Knight Blog

The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Six lessons on how community foundations met #infoneeds, empowered citizens

Feb. 11, 2013, 12:21 p.m., Posted by Elise Hu

As mainstream media continues its fast-paced change, community foundations are adapting aggressively to fill the gap in information needs. Leaders from three community foundations — the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, the Central Carolina Community Foundation and the Greater New Orleans Foundation — shared a few ways they stepped up to take a bigger role in engaging their citizens in the news and information space.

Don’t just announce to a community “We’re here” out of nowhere, said the Central Carolina Community Foundation’s JoAnn Turnquist. Engage with stakeholders, first. To build credibility in its community, the Central Carolina Community Foundation took a personal focus and built that effort into a role in broader civic conversations by starting with a digital literacy project aimed at senior citizens in 11 counties in North Carolina.

Since senior citizens were relying on shrinking print newspapers, the group wasn’t accessing news and information in a key way it was being delivered — online. So the foundation recruited students, trained them on how to work with seniors and tech, and students became digital coaches. The success of the training project was a big boost to the foundation. “It really did propel us into having a seat at the big kids table,” said Turnquist. Now, in areas it cares about — land use or education or others — the foundation has credibility as an organization that can bring people together. 

Hampered by a small staff? No problem. Turnquist says foundations should leverage relationships with mainstream press, colleges and other civic organizations. “We do have the ability to bring folks together and leverage their strengths,” said Turnquist. In New Orleans, as the Times-Picayune cut its publishing schedule and its staff, the Greater New Orleans Foundation stepped up by partnering with a new investigative non-profit news source, The Lens. “You really have to address that craving hunger for news and information,” said the Greater New Orleans Foundation’s Josephine Everly.

Expanded commitment to community information needs

Feb. 11, 2013, 10:12 a.m., Posted by Alberto Ibargüen

Today in Miami, we at Knight Foundation are renewing our commitment to helping community and place-based funders meet their local community information needs. For the next three years, we’ll be both expanding and tailoring the Knight Community Information Challenge, which provides funding and the expertise needed for the foundations to invest in media projects that help ensure communities are informed and engaged.

When we launched the challenge five years ago, we did it based on two beliefs – or, perhaps more accurately, one passionate belief, and one notion.

The passionate belief was our bedrock principle that a well-functioning democracy depends on the free flow of news and information.  The notion was that the changes sweeping the media landscape – many of them driven by new, disruptive technologies -- created both a need and an opportunity for foundations to step up, to play a bigger role in providing citizens with the information required to engage in civic life.

Over the past five years, the notion has been affirmed unequivocally, and many times over.

In communities large, medium, and small -- scattered from Miami to Maine to Southern California, the Pacific Northwest and places in between – foundation leaders have embraced their leadership role in creating the informed citizenry that is a prerequisite for a well-functioning democracy.

Whether it’s responding to wildfires in Arizona, locating affordable housing in Washington, D.C., or fighting predatory lending along the Gulf Coast – challenge winners are, in myriad ways, affirming that people and communities live safer, healthier, and better lives when they’re well informed. You can read further about the impact of their efforts in a new report we published this week, in partnership with FSG and Network Impact.

We believe we are building a movement.  But we are still in the early innings of this game. There is much left to do. 

That’s why we have decided to extend our efforts in four ways through 2015:

Libraries use digital technology to redefine their roles in communities

Feb. 10, 2013, 8:49 p.m., Posted by Annie Schutte

Photo credit: Flickr user Eric Kornblum

The increasing prevalence and proliferation of digital content has pushed libraries to redefine themselves over the past decade. Knight Foundation brought together library directors from across the country this weekend to discuss this issue and hear from one panel of librarians tackling the digital question from different angles.

Larra Clark, director of the Program on Networks and Associate Director of the Program on America's Libraries for the 21st century in the American Library Association's Office for Information Technology Policy, described the shift in libraries as broadening from merely distributing books to focusing on "learning, reading, and literacy" in every form and format. 

Pat Losinski, CEO of the Columbus Metropolitan Library in Ohio, said libraries need to begin "making the transition from outputs to community-based outcomes." Right now, he said, about 70 to 80 percent of libraries' operating budgets are still going to the distribution of physical items, and that has to change. 

The Columbus library conducted a survey asking its community to submit five words to describe the library of their youth, and then five words to describe a public library 20 years from now. The change in language was incredible. Patrons most commonly described the library of their youth with the words "books," "research," "reading," "information," "education," and "quiet."  But the language of the future was "community," "technology," "research," access" and "information."