Seattle space needle (Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Seattle, Wash., could be considered a city singularly suited to develop a healthy democracy in the digital age. The city government, citizens and business have created a productive environment for the next generation of information-sharing and community engagement. Years of economic growth and relative prosperity have fostered new, superior practices in news and information. Yet, losing a major print newspaper, as Seattle did when The Seattle Post-Intelligencer closed, adversely affects a community, by leaving it with one less place to provide public service journalism, stories about people and general community updates. In parallel, Seattle has been at the center of an explosion of alternative news outlets, especially online, which has created a critical mass of information portals for geographic and social communities.
As the Knight Report, Informing Communities: Sustaining Democracy in a Digital Age,highlights, it is important to understand that there are three important elements to be considered as we analyze media and democracy in the 21stcentury:
- availability of relevant and credible information to all Americans and their communities;
- capacity of individuals to engage with information; and
- individual engagement with information and the public life of the community.
However, despite the relative vibrancy of the media scene, and even with all its demographic and other advantages, it is unclear how much of this innovation is sustainable. The local web is littered with websites that are no longer updated, and few of the startups boast anything like the journalistic firepower or profitability of the papers of the past. We applaud the efforts of these startups but are skeptical that many will sustain if their benchmark of success is profit alone. Moreover, much development is still needed for Seattle’s information ecosystem to reflect the diverse perspectives of traditionally less-covered minority and financially disadvantaged communities. In short, though the media landscape in Seattle has many green shoots, few conclusions can be drawn about its longer-term future.
Read the full policy paper here.