Universal broadband, stronger public media and government transparency are just three of the wide-ranging reforms required to make communities throughout the country more healthy, informed and democratic, according to the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities. The Knight Commission, which was made possible by a $1.7 million grant from the Knight Foundation in 2008, assembled 17 media, policy and community leaders to identify the changing information needs of communities and to suggest policies for enhancing the free flow of information and its uses.
The Knight Commission recognized that communities flourish when their residents are well-informed, have an abundance of local news available, and have the skills and tools needed for enacting change. However, the era of digital media has greatly altered the quantity, quality and accessibility of news and information. Americans have access to more information than ever before, but much of it is also fragmented or unreliable; furthermore, many Americans continue to lack access to digital resources which could both inform them about the goings-on of their communities and enable them to participate in those activities.
In order to address these problems, the Knight Commission proposed a number of recommendations that called upon the government, non-profit sector, media industry and citizens themselves to act. These recommendations include suggesting that the federal government institute universal broadband, encouraging citizen volunteers and local governments to create at least one local online hub per community, proposing that the government at all levels become more transparent, and suggesting that journalists and media organizations institute industry-wide reforms to become more innovative, competitive and sustainable. The Knight Commission also proposed major reforms to increase civic engagement, including advising citizens and local governments to improve local community spaces and encouraging young people to be active in their communities through digital media.
The Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program produced a series of Knight-funded white papers to explain in concrete detail how these recommendations could be implemented. To date, seven white papers have been released; the eighth white paper on assessing the information health of communities will be published in the fall. More information about the Knight Commission can be found here, and more information about the White Papers can be found at the links below.