Public Media Collaborative, Mar. 11 meeting, Berkeley

Scott Rosenberg, Susan Mernit, and lots of other smart people chatting at the Mar. 11 Public Media Collaborative meeting, Berkeley.

Scott Rosenberg, Susan Mernit, and lots of other smart people chatting at the Mar. 11 Public Media Collaborative meeting, Berkeley.

Last night I attended a meeting of the Bay Area Public Media Collaborative. I’m impressed by how this group is pulling together significant and diverse energy and talent.

The point? To “bring together bloggers, journalists, technologists, media and environmental justice folks, community organizers and activists from around the Bay area to explore and discuss social justice and emerging technology issues in a way that links theory and practice.”

One nonprofit group represented there last night, Independent Arts and Media, is planning a Journalism Innovations Expo II. Collaborative members discussed tacking a social/online media train-the-trainers Barcamp-style event onto the beginning or end of the expo.

I live-tweeted last night’s meeting. Here’s what I posted… Continue reading

One streaker gets plea bargain. Boulder cops defend their bullying

After I attended the Dec. 17 arraignment hearing for the 12 streakers cited by Boulder cops during the 10th annual Naked Pumpkin Run, I had a pretty busy week and didn’t have time to follow up further. Fortunately, The Colorado Daily did follow up on this case, reporting that one of the runners did accept the plea bargain offered by the Boulder District Attorney.

According to the Colorado Daily:

“[The runner] agreed Thursday to plead guilty to disorderly conduct, a petty offense. She agreed to undergo six months of unsupervised probation, eight hours of community service and pay $27 in court fees. She will not be required to register as a sex offender, and her record will be cleared if she doesn’t commit any crimes for at least six months.”

Also, Colorado Daily reported that according to prosecutor David Chavel:

“The agreement with [this defendant] would likely represent the same offer extended to all of the accused Halloween streakers. However, he said it would be ‘up to each individual’ to accept such an offer.”

“All of the cases are being handled separately, Chavel said, because some of the runners have attorneys and others do not. He said the remaining cases involving the naked runners are in negotiations with the Boulder District Attorney’s Office.”

What got me, though, was this statement from the Boulder Police Department quoted at the end of the Colorado Daily story. (Note: This statement does not appear to be on the Boulder Police Dept. web site, I’ll request a copy.)

“The decision was made by the District Attorney’s Office, which consulted with the department. Chief Mark Beckner believes this is an appropriate disposition. As for future violations, Boulder officers will continue to issue citations or make arrests based on the law as it is written. It is — and will remain — the province of the District Attorney’s Office to determine whether other charges are possible.”

…Correct me if I’m wrong, but this statement appears to mean that the Boulder cops intend to continue issuing indecent exposure citations to streakers — despite the fact that the DA’s office does not appear to consider that charge appropriate. Which means the cops can (and probably will) continue to bully and intimidate citizens through inappropriate charges — and leave it up to the DA and the courts to spend our resources to bring those charges back to reality.

There’s a much deeper issue at stake here beyond these cases, and it’s why I keep revisiting this story: Is this the kind of law enforcement we want to allow in Boulder?

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How the federal government could “go social”

I just has one of those meta-media moments. Today, Tim O’Reilly of O’Reilly Media was the guest on NPR’s Talk of the Nation Science Friday radio show. The topic was 2008 In Social Media.

One listener who called in was Jeffrey Levy, web manager for the US Environmental Protection Agency. He asked O’Reilly how the federal government might be able to use social media to enhance governance and civic engagement.

…To be honest, I didn’t actually catch O’Reilly’s answer because my own mental gears immediately went into overdrive. I’ve been involved with covering environmental issues for nearly 20 years — and thus I’m a frequent user of the EPA Web site. And it’ll come as no surprise to anyone that the EPA site currently is one hellacious frustrating sprawling mess, offputting to professionals as well as citizens. (I assume Levy is working to improve that situation…)

But there is another side to how federal agencies interact with the public that goes beyond their own sites: the regulatory process. Every proposed federal regulation must be published in the Federal Register. (Trust me, it’s really ugly. You definitely don’t want to read this stuff unless you have to — yet another strategy to keep citizens at arms length from government.)

Every proposed regulation must allow for a public comment period. That’s where social media might fit in…

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Being a Citizen Shouldn’t Be So Hard! Part 2: Beyond Government

NOTE: This is part 2 of a multipart series. See the series intro. More to come over the next few days.

This series is a work in process. I’m counting on Contentious.com readers and others to help me sharpen this discussion so I can present it more formally for the Knight Commission to consider.

So please comment below or e-mail me to share your thoughts and questions. Thanks!

To compensate for our government’s human-unfriendly info systems, some people have developed civic info-filtering backup systems: news organizations, activists, advocacy groups, think tanks, etc.

In my opinion, ordinary Americans have come to rely too heavily on these third parties to function as our “democracy radar.” We’ve largely shifted to their shoulders most responsibility to clue us in when something is brewing in government, tell us how we can exercise influence (if at all), and gauge the results of civic and government action.

Taken together, these backup systems generally have worked well enough — but they also have significant (and occasional dangerous) flaws. They’ve got too many blind spots, too many hidden agendas, insufficient transparency, and too little support for timely, effective citizen participation…

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Being a Citizen Shouldn’t Be So Hard! Part 1: Human Nature

NOTE: This is part 1 of a multipart series. More to come over the next few days. See Part 2.

This series is a work in process. I’m counting on Contentious.com readers and others to help me sharpen this discussion so I can present it more formally for the Knight Commission to consider.

So please comment below or e-mail me to share your thoughts and questions. Thanks!

If you want to strengthen communities, it helps to ask: What defines a community, really? Is it mostly a matter of “where” (geography)?

Last week I got into an interesting discussion with some folks at the Knight Foundation and elsewhere about whether “local” is the only (or most important) defining characteristic of a community. This was sparked by an event held last week by the new Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy — an effort to recommend both public and private measures that would help US communities better meet their information needs.

From the time I first heard of this project, I thought it was an excellent idea. It bothers me deeply that many (perhaps most) Americans routinely “tune out” to issues of law, regulation, and government that not only affect them, but also that they can influence — at least to some extent. (I say this fully aware that I often fall into the “democratically tuned out” category on several fronts.)

The problem then becomes, of course, that when citizens don’t participate, their interests are easy to ignore or trample.

Why do so many Americans abdicate their power as citizens in a democracy? It seems to me that many are too quick to “blame the victim,” pointing to widespread apathy, ignorance, or a prevailing sense of helplessness as common democracy cop-outs.

I think there’s a different answer: The way our democracy attempts to engage citizens actively opposes human nature. That is, it just doesn’t mesh well with how human beings function cognitively or emotionally.

Fighting human nature is almost always a losing battle — especially if you want people to participate and cooperate….

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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…
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