Collaboration in Civic Spheres

WSU report: state needs citizen journalism networks, training

by Matt Rosenberg June 16th, 2012

A new report issued by Washington State University’s Murrow College of Communication calls for creation and training of citizen blogger networks across the state, allied with daily newspapers and funded by foundations – in an effort to transform Washington’s “rural information ghetto.”

It recommended that the Murrow College take the lead in allying varied stakeholders to “bolster rural news reporting” in Washington and “increase awareness of and access to high-speed broadband.” The Murrow College in the report proposes three related initiatives.

  • There would be an annual assessment of the the health of news media, news awareness and broadband penetration, called the Murrow News Barometer.
  • A second piece would be an initiative to enhance awareness of the potential of digital networks and content to grow engagement in public life. It would be directed to state legislators and local policymakers, and would “encourage digital literacy in rural areas.”
  • A third and cornerstone piece of the strategy recommended in the WSU Murrow College report is creation of The Washington Rural News Consortium to help build partnerships between legacy media and citizen reporters. This could include journalism training, plus an attempt to gradually replicate around the state the approach of the Seattle Times’ News Partners Network in allying with hyperlocal and topic-focused bloggers. Another component of the consortium strategy could be “funding from a combination of community, regional and national foundations, along with news organization partners,” the report states.

  • Titled “Access,  Digital  Citizenship  and  the  Obligations of  the  Washington State Information Sector,” the report built on key points highlighted by the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in 2010. These were:

  • the need to maximize relevant and credible information to citizens and their communities;
  • and to promote and build capacity for individuals to engage with information and the public life of the community.

  • The new, WSU report was issued by the Founding Dean of the Murrow College, Lawrence Pintak, a Middle East scholar and longtime journalist for CBS, ABC and the San Francisco Chronicle. It resulted from a statewide roundtable on rural broadband penetration and the news landscape of rural Washington, held at WSU’s main campus in Pullman, Wash. in early April. Against the backdrop of changes and challenges affecting the news industry, the session was summarized in the document by Murrow College professor and former Seattle Times reporter Benjamin Schors. Funded by the Carnegie Corporation, the six-hour symposium included more than two dozen participants – telecommunications and newspaper executives, academic experts on journalism and communications, bloggers, citizen advocates, librarians, state government officials, non-profit leaders and technologists.

    Some roundtable participants such as Becky Dickerson, the publisher of the hard-copy Community Current in St. John, Wash. (Web site), and Kerry Swanson, station manager for Northwest Public Radio, also accented the importance of individual donations and philanthropy to news outlets. For some legacy media print outlets, pay walls are stating to look more attractive. Roundtable panelist Gary Graham, editor of the Spokane Spokesman-Review, said that paper would be moving to a metered, pay model this year.

    Summarizing the roundtable session in the report, Shors writes that worsening revenues for major metro dailies shrunk their geographic reach and many radio stations that used to cover local news have converted to news-light or news-free programming under new conglomerate ownership. The result for the Evergreen State, Shors says, is that “more and more citizens are relying on a smaller and smaller press corps at legacy media outlets and increasingly vast sectors of the state have no journalistic boots on the ground. Ongoing layoffs threaten to further undermine access to news and information in Washington communities, where even in the best economic times countless communities went uncovered by the news media.”

    The result for the Evergreen State, Shors says, is that “more and more citizens are relying on a smaller and smaller press corps at legacy media outlets and increasingly vast sectors of the state have no journalistic boots on the ground. Ongoing layoffs threaten to further undermine access to news and information in Washington communities, where even in the best economic times countless communities went uncovered by the news media.”

    The explosion of citizen-generated Web content nationally hasn’t resulted in more and better news and information for many local communities, according to a survey presented in the WSU report by Murrow College professors Douglas Blanks Hindman and Michael Beam. Integrating their Washington state results with 2011 national findings from the Pew Center for the People and the Press, they found rural residents are significantly less engaged in finding and using online news and information, compared to non-rural residents, because there is so much less of it targeted to them.

    They conclude, in part: “The multiplicity of of national-level sources of news, such as cable news channels, political blogs, and Twitter feeds, creates the impression of a larger news hole; however, the content filling that hole tends to be a repetitive stream of accounts of national-level political maneuvering, crisis-oriented coverage of national and international events, or videotapes of fires, crimes and disasters. What is missing is news affecting the lives of citizens at the local level.”

    UPDATE: This guest op-ed summarizing the report, authored by Murrow College’s Founding Dean Lawrence Pintak, was published in The Seattle Times.

    RELATED:

    Links to audio recording of Roundtable, in six parts, courtesy of Northwest Public Radio

    FCC: Philanthropy, Non-profits, Transparency Key To Fill Local News Gaps,” Public Data Ferret, 6/9/11

    Federal Communications Commission: Broadband And Civic Engagement,” Public Data Ferret, 3/25/10


    DISCLOSURE and DISCLAIMER: Matt Rosenberg was a participant in the roundtable and is quoted in the report. This article is his own characterization of the report and is not intended to represent that of any other entity. Public Data Ferret is part of the Seattle Times News Partner Network, referenced in the report.


    Public Data Ferret is a news knowledge base program of the Seattle-based 501c3 public charity, Public Eye Northwest. Ferret In The News. Donate; subscribe (free)/volunteer.

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