Part II: Commission Findings and Recommended Strategies
Local Nonprofits Can Also Perform Some Journalistic Functions New, low-cost communication tools have likewise enabled non-profit organizations to undertake journalistic activity in response to the decline in local news. Muhammed Chaudhry, the President and CEO of the Silicon Valley Education Foundation (SVEF), presented one example at the Commission’s September 8, 2008, forum in Mountain View, California. He related the evolution of his organization in terms that will likely sound familiar to other non-profits. Chaudhry described the difficult information landscape his organization confronts with regard to its core focus—public education. There are 33 separate school districts in Santa Clara County, 19 in San Jose alone. As a result, according to Mr. Chaudhry, “There is no cohesion of message on public schools in general regarding their challenges, successes, or needs. There is not one body, a clearinghouse, articulating, ‘Here’s what our schools need; here’s what our teachers need.’”
Through networked journalism, technology can enable a diffusion of the news-gathering functions, creating greater coverage of local affairs.
At the same time, according to Chaudhry, cutbacks have diminished local media’s coverage of schools. The San Jose Mercury News dropped from eight reporters covering education to three. As for television, “[t]here are four major networks that cover the entire Bay Area population, which now exceeds six million people,” he continued. “Providing strong localized coverage of our schools? Impossible.” Mr. Chaudhry then offered a brief snapshot of the information opportunity his organization saw amid its complex information ecology: If we want to engage citizens in the process of change in our education system, we must do three things: inform, inspire and involve. We must inform the public of the challenges and opportunities our schools face. We must inspire them to believe that there are real solutions to our education problems and that through their action, we can implement those solutions. Finally, we must involve the public into action on the information we are able to deliver to them.
The Report of the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy