Posts Tagged ‘wilson’

Knight Foundation Silicon Valley: Innovation vs. “The Future”

September 11, 2008

Editor’s note: This is being posted for Josh Wilson, one of the guest bloggers for this Commission event.

(Roundtable #3: Technology & Innovation)


We’re blogging to you live from the future, and it’s very exciting here!

I mean, we’re having this meeting at Google HQ, in the middle of Silicon Valley — the place embodies much of the hope and imagination for the future of our democracy, our economy and our world.

It is — or will be — better here in the future. As soon as we can figure out what it’s all about. As soon as we can figure out how and why people use information technology, we can build the perfect device that will seamlessly integrate their information needs with hyperpersonalized delivery mechanisms — speaking of which, can’t you wait until the iPhone costs as much as a transister radio?! — then everything will be fine.

The economy will grow robustly and sustainably, because in the future it will all be running on clean tech.

Deepening efficiencies will drive down costs — which means all the lower-rung workers who have been effectively organized by Raj Jayadev to join unions will be earning the wages necessary to fully engage with the immersive mediaweb through affordable wireless technology.

That’s the problem with the future. It’s look-at-the-stars solutions are indeed thrilling, but it’s ankle-deep in the mud of today.


Forget about the future. The future is not where it’s at. In the future, we are going to be in the exact same place that we are now — Planet Earth — but things are going to be worse. The climate is changing, the oil wells are drying up.

We can’t be living in the future, when there’s so much that needs innovation today.

Living in and for the future can bite you on the behind.

Panelist Chris O’Brien notes that the ambitious Mercury News project to “blow up the newsroom” and reinvent how a print paper navigates the new media economy was canceled in January.

Most of the folks guiding the project have, in fact, been let go, he told me over lunch.

Was this a vision of the future that simply didn’t match reality? Or did the great powers of the Merc’s parent company get cold feet? Was the approach too topheavy, too sweeping, or too half-hearted?

It would be fascinating to delve into the conflicted internal process that led to both the newsroom reinvention project and its cancellation.

The Merc’s misfire brings to mind the same sort generalized ambition but inadequate ground-level implementation that makes KQED — so well-financed and connected — paradoxically so out of step with the majority of the Bay Area’s diverse communities.

The problem is that these top-down enterprises, guided by the strategic goals and profit expectations of Wall Street and its satellites, may not be appropriate to the new media economy, which is massively decentralized, multisourced, and generally, from a content-production and -consumption perspective, non-cooperative with the monopoly production model.


Chris also noted that news media thrives when it is a center of innovation — which demands the question of what, exactly, are the conditions that encourage innovation?

Independence, for one thing.

All of the successful strategies and scenarios described by the panelists emphasized the ability of media producers and consumers alike to post and access material spontaneously, without the barriers erected by the traditional gatekeepers.

This is not about technology — it’s how people use it. It’s about the social phenomenon of technology. And therein lies the keys to innovation.

danah boyd, one of the Knight commissioners, noted the amazing success of local blogging and text-messaging around Hurricane Gustav in New Orleans, an unmediated phenomenon that occurred in an open information architecture without interference from monopoly gatekeepers.

She further elucidated the point by noting advocacy campaigns around specific legislative issues, in which interest groups mobilize their constituencies via cellphones and text messaging to spark a flurry of calls, emails and faxes aimed at key elected officials.

Holmes Wilson of the Participatory Culture Foundation is singing a similar tune with his Miro project, an online video platform that aims to “eliminate gatekeepers” and make everyone a content producer.

We are already seeing what this can do on the blogosphere — the achievements of which are considerable, and matched only by its excess.

As Amra Tareen of notes, most blogs don’t get read, which hearkens back to the initial panel’s concerns about the information glut — something that at once distracts from access to meaningful information, and fragments dialogue around it.

Her solution is to opportunistically merge media (Web, SMS, email, etc.) to produce up-to-the-minute coverage of news across the world.

Using some cool widgets, triangulates on topics, pulls together a variety of coverage, and represents it dynamically on a world map on the site’s home page. Click on an indicator, and you’ll wind up with a cluster of related stories and blog postings

This approach places all its eggs in the crowdsourcing basket, and it’s good that they’re taking the chance on it.

