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Posts Tagged ‘Knight Commission’

Digital Stories Dramatize Information’s Role in the Lives of People and Communities

Posted by Peter M. Shane on March 1, 2011

Today marks the formal debut of Information Stories, a series of twelve three-to-five-minute video narratives (plus an introduction and conclusion) that respond to two questions:  What’s at stake when local news and information flow doesn’t serve all members of a community equally well? How can people respond? 

Some are stories of journalism.  Examples include the struggle of a labor union secretary/mother of five to get media coverage for asbestos-related disease in Libby, Montana, and the creation of an online newspaper for the “news desert” of southeast New Hampshire.

 Others are stories of activism.  The executive director of Native Public Media describes the drive to bring broadband to Indian Country.  A faith-based community organizer discusses a campaign to help poor people overcome the powerlessness caused by living “in an information vacuum.”

 Inclusiveness is a major theme to Information Stories.  For example, an undocumented immigrant tells how he pursues art and community organizing to make visible the immigrant experience.  A young radio reporter and producer from Chicago reveals how he learned to listen to, not just speak to his community.  A high school student relates why she thought it important to make transgender people a more visible presence at San Francisco Pride.  A “hard-of-hearing” English professor talks about making the voices of deaf students heard. 

 Other storytellers include a small town mayor, the manager of an online dialogue space, a community television board member, and a convener of community conversations about public health.

 Information Stories reveals the loss when local information flows leave stories uncovered, concerns unaddressed, or voices left out – and the gain when these exclusions don’t happen.

 I came up with the idea for Information Stories in collaboration with Liv Gjestvang, a Columbus, Ohio filmmaker who is also the coordinator of the Digital Union at Ohio State.

 I wanted to produce the videos as a follow-up to my work in 2008 and 2009 as executive director to the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy.  The Knight Commission was a diverse, bipartisan group of 17 leaders in media, public policy, and community, who were organized to articulate the democratic information needs of America’s 21st century local communities. 

Funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and organized through the Aspen Institute, they were asked to recommend remedial measures where the Commission perceived that community news and information needs were not being met. 

As the Knight Commission was preparing to issue its October, 2009 report, I asked Liv for help in making the Knight Commission issues more compelling and concrete for the everyday public.  The Commission explained why “second-class information citizenship is looming” for many Americans, but commission reports tend not to be powerful tools for organizing grass-roots organizing.

My hope is that the online stories will help motivate activists around the country to pay attention to their local information ecologies.  Everyone should be asking themselves whether they and their neighbors get the information they require to meet both their personal and civic needs – and, if not, what they can do about it.

My aim with Liv with also to come as close as we could with just a dozen storytellers to assemble a kind of American tapestry.  The last line of the Knight Commission report is, “The ‘information issue’ is everyone’s issue,” and we wanted to drive that home.

The Information Stories storytellers learned how to produce their narratives through a July, 2010 Digital Storytelling Workshop, co-sponsored by the Ohio State University Digital Union, the University Libraries, and the University Center for the Advancement of Teaching. The series was produced with a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which advances journalism in the digital age and invests in the vitality of communities where the Knight Brothers owned newspapers. Since 1950, the foundation has granted more than $400 million to advance quality journalism and freedom of expression.

The Information Stories web site provides links to both captioned and non-captioned versions of the individual stories.  The site links also to resources that explain how anyone can produce his or her own “information story” and a feedback form to enable viewers to explain how they used Information Stories in their local communities.  A low-cost DVD containing both the individual stories and a “full reel” version that shows them as a continuous documentary is also available

 Ohio State University is releasing the Information Stories series subject to a Creative Commons non-commercial license.  That license allows the stories to be freely copied, distributed, transmitted or adapted for noncommercial purposes, provided appropriate credit is given.  We hope this means the stories will be downloaded, shared, and discussed in classrooms, libraries, community centers, church basements, and living rooms everywhere.

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FCC Examination of the Future of Media and Information Needs of Communities in a Digital Age

Posted by Peter M. Shane on January 21, 2010

The FCC just released a public notice, FCC LAUNCHES EXAMINATION OF THE FUTURE OF MEDIA AND INFORMATION NEEDS OF COMMUNITIES IN A DIGITAL AGE. It quotes the conclusion of the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy that “[t]he digital age is creating an information and communications renaissance. But it is not serving all Americans and their local communities equally. It is not yet serving democracy fully.” The notice goes on to state forty-two questions on which the project is conducting research and seeking public input through March 8, 2010. More information and opportunities to comment are available at the project web site.

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Needed: Social Investment in an Informed Society

Posted by Peter M. Shane on November 2, 2009

You could keep yourself quite busy these days reading about and attending conferences on new models for journalism.  But the current moment of journalistic ferment is actually part of a larger and more alarming story.

The United States is dramatically underinvesting in the production and circulation of knowledge.

