Welcome to Idea Lab

Today, PBS and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced te launch of MediaShift Idea Lab Blog, a group blog featuring 36 wide-ranging innovators reinventing community news for the digital age. Each Idea Lab blogger won a grant in the Knight News Challenge to help fund a startup idea or to blog on a topic related to reshaping community news. The writers will use the Idea Lab to explain their projects, share intelligence and interact with the online community.

Here are some samples from the first round of posts on the blog:

From MTV's Ian V. Rowe:

More than any time in human history, young people have more tools at their avail to consume - and create - information on the issues that are most relevant to them. So to figure out exactly what MTV's approach would be to truly engage young people aged 18-30 during this Presidential election cycle in this new, Wild West era of self-publishing and self-organization, we first had to listen to what young people themselves said they wanted.

The results were simultaneously disheartening and hopeful, in the way only young people can express themselves about their future. The MTV/CBS News/New York Times Poll revealed that younger Americans have a bleak view about their own future and the direction the country is heading: 70 percent said the country was on the wrong track, while 48 percent said they feared that their generation would be worse off than their parents'. But the survey also found that this generation knows their power: 77 percent said they thought their votes would have a great bearing on who became the next president.

By any measure, the poll suggests that young Americans are anything but apathetic about the Presidential election. Fifty-eight percent said they were paying attention to the campaign. By contrast, at this point in the 2004 presidential campaign, only 35 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds said they were paying a lot or some attention to the campaign. And these projected 2008 numbers followed actual record youth voter turnout: In 2006, 10 million 18-29 year-olds voted than in 2002 midterms (2 MM+ increase - largest youth turnout in at least 20 years in congressional elections.)

So clearly young people are ready to participate because they know how important the stakes are. Elections are no longer an abstract concept. Whatever their position on the decisions of the current Administration over the last seven years, it has become crystal clear to young people that who is elected as President matters and has consequences.

From Dori J. Maynard (Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education):

First, the Jena 6 story lived on the Internet. Bloggers, many of them black, members of list serves such as the National Association of Black Journalists and members of social networks like Facebook, used the Internet to spread the story before it took off with mainstream news organizations like CNN, The Washington Post, and NPR.

The fact that the "afro-sphere" has largely received credit for driving this story is important to keep in mind when we think about what is going on in cyberspace.

At a time when "the digital divide" is still code for "people-of-color-don't-have-access-or-know-

how-to-use-the-Internet," Jena 6 reminds us of the fallacy of that premise. African Americans used the web and alerted the world to what was going on in a small town and in a largely overlooked state.

True, there are still some significant hurdles for entry into a fully wired world. However, they are largely socio-economic. I once asked someone how many white homes in Appalachia have Internet access. Turned out not a lot. The digital divide is real. It's class, not race, that makes the difference.

The Jena 6 story also reminds us that while the Web may be a place where anyone with access and an idea can voice his or her opinion, it does not mean that every opinion gets the same amount of attention. Think of how quickly word spread about "Memo Gate" and how long it took the outside world to pay attention to Jena 6.

From Jay Rosen (New York University):

Not knowing what the model is, we go on. We go on with newspapers. We go on with Internet journalism, and the practice of reporting what happened. We go on with the ordeal of verification. We go on with the eyewitness account, and with the essential task of getting and talking about the news.

Reasons for my uncertainty about the newspaper in the combination we know it now were well stated recently by Doc Searls of the Berkman Center at Harvard Law School, who also writes about the Internet and keeps his own blog.

For metropolitian newspapers, whose problems I know best, it's not just the forced march to the Web and the decline in revenues from the printed product. It's not only that free content seems to be the standard online.

"The larger trend to watch over time is the inevitable decline in advertising support for journalistic work," Searls writes, "and the growing need to find means for replacing that funding -- or to face the fact that journalism will become largely an amateur calling, and to make the most of it."

So (class) why does Searls say that the advertising model may be broken too? Isn't there advertising to be won on the Web? There is, and it is coming on. But underneath that something else is going on. "Harder to see..."

While rivers of advertising money flow away from old media and toward new ones, both the old and the new media crowds continue to assume that advertising money will flow forever. This is a mistake. Advertising remains an extremely inefficient and wasteful way for sellers to find buyers. I'm not saying advertising isn't effective, by the way; just that massive inefficiency and waste have always been involved, and that this fact constitutes a problem we've long been waiting to solve, whether we know it or not.

The inefficencies that created modern advertising are themselves under pressure from the Internet. That is what Searls argues, and I think we need to consider it. "The holy grail for advertisers isn't advertising at all," he writes, "because it's not about sellers hunting down buyers. In fact it's the reverse: buyers hunting for sellers. It's also for customers who remain customers because they enjoy meaningful and productive relationships with sellers -- on customers' terms and not just on vendors' alone."

Searls thinks sellers and buyers can increasingly get into information alignment without advertising and its miserable kill ratios in the battle to break through the noise and reach the few who are actually in the market.

From Gail Robinson (Gothan Gazette):

The staff of Gotham Gazette is counting down to the day later this fall when our first online game goes up on our site. It's been an interesting process getting us this far.

First, of course, we needed a concept. In some respects, this was the easy part as brainstorming sessions over the summer produced literally dozens of ideas. We'd like to do them all -- and we will do some of them in the next two years -- but we decided to do the first one on garbage. What to do with tons and tons of garbage has long been a thorny issue in New York City, one that never seems quite resolved. It's something New Yorkers care a lot about and it provides policy options that can be clearly presented in a game format.

Our game will have two parts. In the first, players will be residents deciding how to sort their trash.Should it all just go in the garbage can (or, since this is New York, into a big black plastic bag). Or should some be recycled. Maybe you're willing to put your empty water bottle aside for recycling, but what about an apple core? And can you do anything with a soiled diaper?

Once the player sorts his/her trash, they move to the next portion and play policymaker. What would you do with the city's garbage. Send it to a city landfill,ship it acorss state lines, convert it to energy? And what about the recyclables?

At the end of the game, players will learn how much money they have spent, how much room they have taken up in a landfill and other costs. And they will send us their plans so we can convey their ideas to City Hall.

Now we just have to make this idea a reality -- a process we are in the thick of now. More on that in another posting.

These represent only four of the many voices represented on this new blog. Civic media and citizen journalism takes many different forms and the community of researchers which the Knight Foundation is assembling are tackling the issue of civic engagement from many different angles. What they have in common is a belief that we can deploy the affordances of new media in ways that strengthen bonds within geographically local communities.