in place include hunting/fishing pieces that are shot by local enthusiasts, videos of life on a trawler and a frequent inclusion of segments with a series of still photographs from the past. Many news items also refer to activities related to the physical environment (roads being repaired, seasons opening or closing, the sighting of particular species of fish or birds, etc.)

(iii) A Pride in Local Culture

In standard economic thought, culture creates employment only in relation to the building and staffing of historical villages or the creation of spectacles (such as museums) for tourists. But that is only one way limited way that culture can contribute to the economic vitality of a community, and such activities can actually change traditional culture in the process. (One could question, for example, the extent to which tourism representations of "traditional Newfoundland culture" have been adopted by Newfoundlanders themselves as being a part of their "authentic" identity. But this is a debate for another paper!)

Throughout the programs there is frequent reference to the Newfoundland "way of life," and (less frequently) "our culture." There are seldom descriptions of what makes Newfoundland culture distinct, but just the assertion that it is. Occasionally, there is reference to a characteristic of this culture (such as the warmth and sense of humor). But the attempt to hold on to this culture is clearly presented as one of the reasons why committees continue to form and re-form to develop plan after plan.

One of the common forms of culture which is prominent in these programs is the use of local music. Sometimes the music is locally-written, such as "The Light Keepers Song," which was sung on a Ramea program and related to the loss of the lighthouse keeper on the island, or "The Outport Song" (about resettlement). Both BBS and RBC feature locally-written songs about their communities within their regular programming (often at the beginning of their broadcasts). Other times, the entertainment is international (such as one episode with a person acting out a Mr. Bean episode, or one that used Bruce Springsteen's "Small Town" as background to a series of pictures of Burgeo). But almost without exception, even when the music is not related to the locale, it is nevertheless performed by locals.

On the Port au Port Peninsula, the attempt to recover French cultural roots is also a theme within their programming. They will include stories read in French, or video of an adult French class or music that is sung in French.

(iv) A Perception of Indifference from the Outside

One element of the rhetoric within these programs is the strong sense that it is only local people who will look after local interests, and a sense of injustice about past treatment at the hands of outsiders. As Jim Marsden (development officer in Ramea) interpreted local history: "After 10 years of economic molestation by Fisheries Products International (FPI), the people here finally made a decision in 1994 to take back what was left of a once vibrant and successful processing operation and build an industry from scratch" (quoted in Western Star, 1997).

When Linda Benoit, editor of the region's only newspaper, The Sou'West Times, was interviewed on a program, she emphasized why the paper was so important. She noted that there needed to be a voice from the region itself, because "it seems that we have been forgotten." However, the programs do not suggest that there has been malevolent intent on the part of outsiders (except for a few comments regarding certain fish plant owners and elected politicians). More commonly, the problem is one of the indifference of those outside the communities, and thus the need for people to look out for their own interests.

(v) Reference to the Role of Government

Despite some recent stereotypes of rural fishing communities having their hands out for continual government assistance, the role of government as a provider is generally downplayed in the rhetoric of these programs. Government is often seen to play a key role in regulation (such as in the division of fish quotas). But in terms of direct financial support, it is not usually expected that the government will be forthcoming. Occasionally, there is discussion of government assistance for special projects, such as the development of aquaculture or a Christmas tree farm or the flotilla that accompanied the Cabot 500 celebrations. But at least as frequently, examples are provided of people who developed projects without government support. For example, in a program about youth problems, there is much made of the fact that Grand Bank was able to fund and build a youth centre without any government support whatsoever. In addition, several callers on some of the panel shows argued that people cannot rely on the government, but they have to take responsibility for their own lives.

There are, occasionally, some concerns regarding government actions or inactions (as in the granting of fish quotas, or the specification of a food fishery). Or, there are concerns that when a strategic action plan is set in place, the government will not listen. In one program, which provided some history of the resettlement program of the 1950s and 1960s, there was reference to the current fear that the government is trying to move rural people from their homes by removing services (schools, clinics, etc.). But in general, it was far more likely that programs would emphasize the need for people to look after themselves and for communities to ensure that their own economic action plans do indeed get operationalized.

