Publication Date: October 2009

This report was produced by a high-level commission tasked to examine the information needs of 21st Century American citizens moving from the knowledge that technology changes our attitudes toward information, and that this is critical for democracy in the digital age. The commission, called Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy, suggests that strengthening the capacity of individuals to engage with information in the digital era is of fundamental importance, and that this should be at the centre of a national policy in the United States.

The report's starting point is that the digital age requires more than ever “informed communities”, places where the information ecology meets people’s personal and civil information needs, meaning that people have the information they need to take advantage of life’s opportunities. Paramount in the Commission's vision are the critical democratic values of openness, inclusion, participation, empowerment, and the common pursuit of truth and the public interest.

Conceived to primarily address policy makers in the United States, the report urges to pursue three objectives:

- maximize the availability of relevant and credible information to all;

- strengthen the capacity of individuals to engage with information;

- promote individual engagement with information and the public life of the community.

The Commission has formulated 15 strategies for pursuing the three fundamental objectives of information availability, citizen capacity, and public engagement. The recommendations propose action by government, communities, the media, and citizens. Special attention is dedicated to the needs of communities at local level; local information ecosystems; media and digital literacy; public policies to support access to information, openness, transparency and the need to fund new business model to support quality journalism.

With a highly inclusive stance - there can be no second class citizens in terms of access to information and technology - the Commission has identified and articulated the information needs of communities in a democracy by reviewing academic and industry research across a wide range of disciplines (media experts, community and public policy, public hearings) across the United States.

Part I examines the information needs of communities in a democracy, with a focus on the needs of geographically defined communities in the United States. According to the authors, community functions depend on information and exchange. Personal and needs intersect since the citizens’ information needs are both civic and personal. The Commission also stresses the critical role of journalism as intermediating practice and the need for adeguate public policies and investment in the creation and distribution of information. 

Part II details the Commission findings and recommended strategies to best serve the community information needs. It focuses attention on concepts like information ecologies, information intermediaries (libraries, higher education institutions, etc.), the role of quality skilled journalism in contributing to a healthy information ecosystem, as well as on its changing face, including new forms of collaboration between journalism and the general citizenry and networked journalism which create grater coverage of local affairs.

Tags: Media literacy Access to information Transparency Local media Worldwide

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