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Community Information Needs Assessment Project -- Williamstown, Mass.

January 26, 2010 / Williamstown, Mass., Town Hall / 7:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m.



John Albano, Richard Taskin, Moira Jones, Gail Burns, David Scribner, Ray Rodriguez, Dawn Rodriguez, Patrick Dunleavy, Ben Greenfield, Jeff Vander Clute, Deb Dane, Suzanne Dewey, Bill Densmore


  1. Can we audio record for public posting? (this was agreed by unanimous consent)
  2. Who’s in the room and what do we want to learn/accomplish?
  3. Time check – How long shall we take?
  4. What are community’s info needs? Are they being met?
    (Knight Commission background)
  5. Discussion


  1. Bill Densmore – Overview of Newshare Commons
  2. David Scribner – What will Newshare Commons do? Who will be involved? How will it be sustained? THE PHYSICAL
  3. Jeff Vander Clute – What is the ONLINE component of Newshare Commons?
  4. FEEDBACK: Can Newshare Commons provide a useful service?
  5. How do we involve the community, and existing media?
  6. Next steps?

Session notes will be posted at:

Knight Commission background

The importance of small towns, not just major cities, holding meetings to assess their information needs in a digital age was recommended by the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a report released last year (downloadable from ). Physical copies of the report will be available free to the public at the Bennington library several days before the meeting but a key excerpt may be downloaded from:

A sharp drop in revenues and numbers of reporters at major U.S. newspapers was a key factor prompting the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to establish the commission in 2008 and ask that its members hold hearings and report on the state of America's civic media. The commission was co-chaired by a key executive of Google Inc. and a former U.S. solicitor general. It included media, government, academic, business and public representatives, including a librarian.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation establish the commission in 2008 and ask that its members hold hearings and report on the state of America's civic media. The commission was co-chaired by a key executive of Google Inc. and a former U.S. solicitor general. It included media, government, academic, business and public representatives, including a librarian.

The Knight Foundation contracted with a prestigious "think tank" -- the Washington, D.C.-based Aspen Institute, to manage a series of public hearings and to help write the commission's 118-page report, "Informing Communities: Sustaining Democracy in the Digital Age."

The commission report recommends that America's communities seek to (1) maximize availability of relevant and credible information (2) strengthen capacity of individuals to engage with information; and (3) promote individual engeagement with inforamtion and the public life of the community.

Many actions proposed

The commission's executive director, Ohio University Prof. Peter Shane, lists 100 actions which could be taken by lawmakers, regulators, foundations, libraries, schools, colleges, local governments, media, civic organizations, companies and citizens to implement the group's 15 core recommendations.

In the report, for example, Shane says schools should be teaching students to interpret and evaluation what is presented to them as news, and helpin students to develop digital and media skills enabling them to communicate their ideas and engage with networks.

Shane says local governments should assess their information environments, fund groups providing public digital-media instruction, ensure schools permit the practice of journalism by students and stage community summits.


Participants reviewed the healthy community parameters, below, and the 15 Knight Commission recommendations and discussed.

What is healthy community?

The report itself finds that a community is a healthy, democratic, informed community when:

  • People have convenient access to both civic and life-enhancing information, without regard to income or social status.
  • Journalism is abundant in many forms and accessible through many convenient platforms.
  • Government is open and transparent.
  • People have affordable high-speed Internet service wherever and whenever they want and need it.
  • Digital and media literacy are widely taught in schools, public libraries and other community centers.
  • Technological and civic expertise is shared across the generations.
  • Local media -- including print, broadcast, and online media -- reflect the issues, events, experiences and ideas of the entire community.
  • People have a deep understanding of the role of free speech and free press rights in maintaining a democratic community.
  • Citizens are active in acquiring and sharing knowledge both within and across social networks.
  • People can assess and track changes in the information health of their communities.


  • An infrastructure exists for constructive, civic problem solving.

What the Knight Commission recommended

Here are the 15 recommendations made by the Knight Commission on Oct. 2 of last year:
1. Direct media policy toward innovation, competition and support for business models that provide marketplace incentives for quality journalism.

2. Increase support for public-service media aimed at meeting community information needs.

3. Increase the role of higher education, community and nonprofit institutions as hubs of journalistic activity and other information-sharing for local communities.

4. Require government at all levels to operate transparently, facilitate easy and low-cost access to public records, and make civic and social data available in standardized formats that support productive public use.

5. Develop systematic quality measures of community information ecologies, and study how they affect social outcomes.

6. Integrate digital and media literacy as critical elements of education at all levels through collaboration among federal, state and local education officials.

7. Fund and support public libraries and other community institutions as centers of digital and media training, especially for adults.

8. Set ambitious standards for nationwide broadband availability and adopt public policies encouraging consumer demand for broadband services.

9. Maintain the national commitmenet to open networks as a core objective of Internet policy.

10. Support the activities of information providers to reach local audiences with quality content through all appropriate media, such as mobile phones, radio, public-access cable and new platforms.

11. Expand local media initiatives to refelct the full reality of the communities they represent.

12. Engage young people in developing the digital information and communication capacities of local communities.

13. Empower all citizens to participate actively in community self-governance, including local "community summits" to address community affairs and pursue common goals.

14. Emphasize community information flow in the dsign and enhancement of a local community's public spaces.

15. Ensure that every local community has at least one high-quality online hub.

TAKING STOCK: Are you a healthy information community?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Here is an excerpt from the Knight Commission report on assessing the information needs of a community.

No one has developed a system for scientifically measuring the quality of a local community's information environment. But communities can begin to take stock of their information environments by considering the following eight features that the Knight Commission report stresses as elements of a healthy information community:
1. A majority of government information and services online, accessible through a central and easy to use portal including things like: Driver license and vehicle registration information, tax information, social services and contact information for government officials.

2. A local government with a committed policy on transparency: Are documents publicly available and understandable? Are they easy to obtain and promptly released under appropriate freedom of information laws? Is government operating in the sunshine?

3. Quality journalism exists through local newspapers, local television and radio stations, and online sources. Are they economically healthy and robust, providing high-quality civic information as well as life-supporting information? Is there a diversity of viewpoints and competitive choice?

4. Citizens with effective opportunities to have their voices heard and to affect public policy. Are there civic organizations prepared to transform information into active civic engagement and public policy engagement? Is there opportunity for public comment on proposed policies and expenditures? Are there online channels for expressing views and concerns? Does the community have regular summits and town meetings to inform and engage the community in civic issues?

5. A vibrant public library, or other public center for information that provides digital resources and professional assistance. Does the community have public spaces available to all that provide easy access to Internet content as well as traditional sources material, such as newspapers, periodicals and books?

6. Ready access to information that enhances quality of life, including information provided by trusted intermediary organizations in the community on a variety of subjects, including: Health - Education resources - Employment - Social services - Public transit - Emergency services - Arts and Entertainment.

7. Local schools have computer and high-speed Internet access, as well as curricula that support digital and media literacy. Are kids trained to use the modern digital tools to learn, to produce content, and to coordinate and organize activity? This is digital literacy. Are kids trained to question the validity of online material, develop a critical eye, perceive and protect themselves from dangerous situations, and appreciate the dictates of journalistic integrity? This is media literacy.

8. High-speed Internet is available to all citizens. Does local and state government promote development of and access to a telecommunications infrastructure that gives easy and affordable access to services and information found primarily on-line or digitally? Are these services, including high speed Internet access, available in the home, in schools and in other public institutions? Are there choices of service providers? Wireless and wireline communications and Internet services are valuable and offer different experiences. Are both available?