Community Information Needs and Access to be Studied by New Commission from the Knight Foundation And the Aspen Institute

April 14, 2008  • Institute Contributor

News Release
FOR RELEASE April 14, 2008

Contact: Erin Silliman, Aspen Institute, 202-736-5851

Community Information Needs And Access To Be Studied By New Commission From The Knight Foundation And The Aspen Institute

First Study on Comprehensive Information Availability and Engagement;
Theodore B. Olson and Marissa Mayer, Commission Co-chairs

Washington, D.C. – The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Aspen Institute today announced the launch of the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy.

The high-level Knight Commission will look into whether the information needs of 21st century American citizens and communities are being met and make recommendations for public policy and private initiatives that will help better meet community information needs.

“The Commission will look at the issues of information, news and society from the perspective of communities across the nation,” said Alberto Ibargüen, Knight Foundation president and CEO. “We want to assess their information needs, then take a snapshot to see how they are being met. The Commission will offer creative recommendations to improve democratic problem-solving at the local level through more and better engagement with relevant news and information.”

Ibargüen and Aspen Institute president and CEO Walter Isaacson are pleased that the Knight Commission will be chaired by:

  • Theodore B. Olson, former Solicitor General of the United States
  • Marissa Mayer, vice president of search products and user experience for Google

“We begin this inquiry with a totally open mind,” said Olson, a Washington, D.C., attorney. “We want to understand the state of local communities’ access to the information that citizens need for self-governance. We are open to input from all sources.” 

 “The methods of receiving information have changed dramatically over the past several years, and will likely differ community to community,” said Mayer, a West Coast software engineer. “The Knight Commission will assess these information needs and will propose potential solutions.”

The new Knight Commission will include at least a dozen other respected representatives of journalism, communities and policy. The Commission’s executive director is Peter Shane, Davis Chair in Law at the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University. He will direct the Commission’s research and writing, and will be advised by public feedback as well as that from scholars, journalists and policymakers. The Knight Commission, funded by $2.3 million in Knight Foundation grants, will meet in public throughout the year and will operate out of the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program.

Ibargüen and Isaacson, both having strong backgrounds in news, are ex-officio members.

“The business models we’ve relied on to provide news and information to our communities are stressed and changing.  New platforms offer an astounding array of choices, creating the most connected world we have ever known with the greatest volume of available data,” said Ibargüen, a longtime newspaper executive and former PBS chairman who also chairs the Newseum board. “But as those choices proliferate and as those virtual communities connect us globally, the need for local, reliable, contextual civic information remains and, I believe, is being met less and less effectively.

“We live in a democratic society built on the premise of an informed electorate – yet the very structure on which that democracy is built – the local election held in a geographically defined community – is more and more an uninformed decision.  That concerns us.”

“We are grateful to Knight Foundation for funding this endeavor, for its guidance and leadership, and for selecting the Aspen Institute to run it,” added Isaacson, a popular author who was chairman and CEO of CNN and the editor of Time before joining Aspen. “We are particularly delighted that Ted Olson, a distinguished constitutional attorney, and Marissa Mayer, a brilliant technology executive, will bring their expertise and wisdom to this topic.”

Added Isaacson: “We expect the other members of the Commission to complement the chairs with their expertise, diverse perspectives, and experience to form an innovative, open and thoughtful approach to the topics.”

In the late 1940s, the Hutchins Commission addressed the free press, calling for journalism to be presented “in a context that gives it meaning.” In the 1960s, the Kerner Commission, in its inquiry into the causes of racial tensions, called on the mainstream media to reflect all of America. Also 40 years ago, the Carnegie Commission recommended transforming educational television into “public broadcasting,” leading to the nation’s current system of noncommercial public service broadcasting. This Commission will take a comprehensive look at information needs of communities, building on similar successful commissions in the past.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation promotes excellence in journalism worldwide and invests in the vitality of 26 U.S. communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. Knight Foundation focuses on ideas and projects that create transformational change. Nearly 20 years ago, the Knight Foundation created the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics. That first Knight Commission has helped restore intercollegiate athletics to the control of university presidents.

The Aspen Institute, founded in 1950, is an international nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering enlightened leadership and open-minded dialogue. Through seminars, policy programs, conferences and leadership development initiatives, the Institute and its international partners seek to promote nonpartisan inquiry and an appreciation for timeless values. The Institute is headquartered in Washington, DC, and has campuses in Aspen, Colorado, and on the Wye River near the shores of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. Its international network includes partner Aspen Institutes in Berlin, Rome, Lyon, Tokyo, New Delhi, and Bucharest, and leadership initiatives in Africa, Central America, and India. The Communications and Society Program is one of 21 policy programs at the Aspen Institute. It addresses the societal and democratic impact of the communications and information sectors.


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