Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy Warns of “Second Class Citizens” in the Digital Age

October 2, 2009

Blue Ribbon Commission Calls for Urgent Attention to
the Information Needs of America’s Communities

Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy
Warns of “Second Class Citizens” in the Digital Age

October 2, 2009 – Washington, D.C. – Warning of an erosion of democracy with the creation of “second-class citizens” in the digital age, a blue-ribbon national commission today calls for universal broadband access to help meet the information needs of America’s communities.

The Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy releases its report today in Washington DC, setting a vision for healthy, informed, democratic communities.

Just as they need good schools and safe streets to function well, America’s communities need a free flow of useful information, the Commission says.

In “Informing Communities: Sustaining Democracy in the Digital Age” the Commission offers 15 policy measures to help Americans meet their local information needs.

Prominent national leaders, including Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski, Chief Technology Officer of the United States Aneesh Chopra, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Telecommunications and Information Lawrence E. Strickling, and Chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting Board of Directors Dr. Ernest J. Wilson III will react to the recommendations in a program surrounding the launch of the report at the Newseum today, Friday October 2, at 9:30 AM EDT. The event can be viewed live via webcast and after the event at

“This is a moment of political, technological and journalistic opportunity,” says Theodore B. Olson, former Solicitor General of the United States and co-chair of the Commission.

“Communities need to move forward thoughtfully to stake out ambitious agendas for access, openness and transparency. If they don’t, both civic engagement and our national economic prosperity are in peril.”

The report sets three goals for achieving more “informed communities”:

  • Maximize the availability of relevant and credible information.

  • Strengthen the capacity of individuals to get and use it.

  • Promote engagement with information and the public life of the community.

The report sets out 15 recommendations for reaching these goals. Among them are:

  • Set ambitious new standards for universal broadband in the United States.  Only by providing universal broadband access will America begin to realize a vision of digital inclusion, enabling all to participate effectively in their local community affairs.

  • Increase support for public service media, but with more local, inclusive and interactive fare.

  • Public broadcasting needs to move to the next level of local public service in a way that includes and interacts more deeply with local citizens.

  • Require governments at all levels to operate openly, with easy access to public records. Openness and transparency promote better governance, curb corruption, and foster local control.

  • Include digital and media literacy as critical elements at all education levels.  These new literacies should be part of public education, and seen as necessary skills for effective citizenship.

  • Fund libraries and other community institutions for adult digital and media training.

  • Engage our youth in a kind of “Geek Corps” to develop local digital capacity.

Click here to view the full list of recommendations.                                                                                       

A Spanish language version of “Informing Communities” is available at

The Commission recognizes the importance of local journalism to a democracy and the current plight of many media companies, especially those that produce journalism.  But rather than trying to preserve any one medium or company, the Commission calls for fostering more and better journalism.  This, it says, should be done through policies that encourage innovation, competition and market incentives.

“We live in a world that is amazingly empowered and advanced in terms of information ideals,” says Marissa Mayer, vice president of search product and user experience for Google and co-chair of the Commission.  “However, we really need to focus our attention and commitment on providing access to that information, particularly the information that is the foundation of our democracy, in order to create stronger communities and engaged citizens.”

The Commission urges communities to hold information summits. Leaders can map their “information ecosystems” using the Commission’s “Healthy Information Community” Checklist.

In the end, the Commission concludes, the “information issue” is everyone’s issue.  The Commission seeks to foster a nationwide dialogue on the issues it raises.  Anyone may join the discussion at  Twitter users can tweet at hash tag #knightcomm. “Informing Communities” also is available free on Amazon’s Kindle through December 2009.


The Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy, funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and organized by the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program, is the first major national commission to report on news and information in the digital age. It conducted a year-long study to assess the information needs of communities. It is comprised of 17 respected leaders from the fields of media, public policy and community organization, including co-chairs Theodore B. Olson and Marissa Mayer. Alberto Ibargüen, Knight Foundation president and CEO, and Walter Isaacson, Aspen Institute president and CEO, serving as ex-officio members. Peter M. Shane, the Davis and Davis Chair in Law at the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University, served as the Commission’s executive director.

The Commission held seven public forums and meetings in communities across the nation. It took testimony from more than 100 citizens: community organizers, educators, journalists from old and new media, labor leaders, technology engineers and strategists, entrepreneurs, futurists, public officials, policy analysts, economic consultants and community foundation representatives. With PBS Engage, it invited public input, using more than 1,100 recommendations to shape its final report. The report is at

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation advances journalism in the digital age and invests in the vitality of communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. Knight Foundation focuses on projects that promote community engagement and lead to transformational change. For more, visit

The Aspen Institute mission is twofold: to foster values-based leadership, encouraging individuals to reflect on the ideals and ideas that define a good society, and to provide a neutral and balanced venue for discussing and acting on critical issues. The Aspen Institute does this primarily in four ways: seminars, young-leader fellowships around the globe, policy programs, and public conferences and events. The Institute is based in Washington, DC, Aspen, CO, and on the Wye River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and has an international network of partners. For details, see


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