Whether it’s the solution remains to be seen — but it’s encouraging to see the money behind the media warming up to the idea of empowering producers and audiences, and appreciating them as interchangeable.


This is a key concept — that producers and audiences together can successfully guide access to and creation of relevant community information.

The relationship between the audience and the media outlet has inverted, also, to the detriment of the ad-sales department.

Mike McGuire, a research VP at Gartner and a mainstream media guy, pointed out that content really is king, and if so, why are the content producers the ones getting the short end of the stick?

Why not start cutting sales staff at the failing media outlets instead of reporters and editors?

He asked this and grinned, and the audience laughed, as well they should.

But it’s a serious question that has yet to be answered satisfactorily.

The State of the News Media 2008 report noted that increasingly, the newsroom is the place recognized as the wellspring of innovation in media companies — and the ad-sales departments are the ones most bogged down by the failed assumptions of the past.

What sort of innovation is required to make a future we can all live in?


Knight Silicon Valley: Local Media Fault Lines

September 8, 2008

Editor’s note: This is being posted for Josh Wilson, who is one of the guest bloggers today at the Knight Commission’s community forum at Google.

I want more from this panel. The fault lines and fragmentation of the
Bay Area’s media ecology have been made clear, but I’m not sure the
gaps can be bridged.

Linjun Fan of the Albany Today blog, and Raj Jayadev of Silicon Valley
De-Bug (a marvelous, youth-focused labor organizing project) — they
both did a marvelous job of defining and describing how new media has
radically empowered disadvantaged or undercapitalized communities.

In the former case, Fan’s blog fills a vital community information
needs in a town where, she says, there isn’t even a local paper of

I interviewed Jayadev myself many years ago on KUSF-FM, a San
Francisco community radio station, about the underground tactics his
group used to organize the janitors and assembly line workers in
Silicon Valley’s software mills.

Those stories were amazing — I still have the audio somewhere, and
will dig it up for the online archives — and his inclusion on the
Knight panel was astute, given his connection to the needs of the
starkly disenfranchised demographic of largely migrant laborers who do
the lowest-paid and least-fulfilling tasks of the information economy.

He represented those themes on the Knight panel — and like Fan, he
demonstrated how directly media empowerment can activate, engage and
even BUILD communities, particularly those that previously have been
cut off from the media circuitry.

At this point, however, the plate tectonics and fault lines come into play.


As Jim Bettinger of Stanford’s Knight Journalism Fellowship program
noted, fears about the decline of the professional, commercial news
industry remain acute.

And while new media is, clearly, a viable hope, its still hasn’t
overcome one major challenge: Its inability to support media economies
of the scale and comprehensiveness once expected of local daily papers.

Dave Satterfield, the managing editor of the San Jose Mercury News,
affirmed that dismal trend on the print side, by noting the ongoing
retreat of his paper’s reporting staff, as well as of the depth and
comprehensiveness of his local coverage.

He concluded his comments by essentially calling out for help,
restating the day’s oft-heard Dickens quotation that it is “the best
of times and the worst of times” for media and democracy in the Bay

His gloom was offset by George Sampson, the news and program director
of the local radio station KLIV, and quite bullish in that role.

Perhaps more at home in the lower-budget world of local information
radio, as opposed to the daily-print landscape of leveraged buyouts
and massive accompanying debt, Sampson spoke of hiring reporters who
grew up in the region, and who know all its quirks and crannies and
regional pronunciations.

Indeed, his take on “hyperlocal” journalism anchored the tradition of
extremely local coverage not in the still-emergent blogosphere, but in
the old-fashioned world of radio carrier frequencies, which is a damn
cheap medium that requires neither satellites nor fiber-optic and
cable infrastructure to effectively reach diverse communities within
very specific geographic regions.


Now, an extraordinary contrast is revealed. It is the fascinating to
consider the wide disparity between KQED, the foremost public
broadcasting outlet for the entire Bay Area, and a small station such

Linda O’Bryon, chief content office at KQED, spoke broadly about unmet
information needs, about activating ad covering interest groups with
the Bay Area, such as scientists, to educate and inspire the populace.

