Reinventing Media Activism: Public Interest Advocacy in the Making of U.S. Communication-Information Policy, 1960-2002

Information Society, Vol. 20, No. 3, pp. 169-187, July-August 2004

91 Pages Posted: 7 Sep 2004  

Milton Mueller

Georgia Institute of Technology


This monograph is a long-term analysis of citizens' collective action to influence public policy toward communication and information. We define and defend a vision of communication and information policy (CIP) as a comprehensive and integrated policy domain. We also define and describe the three primary modes of advocacy around CIP issues. We draw on theories of institutions and institutional change to provide a framework for the report.

Organizational ecology methods are used to analyze how the population of public interest advocacy groups has changed over 40 years. Organizational ecology is a social science method that looks at organizations in a particular field as a population and analyzes how the size and composition of the population changes over time. Our research gathered data on the formation and disbandment of public interest advocacy organizations devoted to CIP issues in the United States from 1961 to 2002. That data permitted us to estimate changes in the size of the population, its ideological composition, which media or information policy issues the groups focused on, and which modes of advocacy were employed.

We gathered comprehensive data about congressional testimony on communication and information policy issues in the U.S. Congress from 1969 to 2002. That data permits us to objectively measure the amount of Congressional activity on CIP issues in a given year, permitting analysis of how it changed over time and how the numbers compared to other issue areas. It also tells us how often specific public interest organizations and the individuals who work for them have gained access to lawmakers.

We describe and assess the mass media activism of the mid-1960s and 1970s, the period of the most rapid rate of growth in the population. We show that most advocacy at this time focused on broadcasting and cable TV. We discuss four major institutional changes in CIP that occurred in this period, with or without the advocates' participation. We describe how the 1980s was characterized by major changes in both the political climate and the type of communication-information policy issues under consideration. We document the appearance of computer professionals and technologists organizing around computer-related policy issues in the organizational population for the first time.

We show how in the 1990s digital technology became the focal point of institutional change in CIP, leading to an explosion of Congressional activity, bringing in a new generation of advocacy groups and creating a major change in the composition of the advocacy organization population.

Keywords: Media policy, telecommunications policy, Internet policy, citizens groups, collective action, social movement theory

JEL Classification: D72, D78, L31

Suggested Citation

Mueller, Milton, Reinventing Media Activism: Public Interest Advocacy in the Making of U.S. Communication-Information Policy, 1960-2002. Information Society, Vol. 20, No. 3, pp. 169-187, July-August 2004. Available at SSRN:

Milton Mueller (Contact Author)

Georgia Institute of Technology ( email )

School of Public Policy
Atlanta, GA 30332
United States
404-385-4281 (Phone)


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