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Civic Communication

Welcome to the Civic Communication section of CPN. Our essays provide an overview of civic communication including the public journalism movement.and the development of electronic networking as a tool for community problem solving.

Civic Perspectives

Citizenship Schools in the Information Age: Building a Civic Practices Network (1994)
by Carmen Siriani, Lewis Friedland, and Douglas Schuler

Civic Journalism: A New Approach to Citizenship (1994).
An introductory essay.
by Lewis A. Friedland, Jay Rosen, Lisa Austin

Civic Journalism: Rebuilding the Foundations of Democracy (1996).
A definition. Published in Civic Partners, a journal of the Pew Partnership for Civic Change. by Edward M. Fouhy

Community Networks: Building a New Participatory Medium (1994)
by Douglas Schuler

Creating Public Space in Cyberspace: The Rise of the New Community Networks (1995) by Douglas Schuler

Getting the Connections Right: Public Journalism and the Troubles in the Press (1996). Published by the Twentieth Century Fund, this monograph provides an extensive account of public journalism's origins, philosophy, case studies, and current debates.
by Jay Rosen

Stories & Case Studies

Akron Beacon Journal, "A Question of Color". The Beacon-Journal's five-part project "A Question of Race" won the Pulitzer Prize for public service in April 1994. Reporting centered around focus group discussions among blacks and whites. During the series, the newspaper invited area organizations to establish pilot projects to address race relations and invited readers to pledge to fight racism. By mid 1994, an estimated 10,000 area residents were involved in some kind of effort to improve local race relations. Case study plus.

Boulder Daily Camera, "Project 2000, Rethinking Boulder". In 1990, the Daily Camera convened 32 leaders from five area communities to discuss and prioritize pressing common problems, with input from more than 2,000 readers. Each week in early 1991, the newspaper ran a report focusing on possible solutions. In late 1993, a reporting project called "Rethinking Boulder" looked at several of these issues again. During and after publication, the paper convened three town-meeting forums in which participants discussed growth issues. Case study plus.

Bradenton Herald, "Community Voices: Search for A Superintendent". When the local school superintendent retired, the Herald focused conversations about problems in the school system with an outreach project. The paper invited interested citizens to the paper to talk and sent reporters to hold extended conversations in "places where public opinion bubbles up"—including church and PTO meetings. Concurrently, the school board launched a national superintendent search and established a citizen advisory panel to nominate and interview the top candidates. Case study plus.

Bremerton Sun. The Bremerton Sun has organized a series of civic journalism projects on the issues of economic diversification, growth management, and open space preservation. A theme running through all of the case studies is the newspaper's focus on facilitating and supporting citizen and community involvement in public decision-making processes. Case study plus.

Cape Cod News, "Cape Cod Agenda". After eliciting and publishing local residents' top concerns, the Cape Cod Times held four public meetings across the cape, attended by more than 600 people. Discussions centered on actions officeholders and policy makers should take on five top issues. The paper plans to build the concerns raised into regular government coverage, and to establish new beats if necessary to adequately address the issues raised by citizens. Case study plus.

Charlotte Observer. In one of the most extensive civic journalism initiatives in the country, the Charlotte Observer has tackled citizens' concerns about education, the legislature, neighborhood crime, and the 1992 presidential campaign. As the case studies show, the paper has connected with the community by focusing on solutions-oriented reporting, and the "citizens' agenda." Case study plus.

Chicago Sun Times, "Chicago Public Schools: At the Crossroads". The Sun-Times dispensed with its traditional aloofness to participate in a schools "summit" in collaboration with the Chicago PBS affiliate and local foundations. The paper provided front-page coverage for three days, including background features and "what to watch for" guides. Case study plus.

Children's Express News Service. For almost 20 years, Children's Express has enabled children and teens to participate actively in dialogues about youth issues—homelessness, poverty and violence, sibling rivalries, teen pregnancy, foster care and institutional abuse, drugs and alcoholic parents—bringing the voices, experiences and concerns of young people to adult and youth audiences through newspapers, books, radio and television, hearings and symposia. Throughout much of that time, Children's Express has also urged the adult news media to provide more and better coverage of vital issues affecting children and teens and to use youth voices in stories about their issues. Case study plus.

Civic Journalism: Six Case Studies. A joint report by the Pew Center for Civic Journalism and The Poynter Institute for Media Studies (1995) that provides in-depth descriptions and analyses of civic journalism projects in Charlotte, N.C., Madison, Wis., Tallahassee, Fla., Boston, Mass., San Francisco, Calif., and Seattle, Wash., along with a short introduction to the collection and civic journalism as a whole. Case study plus.

Individual case studies:

    "Taking Back Our Neighborhoods." In the award-winning "Taking Back our Neighborhoods/Carolina Crime Solutions" initiative, the newspaper partnered with television and radio in an ambitious project that went far beyond traditional crime coverage and into the neighborhoods most affected by violence. The community response has been overwhelming. Case study plus.

