(New case studies are added on an ongoing basis — the latest on Sept. 16: Washington, DC; Chicago, IL; Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN; The Research Triangle, NC, Philadelphia, PA. Have we missed any? Please let us know!)
Since the release of the report of the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy, we’ve seen efforts in communities across the country to take stock of their unique information needs and assets. One of the great things about these case studies is that they are bringing a discussion that has raged largely in professional and academic circles at the national level into the mainstream of public conversation at the community level.
In some cases, the Knight Commission’s call to action inspired the community assessments as part of the process of addressing the overall health of the community. In others, the inquiries are part of the broader movement concerned with the future of media and journalism at a time when both local and national media systems are undergoing massive restructuring. Regardless of origin, these case studies are available to other communities as potential models for engaging in similar assessments toward creating informed communities, addressing community affairs and pursuing common goals.
Each community has a unique blend of interconnected networks of people, organizations, institutions, technological infrastructure, content, habits and values that make up its information ecosystem. Taking stock of the information resources in your community and identifying what information resources the community needs to remain strong, healthy and dynamic are the first steps toward building a healthy, informed community.
This is the essence of the Knight Commission’s Recommendation #5: develop systematic quality measures of community information ecologies, and study how they affect social outcomes.
The problem at the moment is a lack of good tools for communities to assess the quality of local information ecologies. The Commission noted:
There are no widely accepted indices for comparing different communities’ ecologies or determining whether information flow within a particular community is improving or degrading. Communities need measure of both kinds. If activists, policy makers, and the general public had more concrete ways of describing, measuring and comparing the systems of community news and information flow, it would be much easier to mobilize public interest around community information needs.
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which funded the Knight Commission and continues to sponsor its ongoing work to implement the 15 Commission recommendations, is currently at work to develop better tools to measure the information health of communities. (As a precursor to Knight’s current work, see Esther Thorson & Eric Newton’s paper, “Indexing Community Information Needs in a Democracy,” which contains a checklist outlining some basic requirements for community information needs.) The Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program, which provided the institutional home of the Knight Commission, has commissioned a series of white papers on various aspects of building healthy information communities. (The first of these will be released on September 29th with the others following through the end of the year.) In the meantime, KnightComm.org is collecting information about and links to community information case studies and updating the list here.
Our aim is to use crowd sourcing and collaborative methods to tease out a template that will be a useful resource for hosting public conversations and community information summits and assessing the information resources available. Because this is only a starting point, we need your help to grow this list. Post information and links about community information assessments in the comments section below, or send me an email at email@example.com with documents, links or other resources for assessing community information resources and I’ll add the information.
The Community Information Ecosystem Assessments list below highlights published case studies of projects that have inventoried all or part of the information and media-related resources that exist in the community.
Additionally, there is a growing number of local and regional conversations about strengthening the information environment and creating more engaged communities, such as those convened by Journalism That Matters in Seattle and Detroit. These convenings–billed as summits, conferences, “unconferences”, gatherings, conversations or other titles–can be invaluable to the understanding of the community’s information ecosystem and lay the groundwork for more rigorous, detailed case studies. Thus, I’ve started a second list below of Community Information Summits and Conversations.
This is most certainly a work in progress, not a finished product. Neither list is intended to be exhaustive and I’m sure there are many endeavors which we’ve missed that deserve to be included. This is why collaborative technologies and crowd sourcing techniques are so important–please join our effort to build up this database of information!
Take a look at what others are doing in their communities to mobilize public interest in creating more informed communities. Share with us what’s happening in your own community. And join us in highlighting new and ongoing projects that measure and improve the information health of America’s communities.
Community Information Ecosystem Assessments (by state or district)
District of Columbia | Washington
An Information Community Case Study: Washington, D.C.
Kristine Gloria and Kara Hadge, New America Foundation’s Media Policy Initiative, August 5, 2010.
A capital city of international importance, Washington, D.C. has a vibrant local media scene supported by the public and private sectors, but an unequal distribution of information that tracks along persistent racial and socioeconomic stratifications that have long shaped life in the District.
Illinois | Chicago
The NEW News 2010
Community Media Workshop for the Chicago Community Trust, August 2010.
The second annual survey of the Chicago area’s online news ecosystem. [See also the June 2009 survey, The New News: Journalism We Want and Need].
Maryland | Baltimore
How News Happens: A Study of the News Ecosystem of One American City
Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, January 11, 2010.
The study suggests that while the news landscape has rapidly expanded, most of what the public learns is still overwhelmingly driven by traditional media—particularly newspapers.
Minnesota | Minneapolis-St. Paul
An Information Community Case Study: Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota
Daniel Amzallag and Amalia Deloney, New America Foundation’s Media Policy Initiative, September 2, 2010.
The demand for quality journalism in the Twin Cities remains high, but many local media outlets struggle to deliver it sustainably. The digital age has presented significant challenges to a media landscape centered around a print format; however it also presents new opportunities.
North Carolina | The Research Triangle
An Information Community Case Study: The Research Triangle, North Carolina
Fiona Morgan and Allie Perez, New America Foundation’s Media Policy Initiative, September 16, 2010.
If it can harness its local talent, channel creative civic energy, straighten out policies hindering public media and extend the resources available to traditional media outlets outside the traditional newsroom, the Triangle is poised to develop a media ecology strong in its diversity.
Oregon | Portland
City of Portland Social Media Conversation Audit
Jamie Beckland, White Horse (digital marketing agency), Portland, Oregon, December 2009.
Study finds local blogs beating legacy media on substantive policy discussions.
Pennsylvania | Philadelphia
Exploring a Networked Journalism Collaborative in Philadelphia
Jan Schaeffer, J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism, April 2010.
The city is awash in media and technological assets that can pioneer a new Golden Era of Journalism.
Toward a Healthy Media Ecosystem for Philadelphia
Joshua Breitbart, New America Foundation’s Open Technology Initiative, May 25, 2010.
This paper identifies new media assets in the Philadelphia ecosystem that were ommitted in the J-Lab report, Exploring a Networked Journalism Collaborative in Philadelphia. It includes a critique of the earlier study’s starting assumptions and methodology, suggesting considerations for future comprehensive assessments of community information ecosystems.
An Information Community Case Study: Scranton
Jessica Durkin and Tom Glaisyer, New America Foundation’s Media Policy Initiative, May 2010 (release 1.0).
An industrial city with a media ecosystem yet to take advantage of digital opportunities. Washington | Seattle
An Information Community Case Study: Seattle
Jessica Durkin, Tom Glaisyer, Kara Hadge, New America Foundation’s Media Policy Initiative, May 2010 (release 1.0).
A digital community still in transition.
Community Information Summits and Conversations (by date)
Re-imagining News & Community in the Pacific Northwest, Journalism That Matters, Seattle, Washington, January 7-10, 2010.
Meeting the Information Needs of Southwestern Vermont, Shires Media Partnership, Inc., Bennington Free Library, Bennington, Vermont, January 24, 2010.
Informing Scranton: Gauging Community News and Information Needs, Jessica Durkin/University of Scranton, Scranton, Pennsylvania, March 3, 2010.
Create or Die, Journalism That Matters, Detroit, Michigan, June 3-6, 2010.