Community Engagement

The Right to Bear Cameras

July 29, 2010
Photo Credit: Jennifer Boyer

Since freedom of the press is the foundation that American news outlets are built on, we all know that the First Amendment is sacrosanct to this country’s journalists. However, there are a few situations that test the limits of this freedom, and one of these situations has been in the news recently. Though it traditionally falls under the protections of the First Amendment, photography occupies that ambivalent space where cameras can be wielded by both journalists and private citizens with potentially harmful intent. It’s the latter group that leads to conflict between law enforcement officials and camera-toting individuals and frames the debate over security and freedom of the press in the incongruous terms of the Second Amendment.

But in the modern information society, the camera is not a weapon; on the contrary, it’s increasingly the main tool of citizen journalists in their effort to spread information. The easiest way that an average person can contribute to the news ecosystem—one of the prime opportunities for civic engagement—might be to take just one picture. As we pointed out earlier this month, this is how citizen journalism first took off.

But not everyone is happy to let your average American snap photos in public areas, even if it is for the good of the community.

Community Media Centers Support Broadband Adoption

July 16, 2010
Publication Image

By Bill Densmore and Colin Rhinesmith

In the first of our two-part recap of this month’s Alliance for Community Media conference, we observed the growing trend towards online media that’s taken hold of PEG access centers. Participants at the conference also found, though, that this media convergence is not without its risks. At the “Creating Hyperlocal Journalism in Diverse Communities” panel, Ron Cooper of Access Sacramento noted that there is a high percentage of non-users of the Internet in diverse communities in Sacramento. He believes Access Sacramento’s key to reaching them is focusing on diversity and youth culture and opening "hyperlocal news bureaus" in libraries and other spaces.

PEG Access TV Embraces Online Journalism as Funding Uncertainty Grows

July 16, 2010
Photo credit: Davis Access Media

By Bill Densmore and Colin Rhinesmith

With the nation's non-profit public-access television services often unable to count on a reliable stream of government-enforced funding from the cable industry, many are beginning to embrace the Internet and even journalism training as ways to further their public-service mission. The change is spurred by two counterbalancing trends. On the one hand, large cities such as Los Angeles and Las Vegas have pulled the plug on funding for public-access cable services. On the other hand, the plunging cost and easy use of web-based video technology is making it easier for the services that remain to embrace an entirely new method for delivering citizen-generated multimedia and information to mobile- and web-enabled citizens.

How the Local News Survived the D.C. Earthquake of 2010

July 16, 2010
Photo Credit:

Recent natural and human-inflicted disasters, such as the Haiti earthquake and the BP oil spill, have emphasized the importance of up-to-the-minute information when catastrophic situations can change at a moment’s notice. In the Washington, D.C. area, there were none of the brutal consequences suffered in Haiti and the Gulf when a 3.6 magnitude earthquake hit at 5:04 a.m. today.

Yet there is much of the same urgent need to find and share information, and digital media tools have played a key part in providing the answers to area residents’ questions this morning.

Digital District: Local News and Online Media Access in Washington

Wednesday, July 28, 2010 - 5:00pm

When the Media Policy Initiative hosted an event Wednesday evening on local news and online media in our home base of Washington, D.C., the event was, for lack of a better phrase, a community affair. After an introduction by NAF Media Policy Initiative Research Associate Kara Hadge, NAF President and veteran journalist Steve Coll moderated an engaging panel discussion and Q&A session with four panelists drawn from all areas—both geographical and journalistic—of the District. However, the definition of a “community” in the D.C.

Catering to the Citizen as Consumer

July 14, 2010
Photo Credit: jurno (Flickr)
When first appeared on the scene, I didn’t immediately realize its appeal. I only converted when I discovered the site’s supreme convenience (amazing return policy) and ease of use (massive amounts of well organized information).  This sort of effortlessness is what most people have now come to expect in their experience as consumers on the Internet. This expectation  is no longer limited (if it ever was) to purely material consumption: Citizens now expect similar ease in engaging with government websites.

Open Data Pointers from the Pitch

July 9, 2010
Photo Credit: Screenshot from The Guardian World Cup 2010 Twitter Replay
After an extended period of frenzied fútbol fandom, this weekend marks the conclusion of the 2010 World Cup, as storied Spain takes the field on Sunday against the seemingly invincible Orange. Yet the pitch wasn’t the only place where this year’s World Cup proceedings played out over the past weeks, even months, of worldwide soccer mania.
Many of America’s most well-respected news outlets have offered the public World Cup blogs—from The New York Times’s Goal: The 2010 World Cup to The Washington Post’s Soccer Insider to The New Republic’s blog GoalPost—ranging in tone from the serious to the decidedly lighthearted. PBS NewsHour has attempted to compile a list of several online sources for World Cup coverage, and even a government professor at my alma mater got into the fray. Over a month ago Cornell professor Christopher Anderson launched, a blog devoted to the statistical analysis of the beautiful game.

Cell Phone Scoops: Revisiting the Camera Phone's Role in Citizen Journalism

July 8, 2010
Photo credit: Alexander Chadwick

In the face of danger, human nature may dictate a fight-or-flight response, but mobile technology has created a new reflex: point and shoot. This week marks the 5-year-anniversary of the 7/7 bombings that shook London’s mass transit system, a tragedy that, in addition to its cultural and geopolitical consequences, helped formulate a new understanding of what it means for the world to witness the immediate aftermath of catastrophe. Cell phone photos taken by survivors—average citizens—have had consequences that few could have predicted: July 7, 2005, was one of the pivotal moments in the development of citizen journalism as a legitimate, continually evolving part of the modern media landscape. 

Unpacking Open Source Government

June 25, 2010

Guest post by Colleen Kaman

It’s become increasingly apparent that efficient, transparent public institutions require citizens who are able to navigate the complexities of a data-driven society. Last week, I attended two sessions that grappled with the need for more accessible, innovative data projects. The first, the “Data into Action” plenary, was part of the Future of News and Civic Media conference at MIT. The second was the two-day Putting It All Together workshop, the last of a series of brainstorming sessions exploring how to systematically “open source” the law. Both emphasized the need to replicate locally successful open data projects in new locations and broader contexts.

Lawrence Lessig Bolsters Open Government in Raleigh

June 24, 2010
Photo credit: easement (Flickr)

Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig was in North Carolina earlier this week on behalf of Common Cause, a national political reform organization with chapters across the country, to build support for his Change Congress campaign. His work and that of his host organizations in Raleigh illustrate the power and necessity of watchdog institutions to maintain government transparency. At a time of great concern over the fallout of the U.S.

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