(vi) Economic Options

Despite the problems in the fishery, programs from both Ramea and Burgeo continued to stress the importance of the fish plant to the economy of their towns. In a discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of Ramea, it was agreed that fishing (and the fish plant) was the economic backbone of the town. And a Burgeo program which discussed the town's strategic economic plan affirmed that the fish plant was still clearly the central plank of the local economy. The working committee understood that the fish plant needed to reopen (although maybe not to its former size). Tourism, crafts, and so on would be a way to "fill the gaps" but nothing more.

As a result, a continual theme of programs was news related to the local fish plant. From 1989 on, BBS covered public meetings and protests related to the slow withdrawal of National Sea Products and the attempts by Bill Barry's Seafreez to take over the plant. One of the focal points of the coverage was to question the long-term commitment of the operators. In a video of Bill Barry and Paul Blades (a Nova Scotia fish plant owner, who was a partner with Seafreez on the Burgeo/Canso deal), taped at a public meeting just before the takeover was officially announced, Barry promised: "we want to be processing fish in Burgeo 20 years from now." This was of immediate solace, but was also very quickly challenged. And since 1992, a continual story on the weekly BBS newsprogram has been the lack of action at the Seafreeze plant.

There was some coverage of aquaculture projects which were in the development stages, but these were always considered to be small enterprises (compared to the fish plant). BBS covered the projects related to clams, for example, and RBC offered some extensive coverage of the development of the kelp industry in Ramea.

Tourism on the other hand, was seen as a possible economic growth area, but there was a certain reticence regarding its possibilities. One of the recognized problems was the lack of infrastructure (especially services). In addition, one program recognized that the majority of what are defined as tourists are actually Newfoundlanders and returning Newfoundlanders who are visiting family (the program put this estimate at 80-90% of the total number of tourists). These people did not require the same level of services (lodging, restaurants, entertainment options) as "authentic" tourists, and so the industry continued to be underdeveloped. BBS did have regular updates on tourism, and reported on new signage, the building of a look-out in town and new comfort stations in the adjoining Provincial Park. However, it would be fair to say that the rhetoric of the programs could be captured in a statement from one of the economic planning panels: "Our greatest strength is our fishery; our greatest untapped resource is the tourism industry."

(vii) Assorted Community Problems

While the state of the economy was clearly an important problem that the programs dealt with, it was by no means the only problem that was identified. One prominent problem area was related to youth issues in the communities. According to one youth panel from Burgeo, the main issues facing youth are underage drinking (of alcohol), lack of money, and no place to go and hang out. The problem of underage drinking was also identified in Ramea, and (according to Corporal Paul Matheson) was the number one concern for the Burgeo police detachment. The youth were very candid about this problem, and one program included a drama regarding teens on an average Friday night in Burgeo. When asked why youth drinking was such a problem, answers included "because there is nothing else to do" and "drinking is a last resort and a change of pace from the boredom." Some solutions were proposed, including the development of organized sports and a youth centre. The latter initiative (which received some inspiration from programs which championned the work of the youth in another community, Grand Bank) did later bear fruit, with the opening of the Bright Sights Youth Centre in Burgeo, in April 1988. Within a year, the RCMP reported a noticeable difference in the amount of youth drinking and crime since the opening of the centre (Brayon, 1999: 5).

Other problems which were identified included: the need for adult education and upgrading, shoplifting, problems in access to the town water supply, and attempts to protect local services (schools, clinics/hospitals, fire prevention) and, in the Port au Port, the continued support of the French Centre. These problems were real in the everyday lived experience of the people in those communities, although they were not on the top of the agendas of regional and governmental agencies which were working on development issues.

(viii) Attempts at Inclusiveness

There was a definite attempt to be intergenerational in the programs. This was seen through the inclusion of childrens' stories (read by children), the use of young people to read the local news, video of youth bands ("Crevasse" from Burgeo, "5 Away" from Stephenville), pictures of kids at parties (e.g., in Hallowe'en costumes), and long discussions of youth issues with panels of youth. Indeed, one of the best received call-in programs was one on youth issues (from Burgeo). While youth issues continue to be a major focus of organizing and strategic planning, there has recently been some recognition of the importance of seniors as well, as a specific area of concern.

Also in relation to inclusion, there was a discussion in one of the programs on the special problems of people with disabilities and of women. However, there is not much discussion of women and development (which is a significant issue elsewhere). One could ask whether the focus on the fishplant and on the fishery, and the downplaying of the craft industry, is an indication of the general male bias of the many development models applied thus far?

