Zuckerman: Open Media’s Doors to the World

With little pomp, and amid excitement not meant so much for him as for the winners of the fifth round of the Knight News Challenge, Ethan Zuckerman became director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT yesterday.  Zuckerman is the third renowned media leader to head the  effort to improve the lives of citizens with media innovation.

Zuckerman joins his longtime friend, Joi Ito, who was named director of MIT’s Media Lab in April, and Sasha Costanza-Chock, who recently joined the media studies faculty and will serve as co-principal investigator at the Civic Media Center. Together the three powerhouse technologists, with their interest in citizen empowerment via effective communication, stand to make a significant impact on how news is gathered, what stories are reported and how people are moved to participate in their communities.

Zuckerman wants to make that effort bigger than ever with the help of another organization he co-founded, the citizen media platform used in nearly 100 countries called Global Voices.

“I’m hoping to lean on the 400 plus people who work on Global Voices day to day, and the thousands of people that they work with, to bring in citizen media voices from around the world into the civic media program,” he said.

With a new director, and a new $3.76 million grant from Knight, the center is expected to build upon its original mission. It was first proposed to the Knight News Challenge in 2007 as a joint effort between MIT’s Media Lab and the Center for Media Studies, to develop new reporting tools and techniques for local information sharing and citizen journalism. Design-based solutions with practical applications will continue to be a goal for research coming from the Media Lab, but Zuckerman looks forward to the influence Ito will have on the openness of the lab’s culture.

“The Knight Foundation has really insisted that we work in an open source environment. And so I’m hoping that the work that’s been done at ‘Civic’ over the last four years [under the leadership of outgoing director Chris Csikszentmihályi], is some way an example of the idea that you can work in an open source fashion, and still produce something that’s interesting to industry on a lot of different levels,” Zuckerman said.

After reuniting with friends at this year’s MIT-Knight Civic Media conference and celebrating with the final batch of Knight News Challenge winners, Zuckerman took a few minutes to talk about how he sees the media needs of the global community and his notions of civic media.

Annie Shreffler is a freelance journalist covering the MIT-Knight Civic Media Conference

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