Logo for The Knight Commission Report on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy.
We took a week off here at MPI’s Week in Review, but we’re back now with lots to talk about. Let’s call this post a “Two Weeks in Review.”
• As part of the release of Fiona Morgan’s MPI case study on the Research Triangle, North Carolina, based on The Knight Commission Report on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy, the Triangle Community Foundation hosted a forum on Oct. 8 in Durham, N.C. Moderated by MPI Fellow Tom Glaisyer, the event brought together a variety of prominent figures in Triangle media (both traditional and new) to discuss the state of Triangle media, as well as the implications of Morgan’s report.
At least a couple of Triangle media leaders at the event had thoughts to share on this topic after the event ended. As Raleigh blogger and roundtable participant Mark Turner wrote, the event’s purpose was to address the following questions, the substance of which is echoed in the Knight report:
“1. How healthy do we consider the Triangle’s ‘information community?’
2. What are the challenges as we move into a digital age?
3. What are the opportunities for the Triangle and its communities?”
In addition to Turner’s joking characterization of the forum as a “secret media cabal,” the blogger had some intriguing insights on Triangle media from the perspective of a self-described outsider. For example, Turner has observed firsthand the media’s increasing tendency to have a local focus:
“Many smaller papers were represented today [at the forum] and almost all of them reported growth. Even the N&O’s local editions, the Midtown Raleigh News and the North Raleigh News, are successful for the paper. The key is the niche, though, and locally-focused news is one niche easy to fill. Fiona herself said at the start of our meeting that ‘people in Cary don’t care what happens in Carrboro,’ and it’s true.”
UNC journalism professor Ryan Thornburg’s response to the case study and the meeting last week, “Triangle’s Media Ecosystem Needs Tributaries and Mainstream,” is from the perspective of an third party observing the media’s impact on the Triangle community. The Triangle may have “an unusual diversity of journalistic species,” as Thornburg concludes from Morgan’s case study, but the dichotomy of mainstream media vs. independent journalists (bloggers, etc.) is in full force: “...what’s lacking is a symbiotic ecosystem that all of them need to survive.” His perspective seems very much situated in the drive to maintain a sustainable culture of journalism in the region, the drive to maintain the best possible system for the community as a whole.
A related issue noted by Thornburg is the unwillingness of editors and publishers to collaborate with the community, a result of the sacred goal of journalistic independence. This hurts news outlets’ ability to communicate information to its community effectively. Yet the greater issue, according to Thornburg, is not journalist-reader interaction as much as it is retraining all Triangle residents in media literacy—the “curiosity” and drive for “verification” that would make citizens better consumers of news and, in the case of citizen journalists, better news producers.
Thornburg gives several recommendations on how to “strengthen journalistic thinking in the state and lower the barriers to entry for new media entrepreneurs,” ranging from absolute transparency of public records from now on to active collaboration between traditional media outlets and the community/citizen journalists to the introduction of media literacy to state middle and high school curricula.
We anticipate that the practical effects of Morgan’s report will be part of an ongoing process of self-evaluation on the part of Triangle residents and media outlets, beginning with last week’s forum.
• On Oct. 7, Free Press Associate Program Director, Josh Stearns, blogged on the subject of “Ongoing Efforts to Map Our Information Needs.” Stearns was highlighting mapping projects that are going ahead full speed in a follow-up to the Free Press Summit: Ideas to Action that was held in April 2010. At the summit, a breakout session on mapping media ecosystems that followed the lead of The Knight Commission Report on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy has led to increased awareness of the variety and enthusiasm of mapping projects across the country. One of the projects that Stearns mentions is MPI’s mapping of local media ecosystems in case studies (see full reports for Scranton, Seattle, the District of Columbia, Minneapolis-St. Paul and the Research Triangle, North Carolina).
In addition, Stearns recognized the National Center for Media Engagement’s Public Media Maps and CU-Boulder’s Slices of Boulder project. Stearns also discussed the underlying challenge of media mapping: whether everyone is (or should be) mapping the same things, and whether or not the projects are relevant to each other. We think that the question of standardizing data collection is a real one, as is the question of the breadth and scope of the mapping - MPI has tried to collect the same types of information for each of the case studies listed we’ve completed. We also believe that media mappers can only benefit from discussion on the subject of tools, ultimate goals, etc., so MPI is actively engaged in facilitating collaboration among media mappers. Look out for more information on this blog in the near future.
• For the latest installment of MPI collaborator Colin Rhinesmith’s coverage of the Digital Divide lecture series at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, see “Understanding Illinois’ Digital Divide via Statewide Broadband Mapping and Measurement.” This entry, posted Oct. 7, is on a presentation by Drew Clark, Executive Director of the Partnership for a Connected Illinois, which is in the process of implementing a statewide broadband adoption project that is funded by some of the federal money allocated by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. One element of the Broadband Illinois project is to produce accurate broadband mapping; in this, we can see a concrete example of the type of mapping efforts Stearns discussed in his blog post (see above). Rhinesmith does not give a detailed account here of the mapping methodology, but he provides a link to the mapping page, connectillinois.org. This page is worth a look for anybody interested in media mapping.
During the lecture, Clark demo-ed several of the maps, with ”layers of information about the types of service that’s available in counties across Illinois, including cable, DSL, wireless, etc.” According to Rhinesmith, “Their thinking was that this needs to be information that is usable.” Though currently in beta, the variety of maps on connectillinois.org (including an interactive web mapping application) shows that they are probably going in the right direction, especially considering the feedback that Clark got from the students in the audience—that applications were of particular interest to many of the students. “Broadband Illinois wants to create digital literacy initiatives that make computers more relevant to residents in the state,” Rhinesmith noted. “Broadband Illinois wants to promote applications that will help tip the scale.”