Logo for the Knight Commission Report on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy.
New America Foundation President Steve Coll was a guest on NPR’s On the Media two Fridays ago, commenting on his open letter to the FCC in the The Columbia Journalism Review and the accompanying op-ed in The Washington Post. In these publications and on NPR, Coll made the point that it is in the best interest of Americans for commercial media to give up the existing public interest obligations, and instead pay spectrum usage fees that could go towards strengthening the public media to provide the information the commercial media hasn’t been providing.
Introducing an issue that hasn’t been addressed as much, host Bob Garfield was skeptical about the kind of support Coll’s idea would get on Capitol Hill. However, Coll’s response was that it is actually to the advantage of politicians to support a more robust public media in America, more along the lines of the resources employed by the British public media:
“The Internet can come alive with false rumors about your conduct. If you go on television to try to make yourself heard, you've got 20 seconds and it may be a shouting match with somebody on the other side. But it is in their mutual interest to construct, as Britain has, a public broadcasting system where civil, deep, serious, inclusive debate about the issues of the day can take place.”
Though the demographics of NPR’s audience are not identical to America as a whole, Coll contested the idea that NPR’s audience is “elite” in that the audience is big enough to represent a significant population of the country, with NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered having bigger audiences than the networks’ morning shows. Nevertheless, Coll added that “part of the purpose of revitalizing public media would be to make it younger and more like America in its ethnic and racial makeup.”
• MPI Fellow Tom Glaisyer is a co-author, along with John Carlo Bertot, Paul T. Jaeger, and Sean Munson, of "Social Media Technology and Government Transparency," which was published in the Nov. 2010 issue of IEEE Computer. The issue is dedicated to technology-mediated social participation, or the use of digital tools like Twitter and blogs to address the important social issues of the day—ranging from health care to cultural heritage campaigns.
Glaisyer et. al. took a closer look at the overlap of social media and open data. The authors admittedly focus on federal efforts, so the next step is the to take these tools local and study their efficacy. Understanding the local possibilities and in particular the possibilities mobile platforms provide is especially important. Platforms such as that provided by SeeClickFix (or the UK equivalent FixMyStreet) or the efforts around the alternative Open311 project are clearly fodder for future research.
The authors make two particularly important points. First, these tools are simply cheaper and easier to use. Social media technologies can help “take away the traditional boundaries of time and space for government processes,” so that governments in these cost-cutting times are able to hear their citizens without costly and unattended hearings, panels, etc. Second, social media can be used in community education to promote “the ability to readily access, use, and interact with both social media technologies and e-government services” and combat the digital divide. That is, these technologies have the potential to make government transparency a more inclusive operation.
• It turns out that “What We Don’t Know Can Hurt Us.” At least, that’s the headline of a feature in the December 2010 issue of The American Prospect co-authored by MPI Fellow Kat Aaron, who is also a project manager at the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University. Aaron and three other journalists took a look at what information is missing from the public sphere—the information that is necessary for effective policy to be made. Aaron wrote the sections on the Economy and Housing. For example, she noted that there is not accepted data on the number of foreclosures and evictions. Moreover, government efforts to track these numbers accurately are short-sighted; as Aaron wrote, “The financial-reform bill included a provision creating a foreclosure database, featuring comprehensive stats on distressed mortgages. The bill, however, didn't specify exactly what the database would track or how it would be paid for.”
• New America Future Tense Fellow Tim Wu’s book The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires was released earlier this month, and has undoubtedly made a significant contribution to the literature on American telecommunications.
• We noticed this article on oversight of the broadband program stimulus efforts and how “agency that has been managing the program, isn’t doing enough to monitor how grantees are spending the stimulus money.” Discussing a closely related subject, we emphasized the same points to the NTIA in Comments just filed on Oct. 12 regarding the reporting requirements of grantees performing the broadband mapping projects.