Knight Blog

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

A paper town goes digital

Feb. 7, 2013, 8:03 a.m., Posted by Elizabeth R. Miller

When 30 percent of paper mill jobs were lost from 2000 to 2010 in Wisconsin’s rural south Wood County, it had more than just an economic impact.

Many corporations and executives left the area and residents who stayed had to scramble to find new jobs. The community faced new challenges in leadership and a shifting culture precisely when its information landscape was changing:  local news was reduced to a single page in the Daily Tribune and television broadcasting rarely covered issues that mattered to its residents.


Case Studies: "How Four Community Foundations Information Projects Went From Idea to Impact"


The Incourage Community Foundation knew its residents would need more opportunities to provide relevant local information and help the community during its transition. After research revealed that more than a third of low-income families didn’t use the Internet, the foundation set aside initial plans to create an online news site and shifted its focus to facilitating civic dialogue and building better digital literacy.

Knight recently talked with Kelly RyanIncourage’s President and CEO, to find out how its community changed in the process and what advice she’d give others embarking on similar work.

What's the one thing you'd tell community foundations embarking on this process?

K.R.: Information investments are vital in broad scale community change efforts.  As grantmakers, we know instinctively that data, research and evaluation matter.  What we’re not so good at knowing or seeking to understand is the ‘information culture’ that exists in our communities.  How does information flow and to whom?  Who has access to information?  What are the barriers to access?  If access is not an issue, do residents have the capacity to utilize information effectively?   How do we help residents turn knowledge into action?

It is long-term work that requires humility, learning, reflection and perseverance.  One cannot do it effectively without understanding power dynamics, culture, networks and systems change strategies.  It is difficult, sometimes ambiguous work - but absolutely essential to creating vibrant, prosperous communities that work for all people.

You used the Knight Commission Report on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy. Was it valuable? How so?

Back to the future of self-governance: the promise of the Open Gov movement

Feb. 6, 2013, 12:45 p.m., Posted by Mark Meckler

Last week we announced the first News Challenge of 2013 will focus on Open Gov. To help get folks thinking, we asked a handful of people to share their hopes for open government. Below, Mark Meckler, President of Citizens for Self Governance and co-founder and former National Coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots, shares his insights.  

The Open Gov movement holds great promise for the dawn of a new day in American governance.  It holds the promise of a return to self-governance by the American people, which is the original and intended state of governance set forth by the founders of this nation so long ago.  

We’ve drifted far from the model of self-governance practiced in 1778, when the Constitution was ratified.  At that time, most government in America was local, and it was practiced and participated in by average citizens on a regular basis. Since most decisions were made locally, the information needed to make decisions was readily available to average citizens. Sadly, that’s no longer the case.

Today, most government decisions that affect our daily lives are made far away, either in Washington DC, or in the state capitols. A disconnected ruling elite often makes these decisions, and regularly does so without input from or knowledge of the citizens they will affect.

Sometimes those making the decisions that affect our lives are our elected representatives.  But more often than not they are unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats and lobbyists who write the rules we must obey. The information that they use to make their decisions is rarely accessible to the average citizen, and rarely do any of us have input on those decisions before they are made.  The Open Gov movement presents us with the promise to change all this.

As technologies are developed which allow citizen access to volumes of information unimaginable only a few years ago, government is brought closer and closer to home. Even decisions made far away in D.C., and the information behind them, are brought closer by electrons traveling the information superhighway. And the more people learn about the decisions being made far away, the more they will demand that those decisions be made at home, in their own communities.

Nine insights on taking community information projects from idea to impact

Feb. 6, 2013, 10:05 a.m., Posted by Mayur Patel

It’s almost time for our sixth annual Media Learning Seminar, where community and place-based foundations will gather to discuss how to create informed, engaged communities. This year, we’ll give them something new to consider – a case study of how foundations have been able to put together their community information projects.

Why does this matter? Because making positive change in communities requires the free flow of quality news and information. If the news and information environment is in trouble, so is civic life.  Foundations can only help improve education, public safety, the environment or anything else if people understand and are engaged in the issues. Through the Knight Community Information Challenge, more than 80 foundations have stepped up to invest in everything from local and state reporting to citizen dialogue and digital literacy, all to help their communities thrive. These projects have successes to show for it too - resulting in new funding for early childhood education, more environmental conservation and increased digital literacy among teens and seniors.

This new study - published today in partnership with FSG and Network Impact - provides a behind-the-scenes look at four foundations. We asked: Why are they working in media? How does that connect to their overall goals? How did they go about doing it? Has it mattered?

The four funders are:

You can find an in-depth look at each project in today’s report. Here are a few insights and examples of foundation practices that stood out for us:

Lessons on Design and Planning