Three headlines reveal the larger landscape:  “America Falling: Longtime Dominance in Education Erodes.”  “Libraries Struggle with Tight Budgets.”  “US Statehouse Reporting in Decline.”

On the surface, these sound like separate issues.  Our colleges, libraries, and newspapers face distinct challenges.  To some extent, their problems have different causes, and they require different solutions.

But they share a common pathology:  The United States is relying excessively on free market forces to sustain the key institutions that produce an informed, knowledgeable society.  Those forces have fallen short.  Increased social investment has not followed.

From 1980 to 2004, state support for colleges and universities shrank from 46 to 27 percent.  Tuition as a source of support rose from 13 to 18 percent.  America faces unprecedented competition in the global knowledge economy.  But we are shifting the cost of creating competitors from the greater society to the shoulders of individual students.

Libraries fare no better.  Americans visited libraries 1.4 billion times in 2005. Over two-thirds of adults have library cards.  Yet, in 2003, 2004, and 2005, U.S. communities cut library support.  Many are trimming services just as Americans are most desperate for them.

As for newspapers, individual subscribers have never paid the full freight for gathering and reporting local news.  We have relied, instead, on advertising. 

That model unraveled in the 1990s.  Major news organizations undertook debt that they cannot repay.  Internet advertising shrank their revenue streams.  Newspaper ad revenues fell nearly a third between 2000 and 2007.

Are public media likely to meet the local news shortfall?  Federal investment in public media is currently $1.35 per person.  Most local public radio stations in the U.S. have virtually no news staff at all.  At the same time, Canada invests $22.48 per capita and England spends $80.36. 

Growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, I thought the United States was Number One in more or less everything.  More important, I thought we wanted to be.

No more.  Unless America decides to invest collectively in developing an informed, knowledgeable society, our decline is both frightening and inevitable.  “New models” for journalism, education, or the sharing of knowledge generally will fall short unless we take a hard look at our public policies on information.

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Knight Commission Recommends Universal Broadband, Urges National Dialogue to Improve “Information Health” of America’s Local Communities

Posted by Peter M. Shane on October 5, 2009

(I posted this originally on Huffington Post.)

Friday morning, October 2, the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy debuted ts final report, Informing Communities:  Sustaining Democracy in the Digital Age.

The report marks the first time in the digital age that an independent, bipartisan, blue-ribbon  panel has sought to explain what exactly are the information needs of America’s communities and to determine if those needs are being well served.

The Commission, led by Co-Chairs Marissa Mayer and Theodore B. Olson, argues that effective information systems are as important to healthy communities as other fundamental infrastructures, such as roads and electric grids.

It warns that, for a variety of economic, social, and technological reasons, many Americans will fall into or remain in a kind of second-class citizenship if they lack access to or skills to use the new information and communication technologies that are now central to community information flow.

The Commission hopes its report will attract attention, in part, because of its identification of three key objectives that healthy community information systems must serve, and its articulation of 15 specific recommendations for improving the fulfillment of community information needs.  Perhaps paramount among them is the push for universal broadband access as a national imperative.

As executive director to the Commission, I also believe that the report is an exciting step forward because of three critical aspects of the Commission’s approach.

First, the Commission sought to look at information needs truly through the eyes of the individual citizen, not through the lens of any media or other institution.  Thus, although Informing Communities will be relevant to a variety of hot current debates on public policy and the future of media, it is not a report about “saving” the local newspaper.  It embeds its discussion of journalism in an analysis of what citizens and communities need – information – and makes recommendations with those needs taken as paramount.

Second, the report weaves together three discussions that currently occur often in largely siloed venues that take little account of one another.  These are discussions about maximizing the availability of reliable news and information, achieving universal access to significant information technologies and the skills necessary to use them effectively, and promoting public engagement among everyday citizens, both with information and with each other.  The Commission recognizes these as three strands of what ought to be a united, integrated approach to producing better informed communities.

Finally, the report focuses on geographically defined local communities.  Although the word “community” is properly used to describe any network of information and support with which people identify, such as “the community of science fiction fans” or “the African-American community,” our democracy is organized along geographic lines.  Where we live still determines much of our quality of life and the resources over which we share authority with our fellow citizens.  Inadequacies in information systems related to the communities in which we live, work and vote thus necessarily limit the quality of our democratic life, to the detriment also of our social and economic welfare.

The October 2 launch event at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., featured prominent national leaders, including Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski, Chief Technology Officer of the United States Aneesh Chopra, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Telecommunications and Information Lawrence E. Strickling, and Chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting Board of Directors Dr. Ernest J. Wilson III.   Videos of the event may be viewed  at the Commission’s web site.

The web site provides links also to copies of the report in either English or Spanish.  The Commission ultimately seeks to foster a nationwide dialogue on the issues it raises.  Anyone may join the discussion at the Commission web site, and twitter users can tweet at hash tag #knightcomm.  Informing Communities also is available free on Amazon’s Kindle through December 2009.

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