    "Public Agenda." In one of the country's most complex exercises in civic journalism, "The Public Agenda" project has elected to focus not on an election or a single issue, but rather has sought to launch ongoing community dialogues on all elections and issues that affect the community. Case study plus.

    "We the People". Whether using citizen caucuses or citizen juries, inviting citizens to interrogate gubernatorial candidates or listen to "closing arguments" of state Supreme Court candidates, "We the People, Wisconsin" has bypassed formulaic journalism and given citizens creative ways to interact with politicians and with each other. Case study plus.

    Boston Globe, "The People's Voice". "The People's Voice" was an experiment in giving citizens an active role in political campaigns. Like most experiments, it had hits, misses and lessons. But the idea survived to be tried again in the 1996 presidential campaign. Case study plus.

    San Francisco Chronicle, "Voice of the Voter". The "Voice of the Voter" had several high-water marks. It enabled several thousand readers, listeners and viewers to participate in the election. It used the power of the press to force political candidates to listen - and respond - to what the people had to say. And it gave birth to a newspaper-led voter registration drive. Case study plus.

    Seattle Times, "Front Porch Forums". In the "Front Porch Forum," the media partners built a veritable front porch where residents could talk to political candidates and to each other and where a poll picked up unexpected anxieties about the future of the family and affordable housing.

Civic Lessons: Report on Four Civic Journalism Projects. This 25-page report (1997) discusses the lessons of civic journalism projects in Madison, Wisconsin; Charlotte, North Carolina; San Francisco, California; and Binghamton, New York, with a focus on their impacts on communities and newsrooms. Case study plus.

Columbia Missourian, Community Knowledge Project. A joint pilot project tests the feasibility, impact and implications of cooperative news coverage by the daily newspaper, network-affiliated TV and public radio. Surveys and focus groups tested citizen priorities on issue coverage. Using results, editors selected topics for parallel coverage in all three media,with each outlet promoting the coverage of other media. Following a month of reports on a topic, citizen awareness is measured with surveys designed to measure the effectiveness of the coverage. Case study plus.

Columbia (S.C.), The State - Newsroom Management Reorganization. A new "quality-circles" management system implemented in early 1992 flattens the management hierarchy and clusters reportage around ideas, rather than traditional beats. Reporting "clusters" included governance, the workplace, the environment and "community roots," with the latter focusing on such topics as the military and churches. The clusters are designed to follow the agendas of communities rather than bureaucracies. Case study plus.

Columbus (Georgia) Ledger-Enquirer, "Education 2000". Launched in 1994 to move education "to the front burner" in the community, "Education 2000" features weekly takeouts on a full range of education issues. A citizen advisory panel meets regularly with newspaper staff to provide feedback and direction. The initiative also includes efforts to expand the "Newspaper in Education" and local adopt-a-school programs and to enhance the paper-sponsored recognition program for teachers and students. Case study plus.

Dayton Daily News, "Kids in Chaos: A Community Response". In a six-month project focused on juvenile crime in metro Dayton, the Daily News has teamed up with WHIO-TV to discern public values and listen to citizen voices. The initiative encompassed a series of community roundtables , an "experts forum," and an ongoing series of reporting projects, major editorials and first-person stories about conditions affecting kids. The series wrapped up with publication of a special section on juvenile crime, and background material for a series of neighborhood forums on juvenile crime.

Des Moines Register, "Voice of the People". In order to identify key issues in Des Moines, the Register conducted face-to-face and telephone interviews with citizens, with the results becoming the basis for a five-part series, "Voice of the People." In conjunction, the paper collaborated with a broadcast outlet; organized a public meeting of citizens; and shared research with local specialists who generated op-ed pieces. The effort has led to ongoing community outreach. Newsroom consensus is that a wall between the paper and the community is breaking down as a result.

Detroit Free Press, "Children First". The Free Press launched the newspaper-wide Children First campaign in January 1993. A 24-page special section highlighting summer-recreation needs raised $500,000 and directly benefited 5,700 children. The newspaper also sponsored and financed a public forum on violence against children. Ongoing reportage includes a weekly column and editorial content emphasizing solutions, assisted by a youth panel and advisory committee. Newsroom staffers may allot two work hours per week to volunteer in the public schools. Case study plus.

Florida, "Issues '94". Six Florida newspapers and Florida NPR affiliates cooperated on coverage of the 1994 campaign for governor, jointly underwriting a statewide survey of citizens' concerns used to establish a baseline for election coverage. Candidates were interviewed in depth on issues that citizens identified as most pressing. The results were presented in detail in each medium. The papers also cooperated on weekly updates on these issues over the course of the primary and general election campaign. Case study plus.

Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, "The Neighborhood Project". Since 1992, the News-Sentinel has pledged to work for at least a year with a neighborhood association. Editors meet with area residents and association officials, brainstorming on projects, discussing ways to involve other community agencies, and organizing meetings. The paper also organized a bus tour of the area for public officials. Reporters cover neighborhood meetings, track significant initiatives in the area and field story ideas that apply more broadly to the city as a whole. Case study plus.

Huntington (W. VA.) Herald-Dispatch, "Our Jobs, Our Children, Our Future". Responding to massive job losses, the Herald-Dispatch published a 12-page special section, "Our Jobs, Our Children, Our Future," detailing industrial problems and citizen visions for the community's future. The paper co-sponsored a town hall meeting on economic development that drew 900 people, and published an appeal for task force volunteers. By late 1994, the task forces, city, and county had taken steps to address the area's economic concerns. Case study plus.

Idea Central: Civic Participation, is part of the Electronic Policy Network. It provides links to articles by leading theorists on citizenship and civic renewal. URL: http://epn.org/idea/civic.html. On-line project.

IDEALIST is a new online resource that enables any nonprofit or community organization - whether it has a Website or not - to use the Internet to post and update detailed information about its services, volunteer opportunities, internships, job openings, upcoming events, and any material or publication its has produced. For the user, all this information is fully searchable by keyword, location, date and other parameters. IDEALIST is a project of the Contact Center Network. The CCN Website also contains a comprehensive Internet directory of nonprofit resources, with links to over 8,000 nonprofit Websites in 100 countries and all 50 states. URL: http://www.contact.org. On-line project.

Indianapolis Star. The Indianapolis Star has run two civic journalism projects, one in 1993 on race relations and one on the 1994 election. The week-long series, "Blacks and Whites: Can We Get Along?" involved polling citizens on their racial attitudes and using the results to determine stories; working cooperatively on coverage with a local TV-network affiliate; and sponsoring community forums. The election project included an issues poll, in-depth issues coverage and a voter registration drive. The Star also stepped up coverage of state legislative races and revamped its voter guide. Case study plus.

Institute for Global Communications serves to expand and inspire movements for environmental sustainability, human and workers' rights, nonviolent conflict resolution, social and economic justice, and women's equality by providing and developing accessible computer networking tools. URL: http://http://www.igc.apc.org. On-line project.

LibertyNet is the original Home Page of the Philadelphia region. Here you'll find information on local community groups, education, government, health care, recreation, businesses, and much more. URL: http://www.libertynet.com. On-line project.

The Manhattan Mercury. In its civic journalism projects, The Manhattan Mercury engages the views of citizens on a paper -sponsored "grand jury," and sponsors debates among candidates for office. The paper then publishes the results of both. Case study plus.

Miami Herald, "Community Conversations". Herald editors and reporters meet with members of area organizations to discuss the perspectives of people in the community. Conversations are transcribed, indexed and placed into the Herald computer system, where editors and reporters can access them for stories. In early 1994, the paper started discussing ways to share the best of what they have heard with readers directly. Case study plus.

Minneapolis Star-Tribune, "Minnesota's Talking". The Star-Tribune's "Minnesota's Talking" project has organized hundreds of neighborhood roundtables: small groups that come together monthly to discuss issues of public concern. The Star-Tribune selects topics, offers discussion materials and publishes a monthly feature introducing the issue and inviting readers to participate. A report reflecting roundtable discussions appears monthly in the newspaper. In its first year, the project attracted 1,500 to 2,000 participants.Case study plus.

National Public Radio, "Election Project". In preparation for the 1996 presidential race, more than 90 NPR affiliates teamed up on 1994 elections coverage, emphasizing the process of voters thinking through the issues and making up their minds. Participating journalists attended training sessions developed by NPR and the Kettering Foundation, covering citizen forums, the principles of deliberative civic life, and the internal basics of the election project itself. The Poynter Institute for Media Studies is assisting in the project's design and implementation. The project is funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts. Case study plus.

National Public Telecomputing Network The National Public Telecomputing Network (NPTN) is a nonprofit corporation located in Cleveland, Ohio, and serves as the parent organization for "Free-Net" community computer network systems world wide. URL: http://www.nptn.org/. On-line project.

New Orleans Times-Picayune, "Together Apart: The Myth of Race". In an exhaustive series, the Times-Picayune over six months chronicled race relations in stories that emphasized personal experience, historical context, and the divergent cultures, lives and perspectives on racism among blacks and whites. The series ran in six installments of four days a month. Development of the series took more than a year, as a biracial team of 20 newsroom staff worked through their own views on race. Coverage was also grounded in quantitative data. Case study plus.

