- Healthy communities find ways to promote individual engagement with information in the public life.
- Everyone in the community needs to have access to information and the capacity to engage with it.
- Our public gathering spaces, when properly equipped, can facilitate engagement with information and serve as hubs to bridge local and online information sources.
For there to be healthy communities, more people need to engage with information in meaningful ways. For this to happen, local communities need to pursue three objectives: expand availability of information to everyone; strengthen capacity of individuals to engage with information; and promote individual engagement with information in the public life of our community (for more, see Knight Commission Report on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy).
To expand information to everyone, we need to expand content creation beyond the traditional information and media sources. Groups like J-Lab have sponsored over 55 community news startups since 2005, providing critical coverage that never existed before. In so doing, they have led to other news stories, helped address community issues, empowered voters, and raised accountability for municipal leaders. At the same time, groups like StoryCorps and the Center for Digital Storytelling have used an approach that broadens information gathering by facilitating collection of the personal stories that help put into context the news and events around us. (For further information on doing digital storytelling see http://www.prairienet.org/op/stories/ .) With the explosion of devices with Internet access around us, we find the opportunity for increasing numbers of people to have access to this growing wealth of information. But we need to continue to intentionally find ways to assure no voice is left out, nor anyone is at a loss for access to the information they need.
To strengthen capacity of individuals to engage with information takes new skills as the amount of information rapidly grows while at the same time the credibility of content can reasonably be questioned. Roles once played by publishers and editors to acquire and assure quality content now need to be performed by individuals and communities. But beyond questions of effective acquisition and consumption of information is whether we know how to reflect on that information and effectively act upon it to bring about positive change. In the workplace we find ways to bring together teams with complimentary skills to complete projects. As communities we need to better foster collaboration of diverse voices to fully acquire, assess and act upon the information around us.
As communities we need to find ways to not just create nice websites that tell the community what we’re doing, though. We need to find ways to use new media to engage individuals in the public life of our communities as important collaborators. For ultimately our communities of interest, our neighborhoods, and our cities are only healthy when individuals step forward to take part in those communities.
This is not only an issue of online presence, though. Healthy geographic communities need physical spaces to serve as a hub for information sharing as well as social bonding. Think of the role music and video production studios, the media centers, and the newsrooms play in content creation. For over a decade public computing centers have been established throughout the United States as a way to provide computer and Internet access to those who otherwise would not have access. But instead of simply serving as a bridge to personal computer ownership, such computing centers have turned into rich resources for individual and collaborative work that regularly occurs within these public spaces. Located in places such as libraries, places of worship, social service agencies, community centers, and businesses, these centers have become not only the primary means of access to a global network of information, but also a place equipped to facilitate collaboration by those sharing common interests. Much like other spaces where social and work life happen, when effectively designed such places help foster the teamwork needed to accomplish comprehensive projects.
We are calling these public spaces designed to serve as information hubs Community Media Newsrooms.
Our objective is to bring to light some of our lessons learned for equipping what we call Community Media Newsrooms from in-field practice, consultation with leading practitioners, and exploration of key reports and documents. We welcome your feedback and collaboration! To begin the conversation, please feel encouraged to contact Pam Dempsey (CU Citizen Access – email: email@example.com; phone 217-244-8861); Brant Houston (Department of Journalism – email: firstname.lastname@example.org; phone: 217-333-7554), or Martin Wolske (Graduate School of Library and Information Science – email: email@example.com; phone 217-244-8094).