Working with a group of committed people here in Tuolumne County, I have submitted a proposal to the Knight News Challenge. Funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Challenge seeks innovations that use new or available technology to distribute content in local communities. There are only three rules:
- Use digital, open-source technology.
- Distribute news in the public interest.
- Test your project in a local community.
A description of the project follows. Please visit the application at the Knight News Challenge and add your comments and rate the project. Changes can be made to the application until the December 15th deadline and I welcome the chance to incorporate your suggestions.
Community Access Internet Project
Describe your project (max. 1800 characters)
The Community Access Internet Project (CAIP) provides web-based news and community information to rural areas. It draws on user-generated content and provides community education in the effective use of online media. The goal is nothing less than creating a community of digitally literate consumers and producers.
Should this project be funded, it will initially serve Tuolumne Co., CA (pop. ~50,000), located in the Central Sierras, 120 miles east of San Francisco. The county’s roots are in the gold rush of the 1850s and it has a rich historical character. Economically, the region struggles, with unemployment hovering around 13%.
Like community broadcasting (radio) and public access cable (TV) before it, participation is open to the entire community. However, CAIP goes beyond simply providing media access, by actively pursuing community outreach. CAIP provides classroom instruction and guidance on effective online communication, blogging, audio and video production and legal issues.
A paid core staff manages day to day operations and curates content, such as calendars of events, local news (road closures, snow days, fire information) and news features, including podcasts and videocasts. Featured content may be produced both by the core staff and “graduates” of the instructional programs. Blog space is openly available and public blog entries may be “promoted” to featured status by the core staff.
CAIP partners with other community organizations such as schools, libraries, news organizations, local government, service organizations, chambers of commerce, non-profits, etc.These organizations enhance the capabilities and reach of the project, bringing it to the attention of a broad cross-section of the community.
How will your project improve the way news and information are delivered to geographic communities? (max. 750 characters)
In our community, online information is isolated on numerous sites. CAIP provides technical assistance to the operators of these sites to syndicate their public content, making it available to any web site that wishes to republish it. Syndication will be a significant source of content for CAIP, without requiring any group to give up control of their own information.
The Community Access Internet Project provides a publishing platform for individuals and groups in the community. It provides an alternative source of online news, commentary and entertainment, produced locally and addressing the needs of the community. Because the featured areas of the site are curated, it can develop a reputation as a trustworthy and reliable news source.
How is your idea innovative? (new or different from what already exists) (max. 750 characters)
There are many existing variants of the community publishing platform. We plan to build on the best of these, with an emphasis on syndication and aggregation tools. Simply aggregating existing calendars of events will be an enormous benefit to the community.
The educational and community outreach component of this project makes it especially unique. During the initial planning phase, we will engage with the community to learn what information they want to have available online, tailoring the site to meet these needs. With a successful implementation in Tuolumne County, we hope to bring this model to other small, rural communities around the country.
What experience do you or your organization have to successfully develop this project? (max. 1600 characters)
As the submitter of this proposal, I have over 15 years of web development experience and a strong background in both communications and technology. My company, webdancers, was established in 1995 and has assisted in the development and marketing of hundreds of web sites. This experience however, brings to the table only a subset of the skills necessary to develop the Community Access Internet Project. For the rest, I turn to our community.
Network Sierra is a grassroots organization that includes individuals representing a wide range of community interests. Created in 2006, its goal is to use technology to bring our communities closer together and to maintain our rural character in a 21st century economy. We include technologists, arts organizers, educators, writers, marketers, local government officials and retirees. Network Sierra will serve as the parent body for CAIP. In the initial stages, another non-profit agency will act as Network Sierra’s fiscal agent, however we anticipate that Network Sierra will seek non-profit corporation status.
The Community Access Internet Project will be developed in consultation with a Network Sierra advisory board, which will hire the core staff and oversee the implementation of the programs described above.
Leveraging the skills and dedication available in our community, along with emerging social technology, CAIP gives voice to the many diverse groups in our region, providing them with both the training and a forum to speak clearly to their own communities and beyond.
Photo by Tom Magliery