The Oklahoman, "Oklahoma 2020". In 1992, central Oklahoma community leaders and citizens were asked to write about their visions of Oklahoma's future. Later, randomly selected respondents gathered and discussed the community's future and the area's political system among themselves. Involved leaders joined together to form Central Oklahoma 2020, a not-for-profit citizens planning group funded by area foundations and corporate donations. It will convene community discussions of the usual topics discussed in urban planning, from growth to economics to aesthetics. Case study plus.

The Oregonian, "1994 Elections". The Oregonian kicked off 1994 elections coverage with a look at qualities that contribute to leadership and offering tips on how to evaluate candidates. Next, news staff developed pre-campaign stories on a variety of pressing issues, which were followed by in-depth coverage of candidate positions. The paper also increased use of audiotext services and ran reporters' phone numbers at the end of major stories, to encourage reader feedback, suggestions, and questions. Case study plus.

Portland Press-Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram, "Education Roundtables". In cooperation with the local ABC-TV affiliate, the Portland Newspapers and the Maine Council of Churches sponsored four roundtables on education, with more than 700 people participating. In addition, the papers printed backgrounders on education and reactions from the roundtables; the network affiliate ran background features and carried a live call-in with Maine educational leaders; and the Maine Public Broadcasting Network broadcast a radio call-in and a TV piece on education. Case study plus.

The Pottsville Republican, "1994 Election Coverage". The paper changed its approach to elections coverage for 1994 congressional and local legislative seats. Focus groups and phone surveys were used to frame campaign issues. At the same time, the voice information service was used to elicit comments on issues and strengthen reader involvement. Weekly in-depth issues packages - featuring candidate comments along with graphics that highlight juxtaposing views - then became the main focus of coverage efforts. Case study plus.

Public Issues Education Across the nation, educational programs on public issues are conducted by Cooperative Extension Service (CES). The principal objective of these educational programs is to provide information that enables citizens to become more informed and effective participants in the policymaking process at the local, state and national levels. This server is dedicated to improving information flow among these persons and groups. URL: http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/PIE/. On-line project.

St. Paul Pioneer Press, "Peirce Report". The Pioneer-Press commissioned a report on the future of St. Paul. The report was published in the paper, summarized in television a broadcast, and discussed in community forums. Related efforts included neighborhood candidates' forums; an editorial-page focus on positive neighborhood developments; and a series of forums about trends in city planning and governance. In 1994, the paper devoted its editorial pages for two weeks to riverfront development, prompting a mayoral conference that drew 1,200 citizens. Case study plus.

Seattle Community Network is a free, public computer network run by volunteers. It was founded by the Seattle chapter of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, and went online, serving the Greater Seattle area, in the Spring of 1994. URL: http://www.scn.org/. On-line project.

Spokane Spokesman-Review. The Spokane Spokesman-Review has revamped its editorial and opinion pages, supported backyard discussions on the community, and raised citizen awareness of river front issues in a series of civic journalism projects. Case study plus.

Tallahassee Democrat. In its extensive "Public Agenda" project, the Tallahassee Democrat is engaging the views of citizens and measuring citizen interest and attitudes on democracy and participation. In "Your Vote, Your Future," the paper focuses its election issues coverage and encourages voter registration. Case study plus.

Virginian-Pilot & Ledger-Star, "Public Life Team". As part of a newsroom reorganization, reporters who cover government and politics formed a "public life team" and adopted a mission statement that included "revitalizing democracy" and "leading the community to discover itself and act on what it has learned." The team attempts to cover politics and government in ways that will engage more citizens in public life. Case study plus.

Wichita Eagle. As a pioneer in the civic journalism movement, the Wichita Eagle has undertaken two significant projects. "Where They Stand" focused coverage of the 1990 Kansas gubernatorial election on issues of concern to the voters. They included ten key concerns: education, economic development, environment, agriculture, social services, abortion, crime, health care, taxes and state spending. The "People Project" engaged area residents in a search for solutions to the problems of faltering schools, crime and gangs, political gridlock, and stress on families. Working with a local television and radio station, the Eagle brought together citizens to share ideas and find the resources with which to act. Case study plus.

Wilmington News-Journal, "Economic Summit". The paper and the Delaware Public Policy Institute teamed up to sponsor a two-day economic summit in March 1993, convening 25 top business players. Pre-summit briefing booklets contained citizen queries gathered from a series of five town meetings across the state. In early 1994, the group reconvened to assess its progress and to chart future action. Participants said they wanted to meet annually. Case study plus.

Wisconsin State Journal and Wisconsin Public Television. The State Journal has engaged in two civic journalism projects. "We the People" brought the paper and local PBS and CBS television stations together to develop issues forums on the 1992 election, hold mock legislative and national budget sessions, and conduct citizen "grand juries." The "City of Hope" project investigated the rise of urban problems, trying to get beyond surface alarm. Community leaders met with the paper's editor to review the findings and prepare to take action in response. Case study plus.