(ix) The Local Agenda: Examples of News Items

Several of the programs included a segment of local and regional news. (The flagship show of BBS, "This Week in Review," is essentially a news show.) To provide a sense of the types of stories which make it to the news shows, here is an example of a listing of regional items from one newscast:
There is exploration for oil in Port aux Port, with drilling to commence soon.
The Burgeo fish plant may reopen in March 1997 to process seal, employing 80-100 people.
The Burgeo Inudstrial Adjustment Services committee needs a chairperson.
A recent test has revealed that the cod in the region is rebounding.
The Rotary Club is having a fund raiser in Stephenville.
A photo display from the Burgeo photography group is being displayed at the post office.
There is a Youth Committee meeting coming up, to discuss the development of a possible youth centre.
The current after-school programs have been a big success.

The local agenda is thus a mixture of upcoming events, possible economic developments, and a reaffirmation of pride in past activities.

(x) Thinking About Solutions

During a January 1997 BBS broadcast, a group of local leaders listed the major strengths and weaknesses of Burgeo, as they had been identified by the Industrial Adjustment Services process. The strengths were: location, low crime rate, available workforce, plant infrastructure, and ice free port. The weaknesses were: location, leadership, communication, one-industry town, and attitude/apathy. "Location" was a strength from the point-of-view of local people, but it was acknowledged that outsiders might view it as a weakness. In addition, is is interesting to note the candour of the program, in identifying problems such as communication, leadership and an attitude problem. The program then tried to suggest how such problems could be overcome.

However, when discussing how to expand options such as tourism, the objectives tended to be rather general, such as to market one's region as a tourist destination, or to provide a wider range of products and services. And in relation to crafts development, it was not pointed out that the ones at the craft shop or in the stores tend to be standard items, rather than the more unique items that one sees on people's yards and fences and that reflect the community (such as distinct fence posts, whirleygigs, etc.).

One solution which was suggested in several programs related to educational upgrading. One segment, complete with a skit, noted the importance of education, computer skills, and going back to school even at a mature age. The panel discussion included an acknowledgement that "if things are going to change, we have to educate our population." Other solutions included an argument that natural resources should not be shipped out of the province, but be processed here instead. Also, there was some mention of the need to work at import substitution and that there must be new methods of community financing for new businesses.

Nevertheless, based on the material studied thus far, there seems to be few solutions beyond the obvious in the programs. There is little discussion of the reasons for the decline of the fishery in these programs, nor on how the communities ended up in the position they did. Furthermore, when new "visions" for a community are revealed, they tend to focus on what at one time would have been called "motherhood" issues (full employment, prosperity, better communications, full use of natural and human resources, strong workforce, etc., all of which were part of Burgeo's June 1997 vision for the town). But the value of the programs may not lie so much in the identification and discussion of novel economic ideas, but in the revaluing of the area, nurturing pride in place and discussing everyday aggravations.

Community Broadcasting in a One-Industry Town

On reflection, I keep coming back to the complex relationship between the community broadcasters and the major industries in their towns. This is especially evident in the case of Burgeo, and in many ways this is the crux of the real challenge facing BBS -- can their programming positively affect this relationship, without being seen to be either too corporatist or too anti company? Can it advocate for the interests of the community without alienating an outside employer (with outside interests)? This relationship with the major employer in Burgeo has been an issue and a somewhat difficult line to walk. The town cannot get quota on its own, and it does not own the fish plant, so there is no massive public works to keep the place up to working standard. They also cannot actively court other fish plant operators with quota to move into the town. So the place needs to dance with one partner, who sometimes appears to be unwilling to either dance or even to show up at the event itself.

In April 1997, Burgeo held a public meeting (organized by the Chamber of Commerce and others) to mark five years since the fish plant had closed. In fact, the press release for the event was very cautious in its wording, to avoid alienating Seafreez and its owner, Bill Barry. It began:
First of all, this is not a demonstration -- whatsoever. We are not protesting against "any individual". In fact, we have contacted the fish plant owner, Bill Barry, to assure him of this and to invite him to join in. But we are protesting to save our community. We want to bring the situation to the attention of the government, the public, Newfoundland and the rest of Canada" (Burgeo Chamber of Commerce, 1997).

