Breakout 2, Day 2: The Information Needs of ‘Your’ Community

Day 2: Friedland & Williamson

The Information Needs of YOUR Community Thursday, February 21, 2008 Majorca Room

Leader: Lewis A. Friedland, University of Wisconsin-Madison Scribe: Heidi Williamson, Berks County Community Foundation

Potential Community Foundation Approaches

Two approaches were posited for Community Foundation to consider:

  1. Portal/front page solution – a major convener serving as an entry point to the news – local newspaper is a likely place for the portal to emerge but how does it work financially?
  2. Emergence-based solution – trust that patterns will form as we each assemble our “Daily Me.”

Models and Examples

  • Voice of San Diego: Online news journal formed by former journalists, public television
  • Gotham Gazette – funded by Citizens Union of New York – fill a gap in the information ecology about local issues that news media isn’t reporting on
  • Duluth Community Foundation – successful catalyst by partnering with colleges, chamber, tech school, etc. – grantees encouraged to involve youth leadership and youth civic engagement, people are responding and getting involved
  • Coral Gables Community Foundation – incubator for historical museum, now trying to create something similar to the Beacon Hill
  • Pittsburgh – students act as I.T. consultants to local nonprofits, have young people create an online museum
  • Boston Foundation made a grant to the regional cable news network to get the foundation’s agenda out on issues such as brain drain, etc., and has also turned its indicators project into a resource for news agencies
  • Dallas and others are using a new Blackbaud tool to package information about the entire nonprofit community in a geographic region
  • The Great Lake News Service was established by Michigan Land Use organization and its reports are not objective but funded with an agenda
  • In Philadelphia, former Inquirer reporters were hired to write about certain civic issues for a community web site, but they ended up having a bias because of the web site’s stance.
  • Online community newspaper in New Haven (New Haven Independent)– the New Haven Foundation can make a grant to that newspaper to do in-depth coverage on a topic
  • St. Petersburg Times is a nonprofit – functions like any other robust daily Long Beach: Member of paper’s editorial staff on the board of the community foundation
  • Also in Long Beach the community foundation worked with underserved communities and found a need for a newspaper of the community’s own – a weekly specifically for that area. Now the community foundation is working with local organizations to make this happen, and also asking business community to provide advertising to support the weekly paper.
  • Triangle area: replaced philanthropy beat in local paper after newspaper was sold
  • The Philadelphia Inquirer: Great Expectations civic journalism was spun off to University of Pennsylvania

What else can community foundations do?

Community foundations can encourage the flourishing of niches by providing grants for the training and tools that people need to start doing more information sharing via technology such as video, podcasting, and other forms of citizen journalism. Foundations can also ease into the news ecology by focusing on community wide issues, encouraging the use of new media to aid the discussion of big issues, reach out to new audiences, and by leveraging the networks and relationships we already have. In this way, community foundations become the local “Google” of civic activity.

Community foundation can also:

  • Partner with local colleges, which can be beneficial and low cost
  • Provide grants to train citizen journalists
  • Conduct news needs assessments in their communities (technological or not)
  • Fold communication elements into existing programs that the community foundation is running/funding
  • Serve as a catalyst by aggregating stories that are out there
  • Create information that doesn’t currently exist by funding original research
  • Can ask people to pay for in-depth research/work that they’d like to have done (i.e. a study on health-care access that results in an article or other expanded coverage – gets the conversation started) – this is a way to leverage the resources we already produce
  • Commission journalist reporting – pay for good solid journalism that can stimulate public dialogue then build additional web info around it
  • Figure out what is needed and then take that info to the existing media for discussion. If they refuse, the community foundation can then take other action
  • Provide systematic issue briefings on topics for reporters – indicators web sites are a form of online issue briefings

What can Knight do?

  • Knight and other foundations, including community foundations, can sponsor fellows in community journalism or fund an editor to sift through all of the information that is out there
  • Create a clearinghouse of the information and models that are working in communities across the country, and a place to show/discuss outcomes, metrics, results of this work
  • Create a road map for conducting a Media Ecology Inventory in a community


Community foundations are not responsible for generating the news, but can serve as a facilitator to encourage others to strengthen the community information infrastructure. Partnerships with other nonprofits are key, particularly working together to share the information and knowledge that is already being generated. We can then use that knowledge to stimulate community dialogue.

In order to get started, many community foundations will need support, including a way to map and measure the information needs and gaps in their communities.