The community and alternative media sector is heterogenous, encompassing often projects that sit within social movements and (broadly) political projects, with the act of media production envisaged as a tool rather than an end in itself. For many of these projects, in particular, the natural lifespan of the media project may be short or relatively fixed - for some the term tactical media is appropriate - while in other cases the development of the broader project, or shifts in priorities and commitments of those involved, may have consequences for the longer term utility, and persistence, of the media production element. In such cases, sometimes the challenge can be knowing when a media project has come to a natural end, and how to wrap it up gracefully.
However, for those projects that are intended to have longevity - and much of community media falls into this category - the transition from founding to sustaining can be complex. One of the high profile disputes in US community media in the 1980s and 1990s was over the Healthy Station Project, a CPB-supported effort to create a sustainable model for community radio - but one that critics faulted for displacing volunteers in favour of professional staff. More recently, stations that had been embedded within educational institutions have realised the precarity of their position, as many universities and colleges have moved to dispose of their broadcast licences, responding to funding crises and narrowed interpretations of their educational missions, and the role of community- or student-based media in fulfilling those missions.
In Ireland, the Sound and Vision funding project, which provides funds to certain category of content on broadcast outlets, has been used by community radio and television to support their operations - but the nature of the funding process, with discrete programming projects supported through a competitive process, has resulted in a 'feast or famine' dynamic for some projects. The pressure to overcommit in applications, given low success rates, can mean that if groups secure more funding than expected, they are under pressure to undertake production levels that are unsustainable, while unexpectedly low levels of success in another funding cycle can exacerbate funding crises. The situation is not helped by a regulatory and funding structure that sees the 'winners and losers' dynamic of the competitive process as a desired, and expected, outcome, with the logic of neoliberalism extending even to those funding mechanisms purported to counterbalance the shortcomings, and externalities, of a market-driven broadcasting system.
These examples, and more, illustrate the extent to which projects that seek to push back against the logic of neoliberalism require continued attention to their institutional structures and status. Building on previous work exploring the manner in which community media engage in 'regulatory arbitrage', this paper will explore the limits of such tactics for community organisations, and the challenges of sustainability, offering a typology of the axes along which sustainability can be measured. Beyond that, the paper will explore the tensions that exist in seeking to fulfil these various goals, and the manner in which contradictory impulses must be balanced by those seeking stability and longevity.