News Leadership 3.0

March 19, 2010

National Broadband Plan: What it actually says about civic engagement

On March 17, the FCC finally presented to Congress the National Broadband Plan—a 360-page proposed policy to encourage the development of a robust, ubiquitous broadband infrastructure throughout the US. Last week I discussed why news orgs and journalists should pay attention to this plan.

Enhancing civic engagement is a key theme of the published plan. In fact, an entire chapter is devoted to this topic.

Here are some civic engagement highlights of the plan—and some possible implications for community-level news and information…

By Amy Gahran

(This is part of a series of guest posts by Amy Gahran. Amy is looking how news organizations and other institutions can implement the findings of the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy, This joint project of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Aspen Institute Communications and Society program produced the report, “Informing Communities: Sustaining Democracy in the Digital Age.” See all posts in this series.)

Right at the top of Chapter 15, Civic Engagement, the National Broadband Plan highlights the connection between broadband access and the faltering traditional news business:

“The transition to new information technologies and services can open new doors to enhance America’s media environment—but with traditional sources of news and information journalism under severe stress in the current media and economic environments, we confront serious challenges to ensure that broadband is put to work to strengthen our democracy. Civic engagement starts with an informed public, and broadband can help by strengthening the reach and relevance of mediated and unmediated information.”

The plan’s civic engagement chapter makes 14 specific recommendations to create a broadband infrastructure that actively supports civic engagement at all levels of US society and government. The chapter’s second recommendation (15.2) specifically echoes and cites Recommendation 4 of the Knight Commission’s “Informing Communities” report:

Recommendation 15.2: Government should make its processes more transparent and conducive to participation by the American people:
  • For the Executive Branch, independent agencies, Congress and state and local government, all government meetings, public hearings and town hall meetings should be broadcast online.  
  • Congress should consider allowing the American public to track and comment on proposed legislation online.


“...As a guiding principle, the Knight Commission has declared, ‘the public’s business should be done in public.’ Public hearings and town hall meetings are among the most direct and frequent opportunities for the public to engage in their democracy. Video streaming of government meetings expands access to the government by eliminating geographic limitations and allowing for ‘time shifting,’ so that a person who is unable to watch a meeting in real time (because they are at work, for example) can still watch the proceedings and provide feedback. That is why federal, state and local governments should require that all public agency meetings and hearings be streamed over the Internet. Additionally, these events should offer closed-captioning services to increase accessibility for persons with disabilities and, to the extent practical, enable individuals to ask questions online.”

POSSIBLE OPPORTUNITIES: Coordinating video streaming is not necessarily a strength of government, especially local government. If Congress provides funding for universal video streaming of meetings and hearings at all levels of government, there might be outsourcing opportunities for CSPAN-like businesses. News organizations and news professionals could be players here.

However, an even more crucial role for journalism and journalists in this kind of service would be offering context. Anyone who’s attended government meetings and hearings knows that it’s pretty hard to figure out what’s going on unless you’re already very familiar with the process, issues, history, players, interests, and jargon. News professionals could use broadband to provide easy real-time access to relevant context—news stories, backgrounders, documents, links, live text or audio commentary, etc.—that would help viewers understand what they’re watching.

Similarly, the language and formatting of legislation is generally excruciating to read—so mere availability would not necessarily encourage engagement. Furthermore, our state and federal legislative process is such that multiple “live” copies of the same bill often are available simultaneously, confusing people who are not government insiders. Where exactly should one leave a comment?

Journalists and others who are accustomed to following and explaining legislation might find business opportunities to layer context on proposed legislation—making it easier to understand what’s going on, what happens next, optimum timing for comments, and also getting citizens’ questions answered (since often people have questions before they can formulate comments). This is an example of applying journalism skills as a direct service, rather than simply as a means to create content that’s supported by ads or subscriptions.

Other aspects of Chapter 15 of the National Broadband plan may provide additional journalistic opportunities related to civic engagement. For instance:

“Recommendation 15.6: Congress should consider increasing funding to public media for broadband-based distribution and content.”

...This is followed by other recommendations to revise the Copyright Act to make it easier for public broadcasing organizations to use copyrighted material, and also to create a “federated national digital archive to house public interest digital content.” And further:

“Congress should consider amending the Copyright Act to enable public and broadcast media to more easily contribute their archival content to a digital national archive and grant reasonable noncommercial downstream usage rights for this content to the American people.”

...which could prove to have interesting implications for mashup culture—included journalistically minded uses of content.

WHAT’S NEXT: Macworld recently published a pretty good overview of what happens with the National Broadband Plan now that Congress is considering it. Of special interest to broadcasters is this point: “The FCC will also ask Congress to give it new authority to sell spectrum now controlled by incumbents including U.S. television stations.”

FOLLOW THE ACTION: On Twitter, the hashtag #BBplan provides lots of news and view on the plan. As I mentioned last week, the BroadbandBreakfast blog and state broadband commissions also are key sources as this policy debate unfolds.

Comments

In response to your statement:
“POSSIBLE OPPORTUNITIES: Coordinating video streaming is not necessarily a strength of government, especially local government. If Congress provides funding for universal video streaming of meetings and hearings at all levels of government, there might be outsourcing opportunities for CSPAN-like businesses. News organizations and news professionals could be players here.”

Our company already does video recording and online archiving of local government public meetings. It’s a nice thing when local governments are willing to make their public meetings more accessible to the general public - especially when people are too busy to attend a meeting or don’t feel like sitting through a long meeting just so that they can hear their topic of interest discussed for 10 minutes.


@videominuytes- Video recordings don’t really work all that well.


I think Video recordings is working well :(


the language and formatting of legislation is generally excruciating to read—so mere availability would not necessarily encourage engagement


Page 1 of 1 pages

Commenting is not available in this section entry.

ABOUT THIS BLOG

Exploring innovation, transformation and leadership in a new ecosystem of news, by journalist and change advocate Michele McLellan.

Get in touch with Michele at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

More Leadership at KDMC:
Leadership Seminars | Annual Leadership Reports

Support is provided by:

John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

USC Annenberg School for Communication

McCormick Foundation

Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute

Research

@michelemclellan on Twitter

Recent Entries

Categories

Archives

Feed

Blogroll

Tag Cloud