During the Q&A section she also asserted a deep interest in more
effectively reaching broad cross-sections of the Bay Area community as
well as drilling down into those communities and their subgroups.

My question is — can KQED fulfill this role? As a massively
centralized and massively traditional public media outlet, KQED is
remarkable for its paucity of relevance to the breadth and depth of
the Bay Area’s communities.

A scan of the nighty lineup on the TV station reveals little that
could appeal beyond the stereotype of the public-media donor.

A spin through the radio dial to the KQED call letters reveals the
usual array of wonky talk shows, some compelling indeed, but many
simply recirculating a usual-suspect circuit of commentators,
announcers and issues — all anchored by the ubiquitous, authoritative
but definitively remote, non-local and unaccountable voices of that
NPR capital ship, All Things Considered.

It’s NOT that these programs are irredeemiably aloof, or stodgily
missing the boat all the time.

Quite the contrary — there are times when you absolutely have to tune
in Michael Krasny’s Forum, to get the most vital and urgent
conversation on local issues.

But despite this, there’s a lack of stickiness to KQED’s programming
that simply will not serve to pull in and keep around people who don’t
already match, again, the NPR/PBS archetype.

All the funding in the world, all the high profile initiatives and
astute strategic planning matters not a whit if the Bay Area’s biggest
public-media dinosaur refuses to evolve, and make itself as relevant
to underserved communities as Fan’s and Jayadev’s projects have.


One of the panelists noted that new media is essentially
collaborative, and that the old, monopolist model of running a
commercial news operation may not be possible online, on the same
scale as the old print economy.

Bad news for the Merc!

And this may also be bad news for KQED. I’m told that of its $50
million annual budget, only $5 million is actually from donor pledges.

That funding gap is the embodiment of public media’s relevance
challenge. It speaks to me of a profound disconnect between the
organization and the bulk of the population it would serve.

It also represents a KQED’s opportunity — indeed, the opportunity for
any large-scale media outlet:

Make yourself relevant. Know your communities. Respect their needs.

Look across the informational schisms in your culture that separate
rich media from poor (or lower-budget anyway), and learn how the
communities represented by those media differ, and are similar.

Finally, there is the closing of the schism, which represents nothing
less than civic enfranchisement across communities.

The big media, the rich media, even as it struggles for profit and
relevance, needs to connect in meaningful ways to the producers of
local media — like Fan, like Jayadev, like Sampson — who have a
profound sense of place and demographic need.

As Jayadev noted, the Internet is a gateway drug for young people who
are hungry for relevant information about their lives — but the
technology itself is not the point. It’s just a tool.

The challenge before the Merc, before KQED, is to pay attention to
these needs, and respond to them in an an authentic fashion.

One audiencemember said that old media may need to simply absorb new
media, presumeably to make the most of what’s working online — video,
photo galleries, blogs, etc. — but it’s not just the tools and
widgets of new media that are succeeding.

It’s the simple, unadulterated relevance of messages delivered by
Albany Today, by Silicon Valley De-Bug, by the local commercial outlet

You can’t do that with a focus group. Market research will only get
you so far.

To really make the connection, you have to live in the communities,
immerse yourself in this life on the ground, and respect the issues
that don’t appeal as readily to your advertisers and big-ticket donors.

I just don’t know traditional media as it exists today can do that.

Knight Silicon Valley: Information Quality & Access

September 8, 2008

Editor’s note: This is being posted for Josh Wilson, who is one of our guest bloggers today.

The other major theme in panel #1 was the problematic access to, and inconsistent quality and relevance of, information sources in the community.

Muhammad Chaudhry noted the “Lack of quality content for local information needs” as well as an opportunity for new “partnerships to disseminate info at a local level”

He also identified emerging social media — Facebook et. al. — as a vital means of that dissemination, and admitted that it was only because of his younger colleagues at the Silicon Valley Education Foundation that he knew about or was able to use such platforms in the first place.

Thus we are reminded of the importance of those in established power positions to pay attention to what’s happening on the ground — particularly among youth, in this case.

It’s happening at your workplace among the junior staffers, in your neighborhood playgrounds and romper rooms, in your schools. Kids are using new media, and what they’re doing with it and learning from it is instructive.

