Breakout 4, Day 2: The Information Needs of ‘Your’ Community

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Day 2: Kebbel & Villoch

The Information Needs of YOUR Community Thursday, Feb. 21, 2008 Anastasia Room

Leader: Gary Kebbel, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Scribe: Danielle Villoch, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

In the second breakout session, we focused on tangible solutions to the information needs of specific communities. Gary Kebbel, our facilitator, started the session by asking, “What can we do in individual communities?” We began by exploring the feasibility of creating partnerships with local newspapers. While some initially doubted the value of partnering with newspapers given the decline in readership of print editions, Billie Blair of the Santa Fe Community Foundation argued that it still makes sense to work with locally owned, community newspapers citing that they are still best at identifying issues facing a community and opportunities to solve those issues.

Partnering with newspapers, however, does bring up the issue of content control. We came to the conclusion that if community foundations worked with traditional news sources, such as newspapers and public radio, they could fund forums, but not play a role in content selection and development. Community foundations can invest in forums, hope for the best and then get the best without compromising journalistic principles. Lorenzo Lebrija, Knight Foundation’s Miami Program Director, added that a community foundation’s partner doesn’t have to be the “big kahuna.” He suggested that community foundations look to community papers first, after which main newspapers will see that they are not pushing their own agenda and are really trying to get information to citizens.

Lebrija followed this point by bringing up the ancillary channels public radio stations would inherit after the switch to HD radio. What goes on those channels? Can they be used for community directed information? Even though this transition lies several years down the road community foundations could start approaching radio stations now with ideas for programming. Together with Linda Carter from the Community Foundation of Broward, he also suggested tapping into the vast number of retirees in Broward County and putting together a core of former journalists to look at issues that the paper isn’t looking at, be it public policy or education. He said, “This would provide information to communities at a low cost from experienced journalists, while at same time providing an outlet for them to give back to their community in a way they’re used to doing.”

Participants shortly deliberated about where the result of these ventures should be published and then quickly turned to discussing how to use digital media. Questions ranged from how is a community foundation held responsible for something libelous or controversial a blogger they funded says to what is the best way to aggregate an onslaught on information online. Someone suggested that community foundations invest in internet savvy interns to create networks of grantees or people within communities sharing similar interests on Facebook, like the Grand Rapids Community Foundation has done. Another suggestion was for the community to invest in aggregating information citizens couldn’t find elsewhere. If this tapped into an added value that the community was willing to pay for, it would claim a niche market and be sustainable. Community foundations could reach youth by getting budding high school journalists to blog about community issues. Finally, instead of focusing on how to get people information, community foundations could teach citizens how to sift through the information out there, much like news literacy courses currently being taught to freshman at many colleges.

While many workable solutions were brought into discussion during the breakout, the takeaway message was not to disregard traditional mediums. Newspapers are changing their thinking from just thinking of themselves as newspapers to thinking of themselves as news organizations that happen to distribute information via different mediums. If so, efforts to partner with them are worthwhile and community foundations are not just propping up the print distribution of information. Newspapers have been in this market and are finally realizing they can’t shut themselves out from the digital world and are working together with digital media to bring people information and provide them with places to engage with the community.

Useful links discussed in the session:

  1. www.Placeblogger.com : site that aggregates place blogs and allows you to search all of them to find one close to you
  2. www.cyberjournalist.net/news/000215.php: site for blogger rules, code of conduct
  3. www.Meetup.com: organize groups online to meet in real life