The focus of the meeting was protest against the government. The release states: "Let us show the world that we are families for whom the government couldn't care less about. Do they really care if the fishplant ever opens? Or if 10 people or 1,000 go to work? NO! They don't even know that we are alive" (Burgeo Chamber of Commerce, 1997).

The people joined hands around the town to make a statement that they wanted to stay. But the target of the protest, the government, was not the only player in the drama which had unfolded in Burgeo throughout the 1990s. The fish plant was a private business, owned by a company which operated a number of fish plants and trawlers, and which moved quota around to the most efficient location (since the quota was associated with the harvesting fleet). Burgeo had simply not been economically viable to reopen, thus far. But the decision to keep it closed was only tangentially a government decision.

This relates to the difficulties which community-based programming might experience regarding the major employer in a town. They cannot afford to alienate the company which is their only currently-visible hope for the future. What complicates the dynamics around the Burgeo situation is the debate regarding the reason for the plant closing. Barry had operated the plant for only one season, but had purchased the plant as a part of a package deal (when he purchased a plant in Canso, Nova Scotia as well). Since the Burgeo plant processed predominantly groundfish, it probably would have closed in July 1992 after the moratorium, but it closed early due to a stated lack of fish to process. This was originally seen as a temporary measure, but it has turned out to be seven years (and counting).

Other proposals have come forward, and been discussed in detail on BBS programs. For example, a 1996 proposal was to process seals at the facility. In October 1996, they were expecting up to 100,000 seals to be processed there in 1997 (the total cull for the whole province was just over twice this number!) (Benoit, 1996). This was something of a surprise to the town, but it would employ up to 100 people for up to 6-8 months (if there was enough storage). But this plan, like many others, never came to fruition.

Bill Barry gets tapes of BBS programs, so he always knows what is being said about him on the channel. But Barry has also been willing to be interviewed by BBS, and does try to update the station as much as possible. It is, after all, the best way he has to speak to the people of Burgeo. (It must be noted that, in contrast to BBS's experience, Barry does not make a practice of speaking with the media, and the local CBC complains that he usually does not return their calls.) Barry's interpretations of the situation are balanced, somewhat, by interviews with politicians, local union officials and community leaders.

One of BBS's major pieces on the fish plant situation was a 1995 documentary called "Burgeo's Future: The Seafreez Situation." The program begins by trying to ask why the plant closed in 1992. Blaine Marks (then the mayor of Burgeo), suggests that the cooperation with workers wasn't there and so the plant closed due to frustration. An extensive interview with Bill Barry is spliced throughout, and he concurs with this analysis. Barry talks about what it would take for him to get involved in Burgeo again (even though he still owns the fish plant). He said: "I've never ever felt welcome in Burgeo. I've never ever felt that anybody really wanted me there or wanted this company there." Until he feels comfortable there, he doesn't plan to be back.

In reference to problems with the union, Barry claimed it wasn't a union/management issue. Two of his fish plants are unionized (although six are not, and he has actively campaigned to keep them non-union). Rather, he claimed that the issue was leadership, cooperation and attitude and he called the union leadership "negative, obstinate, arrogant" and that they "fostered an atmosphere that ultimately forced us out of Burgeo." As Barry said firmly: "Lots of good people in Burgeo, a whole pile of them, that's the ones I want; the handful of assholes, I don't want them, and I won't have them."

But despite the very strong voice that Barry was given in the program, his position was still somewhat balanced by other speakers. Rather, the program put the problem back in the laps of the people, rather than providing pat answers. This was also seen in another major story on the issue. At the end of a long program, which included an extensive (over one hour) interview with owner Barry (and with Ron Cooper, FFAW, and Dave Gilbert, MHA) the on-air host asks: "Who's telling the truth? Who's right? Who's wrong? That's not my decision to make. It's the people of Burgeo's. But something has to be done. And soon. The future of our community depends on it." Maybe we are too inundated by media reports with answers in them, with people who provide clear directions. But when there are obvious contradictions in the positions outlined, and when the issues are indeed complex, such clear directions are not as helpful. Shortly after the airing of one of these programs, the entire union executive resigned, and were replaced by a newer, more conciliatory executive. Dave Cooper, programming director of BBS at the time, does feel that their programs may have played a role in this change.

