The Right Conversation

Submitted by Mike Fancher on Mon, 01/04/2010 – 7:14amin

Journalism That Matters/Pacific Northwest is the right conversation, in the right place, at the right time, with the right people.

I say that because of work I’ve done in the past year with the Aspen Institute and the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy. The Commission identified three key objectives:

  1. Maximize the availability of relevant credible information to all Americans and their communities.
  2. Strengthen the capacity of individuals to engage with information.
  3. Promote individual engagement with information and the public life of the community.

It identified these central points that resonate with JTM/PNW:

  • The information health of a community is as important as good schools, safe streets, environmental quality and economic vitality. Healthy information flows help enable all of those other desirable qualities.
  • The financial challenge facing the news media in America could become a crisis for democracy. The loss of traditional media at the local level hampers citizens’ ability to have the information they need for their personal lives and for civic engagement. It lessens their ability to hold government accountable.
  • America needs “informed communities,” in which “journalism is abundant in many forms and accessible through many convenient platforms.”
  • This will require experimentation and will include for-profit, non-profit and public models. Universities, other community institutions and the public should participate in these experiments.

I would add a point that was emphasized this summer at an Aspen Institute forum on models for preserving American journalism: Thinking of news and information as an ecosystem creates a dynamic sense of what the public needs and how those needs might be met. This is precisely the framework of Journalism That Matters/Pacific Northwest.

JTM/PNW is the right pace and time because the Pacific Northwest has seen a heart-stopping loss of traditional journalistic resources in recent years, but it also has seen an exciting rise in new journalistic enterprises and inventive collaborations among traditional and emerging news media. This region is fertile ground for even more innovation and collaboration, as well as more public engagement.

JTM/PNW will convene citizens, editors, writers, broadcasters, bloggers, digital entrepreneurs, media activists, community journalists, public advocates and public-policy experts. These are the right people to make things happen.

We will gather to understand and map the emerging Northwest news ecology, with the hope of surfacing new partnerships and innovations to make it better. Instead of focusing on what has been lost, we can explore what is needed and how to create and sustain it. We can find insights about emerging relationships among journalism, communities and democracy. This is the right conversation.

I want to personally thank Microsoft, the Knight Foundation and the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute. Their support has made possible what I believe will be a groundbreaking gathering, as well as a model for other regions of the country.