Gates & Gatekeepers

Judy Nadler of Santa Clara University reminded us of the importance of having trained, humble and engaged reporters and editors in place who understand civic issues, such as local government and bond measures, and who can explain these issues to the community in a meaningful way, rather than gloss over or dumb down their coverage.

But it’s about more than having better gatekeepers. There’s also a gaping need for improved venues for civic gathering and dialogue.

Indeed, the question of such venues is the question of access, and thus we return to the issue of fragmentation, which impedes dialogue across communities.

Nadler called for “New ways to engage people. They don’t know what’s in their community.”

Chaudhry spoke about organizing people around interest areas, and “pulling them in” to coordinated information sources related to those interest — something Walesh affirmed in her description of information hubs (such as the multi-city arts listing service that can draw likeminded people to a central online location.

But is this true commnity?

Hammer of PACT says one major hurdle is that “there are very few informal associations between people,” and that “most people don’t know their neighbors.”

In other words, there are three major progress points to consider when addressing information quality and access:

* Improved training and education services for the intermediaries who produce and present the information in question
* Establishing, improving and coordinating/connecting outlets that are willing and able to publish and promote that information
* Creating new dialogue and social habits around that information, so that people are not disparate consumers, but rather engaged participants.

Knight Silicon Valley: Communities and Fragmentation

September 8, 2008

Editor’s note: This is being posted for Josh Wilson, one of the guest bloggers at the Community Forum held today at Google.

The initial panel was broadly focused on the topic of “unmet community information needs,” and showcased a diverse set of speakers, from local union and community organizers to city strategists, academics and community foundation leaders.

Chava Bustamante, a former SEIU coordinator, opened the discussion with a telling, if informal, experiment to identify where people are from.

“How many of you here were born in another country?” he asked. A handful of hands were raised — his own included.

“Howbout from another state?”

This time the response is overwhelming. Every hand, virtually, is raised.

“Now,” he says, with a bit of a grin, “How many of you are from here, from Mountain View, and went to the local high school?”

Not a hand was raised. Bustamante, a 40-year resident of the area, admitted that he himself was born in Mexico City, and came to America pursuing a dream of a better life.

“We are all strangers,” he said, and despite our individual and collective achievements as resettled natives of other places, his comment makes me wonder: Have we truly become natives of this new place, the San Francisco Bay Area, where we all live together, if we barely know each other?

This theme comes up again and again as all the other speakers take their turn.

There are neighborhoods, there are families, there are subgroups and subcultures and special interests — but what is it that brings us together?

More specifically, how can we engineer a communication infrastructure that can unite the divergent communities of Silicon Valley and the greater Bay Area ?

Emmet Carson of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation spoke frankly on the overabundance of information sources — “too many,” he says — that enables people to pick and choose news and information according to their interests, and in doing so cut themselves off from relevant information outside of their specific “personalized” daily news feed.

“What’s useful to the individual is not always good for the common good and for all of democracy,” he noted.

While he expressed fondness for the an earlier era, when there were fewer, more narrowly focused news sources that spoke to a more broad civic agenda, he acknowledged that the old information economy did systematically exclude so many voices, including women, immigrant communities, etc.

“How do we blend and link all these diverse information channels?” he asked.

Abundant information technology is fine, but it requires us to conceive of new ways to “validate it and create discussions around it.”

He notes that this conversation is not something that takes place solely in the virtual environment, but rather, “it’s a place of personal participation.”

This theme of non-virtual engagement — of people coming together directly, in real life and outside of the technological circuit, and crossing the fragmented boundaries of our self-selecting, self-segregating information society — came up repeatedly.

In other words, what’s needed are physical gathering places to anchor the diverse conversations and inquiries of the many communities that make up a city, a county, a neighborhood, an geographical region.

According to Judy Nadler, one of the Knight panelists and an ethics fellow at Santa Clara University, that gathering place is the public library, which she described as “the new community information center.”

It was a resonant comment that anchored the high-flying ideals of the technological utopians to an earlier ideal of the public sector as a wellspring of civic engagement.

Public libraries embody both local commitment to public participation and access to information, and, thanks to Mr. Andrew Carnegie, are rooted in older American tradition of philanthropy in support of civic engagement and information self-sufficiency.

