Local: Just One Set of Ripples on the Lake of News and Information

Clearly Ambiguous, via Flickr (CC license)
Local is just one set of ripples on the lake of news and information.

UPDATE SEPT. 15: I’ve launched a new series fleshing out this discussion. See Being a Citizen Shouldn’t Be So Hard! Part 1: Human Nature

When it comes to information that helps people function better as citizens in a democracy, how important is local, really?

Geographically defined local communities are the focus of the new Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy. Earlier this week, I posted this comment (and this one) on the Commission’s blog questioning the Commission’s assumption that community = local.

Don’t get me wrong: I love that Knight is trying to determine what kinds of information people really need to function as citizens today. I agree that’s a crucial line of inquiry these days. However, I’m concerned that by assuming those needs are inherently tied to “local,” the commission could miss a very important (perhaps the most important) part of what “community” really means to people today.

I was honored to see this very thoughtful response to my comment from Alberto Ibargüen, president and CEO of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. He made several good points, including this excerpt…

“We chose to look at information needs of communities defined by geography because our democracy is structured along geographic lines. …But [our premises may be wrong]. Or they may be premises that are less relevant going forward, given a population more interested in other ways to bond. As Amy suggests, the younger the citizen, the more likely it is that his/her communication preferences are digital and are more focused on subject matter and areas of interest than the physical community or political subdivision where they happen to live or send their kids to school. That reality will surely influences our thinking.

“And maybe the conclusion we’ll reach is that the powerful force of new communications is so strong that, if a community in a democracy needs informed participants, we need to redefine communities. And maybe that the future structure of our democracy needs to be changed to fit the way we get information — not the other way around.”

That’s pretty big-picture, powerful stuff. I’ve been trying to envision how to move this conversation forward. But there’s been a problem.

I’ve been stricken by writer’s block this week. Believe me, it’s not often I’m at a loss for words, but this has been that kind of week. So although I’ve been reading the discussion I sparked, and thinking a great deal about these issues, I haven’t yet pulled my own thoughts together into a new blog post. This weekend, I hope to accomplish that. So stay tuned to Contentious.com, there’s more to come.

In the meantime, several other people have chimed in on this discussion. Here are some links to their posts and comments

One thought on “Local: Just One Set of Ripples on the Lake of News and Information

  1. Pingback:   Being a Citizen Shouldn’t Be So Hard! Part 1: Human Nature  — contentious.com

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