The debate about what closed the fish plant continues in the town, over coffee and across back fences. Over the course of several years of occasional visits, I've heard a number of cases of both unrealistic union positions and hierarchical and authoritarian management practices. However, the reticence to criticize Barry is being eroded, the longer that the fish plant remains idle.

One of the continuing themes in BBS news programs is a recognition of the frustration in the community, and the desire for concrete answers on the future of the fish plant. This is probably one of the major roles of BBS, in that it has been an outlet for frustration at times, but it has also provided a continual litany of the need to keep faith, maintain hope and trust that the plant will indeed open someday. This is a key message for the people, as the forces leading to demoralization are strong. In a 1998 telephone survey of Burgeo, residents were asked: "Would you say that the community is stronger and more unified than it was five years ago?" About 45% of the respondents said "no," many of them citing the closure of the fish plant and outmigration (Emke and Blanchard, 1998a). Only just over a quarter of the respondents said that "yes," the community was stronger (the remainder were not sure). Nevertheless, despite the high levels of unemployment and the uncertainty about the fish plant, over half of the people were optimistic about the future of Burgeo (56.7%).


To briefly (and probably unfairly) summarize all that has come before, the three major contributions of the community programming studied in this research are as follows: (i) to foster a pride in local culture and environment; (ii) to nurture a self-confidence and pride in the skills of local people; and (iii) to reaffirm that the responsibility for development and change lay within the community itself. There are forces and messages working against these statements, and it is not fair to say that communities are totally, on their own, responsible for their current situations. But this rhetoric of community programming is one way to counter an area's growing impatience with a lack of action. By putting responsibility for development back into the hands of local people, then at least there seems to be a way forward.

The hypothetical side of me always asks the question, "where would a place like Burgeo be today without BBS?" If an important aspect of development is the community consultation which takes place to determine which path to take, then BBS has served a definite purpose. Take, for example, the 1997 protest mentioned above. What this protest does show is both the resolve of the people of the community to voice their anger and the importance of BBS in acting as a conduit for that anger. The target may not be entirely clear, but the emotion is genuine. They met at the local Anglican church (and were asked to wear black, as if in mourning for their town). After some prayers they formed a human chain around part of the town. Then the BBS truck slowly drove around the chain, capturing the spectacle of a town holding hands with itself, complete with jittering kids, bashful seniors, awkward teens, groups of adults chatting intensely and a variety of dogs yapping at the sheer excitement of the day. But wthout the documentation of BBS, the event would not have been disseminated further.

BBS and Burgeo is also an interesting case as it involves not just the principles of community-controlled communications technology, but also a more durable long-term vision of how to finance these community programs and how to adopt the news genre to fit the coverage of local events. And part of the task of development is to identify social and cultural factors of continuity within a community: what is of value? What defines a group? What are the reasons for staying here? Community broadcasting serves this purpose, by providing a litany of why the community exists and what its values are -- by helping it to think out loud.


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The following videotapes were a part of the sample which were viewed for this project.

Communication for Survival Tapes

Burgeo (Fishery/Youth), Oct 17, 1996
Burgeo (Zone), Oct. 17, 1996
Ramea (Tourism), Oct. 22, 1996
Ramea (Zone), Oct. 20, 1996
Ramea (Youth), Oct. 21, 1996
L'Anse a Canards (French Centre), Nov. 7, 1996 (2 tapes)
La Grand' Terre (Water), Nov. 5, 1996 (2 tapes)
Stephenville (Zone), Nov. 26, 1996 (5 tapes)

Burgeo Broadcasting Service Tapes
(Many of these were entire programs or else parts of "This Week in Review")

Public protest, November 1989
Public meeting (re: National Sea/Seafreez), 13 August 1990
Public Meeting (with Bill Barry and Paul Blades), 1991
Public Meeting, 8 June 1995
Interview (Bill Barry), 1995
Documentary (Seafreez), November 1995
Updates, Strategic Economic Plan, January 1997
Updates, Industrial Adjustment Services Committee, April-Sept. 1997
Report, Strategic Economic Planning Group, June 1997
This Year in Review, 28 December 1997
This Year in Review, 4 January 1998