The Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy is a 15-member commission of luminaries assembled to recommend both public and private measures that would help American communities better meet their information needs.

A well-informed citizenry is critical to democracy. News, journalism and other information conduits play a central role in informing society. Yet, at a time when the problems facing American communities are arguably unprecedented in number, scope and complexity, the nation’s news and information systems, both commercial and not-for-profit, are in the midst of a technological revolution that is dramatically changing flows of news and information.

The digital revolution is driving this new look at the role of news and information in our society. As the Hutchins Commission did in the 1940s, and the Kerner and Carnegie Commissions did in the 1960s, this Knight Commission will formulate a national agenda calculated to improve the flow of news and information in the nation’s communities. The Commission’s research-based work will focus on three large questions:

  • What are the information needs of communities in our American democracy?
    The Commission will identify short- and long-term community needs for information. We are concerned with news and information “in the public interest,” intelligence that helps communities and their leaders face their 21st century challenges.
  • What are the current trends affecting how community information needs are met?
    Are media, including commercial, nonprofit, and governmental, meeting today’s information needs of communities? In what ways is the information sector falling short?
  • What changes will ensure that community information needs will be better met in the future?
    Are there new ways of thinking about our information environment that, once implemented, would increase the flow of news and information in the public interest? Can we unleash American’s power to innovate in this field, engaging the private, public and nonprofit sectors?

The Commission is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and organized by the Aspen Institute. It will be jointly coordinated by the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program, directed by Charles M. Firestone, and the Knight Foundation’s Journalism Program, directed by Eric Newton. Walter Isaacson, president and CEO of the Aspen Institute, and Alberto Ibargüen, president and CEO of the Knight Foundation, will serve as ex-officio members of the commission.

The Commission will be co-chaired by former U.S. Solicitor General, Ted Olson, and Vice President of Search Product and User Experience at Google, Marissa Mayer. The Commission’s additional 13 members will include prominent leaders from the fields of business, communications, politics, higher education, and general community organizations. To support the Commission’s work, the Aspen Institute will constitute an Advisory Group of leaders from within and beyond the academy in communications, journalism, media studies, public opinion research, law, political science, business, economics, sociology, social work, and other fields, who will help implement the Commission’s research agenda.

Peter Shane is executive director of the Commission, which is expected to complete its report in 2009. Shane is the Jacob E. Davis and Jacob E. Davis II Chair in Law, and Director of the Project on Law and Democratic Development at the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.

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. The 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. Its seminars, policy programs, conferences and leadership development initiatives seek to promote nonpartisan inquiry and timeless values. The Institute is headquartered in Washington, D.C., with campuses in Aspen, Colo., 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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