It’s unlikely, however, that libraries alone can heal the fragmentation between and within our communities — but the panelists have plenty of ideas about what else will be required.

Matt Hammer of People Acting in Community Together (PACT) spoke of the importance of getting “understandable information in the hands of lots of regular people, to help seemingly intractable problems get resolved.”

Kim Walesh, the chief strategist for the City of San Jose, described a variety of innovative municipal programs focused on engaging the “under-35 set” … and “connect the dots between young people and civic issues.”

The conversation turned at one point between media that “pushes” at people — direct mailers, for example, or traditional broadcast — and one can’t help but wonder about the value of some of that push media, which is often focused on advertisements and commerce, rather than civic information needs.

That tension, between “pushing” information at people, and “pulling” them towards civic information they need to see, remains a strategic challenge.

Each speaker presented such a diverse array of needs, methods and ideas about building and serving community, one can’t help but recall Emmet Carson’s dilemma of having too much information in the first place.

How do the threads come together? What is the weave by which we knit together this diverse, divergent democracy of ours?

Knight Foundation Silicon Valley: Set & Setting

September 8, 2008

Editor’s note: This is being posted for Josh Wilson, one of our guest bloggers today at Google.

It’s an overcast Monday morning in the Bay Area, even down here in one of the most economically upbeat corners of America — Google HQ, in Mountain View, Calif., not far from the Shoreline Amphitheater.

The famed Googleplex is like walking around a giant college quadrant. It hearkens back to visiting a pal at MIT once upon a time, the architecture open and breezy and brightly colored, the interiors done up like a series of playrooms for brilliant pre-teens gifted with the world’s biggest box of Lego or Tinker Toys.

On my way down to to this event, I am struck by the diverse information services and stark social contrasts I experience en route.

* I logged on the night before to reserve a car through San Francisco City Carshare, and printed out directions via Google Maps.
* That morning I scanned for updates on local news and issues, but learned little about where I live, or the South Bay communities I was headed towards. The headlines were all about Hollywood, and sports, and local sensational crime, and the evicted tree sitters over at Berkeley.
* Cruising the highway as the morning rush hour flowed and pulsed, I listened to KFJC 89.7 FM, an LPFM radio station out of Foothills Junior College that specializing in unusual and noncommercial music, particularly of the local variety.
* On the way, their public service announcements informed me about an art space in San Jose, Space 47, that besides sounding genuinely groovy, made me realize there is a thriving, self-starting cultural community in Silicon Valley that is largely cut off from the main information circuitry of the region.
* My Google map is rife with wrong turns. I get stuck behind impatient commuters leaving the tree-lined boulevards of their Palo Alto suburban enclaves, make a few more wrong turns and like magic wind up the markedly lower-income city of East Palo Alto.
* Here, the buildings are not shiny, nor new, and are usually concerned with cheap food and automobile repair rather than software development and online commerce. This transition is abrupt, approximately 30 seconds total of driving time. I do a u-turn and finally spot the Four Seasons hotel that is my primary landmark, perched exactly between the two cities, gleaming like a beacon, guiding me back to the information superhighway.

Localized information sources CAN serve community needs … but only up to a point.

Information on about that San Jose art space is probably not turning up too often in the Mercury News. Those local bands on KFJC are most likely not getting reviewed in the major metropolitan newspapers of the region.

Similarly, I found a disconnect between what the panelists brought together by Knight are asking for, and what local media are providing.

In the following posts, I’ll identify some of those specifics.

But the question remains: What next?

Now, having learned specifically what communities — or at least some of the diverse communities of Silicon Valley and the Bay Area — are looking for, how will our media landscape change, here, to fulfill democracy’s articulated but unmet needs?

Welcome to the Knight Commission Blog

September 8, 2008

This is a new blog of the Knight Commission on Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy, one of four Knight Foundation media initiatives. The Commission is 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.

We’ll feature commentary from guest bloggers, and the first bloggers, Josh Wilson and Kristie Wells, will begin by updating from the town hall Commission sessions Monday, September 8, 2008 on the Google campus.

Questions? Thoughts? Let us know in the comments.