September 8, 2008

Knight Silicon Valley: Information Quality & Access

The other major theme in panel #1 was the problematic access to, and inconsistent quality and relevance of, information sources in the community.

Muhammad Chaudhry noted the “Lack of quality content for local information needs” as well as an opportunity for new “partnerships to disseminate info at a local level”

He also identified emerging social media — Facebook et. al. — as a vital means of that dissemination, and admitted that it was only because of his younger colleagues at the Silicon Valley Education Foundation that he knew about or was able to use such platforms in the first place.

Thus we are reminded of the impotance of those in established power positions to pay attention to what’s happening on the ground — paticularly among youth, in this case.

It’s happening at your workplace among the junior staffers, in your neighborhood playgrounds and romper rooms, in your schools. Kids are using new media, and what they’re doing with it and learning from it is instructive.

Gates & Gatekeepers

Judy Nadler of Santa Clara University reminded us of the importance of having trained, humble and engaged reporters and editors in place who understand civic issues, such as local government and bond measures, and who can explain these issues to the community in a meaningful way, rather than gloss over or dumb down their coverage.

But it’s about more than having better gatekeepers. There’s also a gaping need for improved venues for civic gathering and dialogue.

Indeed, the question of such venues is the question of access, and thus we return to the issue of fragmentation, which impedes dialogue across communities.

Nadler called for “New ways to engage people. They don’t know what’s in their community.”

Chaudhry spoke about organizing people around interest areas, and “pulling them in” to coordinated information sources related to those interest — something Walesh affirmed in her description of information hubs (such as the multi-city arts listing service that can draw likeminded people to a central online location.

But is this true commnity?

Hammer of PACT says one major hurdle is that “there are very few informal associations between people,” and that “most people don’t know their neighbors.”

In other words, there are three major progress points to consider when addressing information quality and access:

  • Improved training and education services for the intermediaries who produce and present the information in question
  • Establishing, improving and coordinating/connecting outlets that are willing and able to publish and promote that information
  • Creating new dialogue and social habits around that information, so that people are not disparate consumers, but rather engaged participants.