Monthly Archives: July 2009

The Chicago Challenge!

July 19. Hey Chicago, let’s get civic media going before the lurkers accessing us fromclout city Palo Alto and Seattle try to run off with the idea! (On 2nd thought, let ’em. Civic media is public domain in the first place. Like a good folksong, it belongs to everyone. But no one does it as well as us.) The Chicago Civic Media Project (CCMP) is looking for a few good people to help launch a Chicago-based online/onair/inprint CIVIC MEDIA site:

  • A WEBSITE DESIGNER with technical site promotion skills (to social networks, RSS feeds, other sites). The artist who designed yr site would be great, but need a designer who has time also to be a promoter, audience expander.
  • A MARKETER to interact online, by phone & in person with all kinds of local people, businesses and groups (schools, universities, political groups right center and left) to build audience, generate contestant participation, link up with other media and attract advertisers. (I have developed strategies for all four tasks).

This is a ground-floor opportunity for talented individuals who share three core convictions:

  • THE FUTURE OF DEMOCRACY Essential to the future of American democracy is the judicious use of modern interactive communications technologies to give ordinary citizens an informed voice in the political decisions that affect their lives and to make citizens and government responsive and accountable to each other at local, state and national levels .
  • THE INEVITABILITY OF CIVIC MEDIA. American politics is today in the very early stages of being transformed and reinvented by the same massive demand for interactive media experiences that has fueled the growth of all modern communications technologies and that has already transformed American business, culture and personal life.
  • THE IMPORTANCE OF CONTESTS: INFORMATION ACTED ON, NOT MERELY ABSORBED. The interactive politically-themed media experiences that most successfully engage the largest – that engage the largest segment of the Market of the Whole of all members of a community – will be those that most most productively replicate the great game of voter-driven democracy.   Voter-driven reality TV is in many ways a viable model for politically themed interactive media experiences.

CCMP proposes to launch a non-partisan, citizen-participatory CIVIC MEDIA here in ART - Chicago city sealChicago as soon as early 2010. Designed initially to engage several dozen contestants and several thousand viewers and voters in the great game of democracy, this interactive media will grow by stages until it ultimately engages hundreds of contestant teams and serves all 2.5 million Chicagoans. By definition, CIVIC MEDIA is a large-audience decision making process that helps distribute the making of government decisions throughout a community of any size. In a political context, for instance, a nonpartisan, issue-centered, outcome-directed CIVIC MEDIA gives citizens and governments at local, state, national and international levels the interactive platforms they need in order to complete two tasks: define and solve problems and maximize growth opportunities.

Volunteers are welcome. For those seeking compensation: for proven co-workers, I will offer a percentage of ownership of the local Chicago site and, as relationships develop, in the nationwide civic media project.

My name is Steve Sewall. I’ve developed and implemented civic media prototypes here in Chicago over the past 20 years. I am a career educator, businessman and media entrepreneur. I hold degrees in English from Harvard (A.B. ’64), Yale (M.A.T. ’66) and the University of California at Berkeley (Ph.D., 1991).

Email Steve Sewall


The Google Challenge!

July 16, 2009

Dear Google,


This idea is so perfect for Google! Over the past 20 years I’ve developed and implemented an interactive CIVIC MEDIA here in Chicago. By definition, CIVIC MEDIA is a large-audience decision making process that distributes the making of decisions throughout communities of any size.

Its implications for politics and government are especially significant. In a political context, a nonpartisan, issue-centered, outcome-directed CIVIC MEDIA gives citizens and governments at local, state, national and international levels interactive platforms that enable them to complete three kinds of tasks: problem solution, conflict resolution and opportunity realization.

Over time, Civic Media produces a politics that’s less ideological and more empirical than what we have today.  It works on the premise that the quality of government decisions substantially improves when an informed citizenry and government take responsibility for being responsive and accountable to each other.

When implemented by Google, civic media will revolutionize the distribution of decision making much as Google has revolutionized the distribution of information. In so doing, civic media will help renew America and restore America’s leadership among nations.

I am a career educator, businessman and media entrepreneur. I hold degrees in English from Harvard (A.B. ’64), Yale (M.A.T. ’66) and the University of California at Berkeley (Ph.D., 1991).

Google’s informal byword was and perhaps is “Don’t Be Evil“.  Now that Google is a mature company, might not “Be Good!” be appropriate as a motto? And might not the creation of a democracy-empowering civic media for America and the world be the perfect way to realize this mission?

Steve Sewall

Q: What is the difference between empirical politics and normative politics?

July 15. Just stumbled on this interesting question at  I’ve  been thinkinwalogo-footerg about empirical politics ever since I heard s0meone – wish I could remember who – in a CNBC discussion on healthcare say that America needs a politics that’s less ideological and more empirical.  My response, which equate normative with ideological politics, is here.

Wake Up, Paul Krugman!

July 13. In “Boiling the Frog,” New York Times Nobel prize winning economist Paul Krugman today compares ts-krugman-190America to the proverbial frog that lacks the ability to hop out of a gradually heating pot.  So what’s making life hot for the American frog? Krugman says it’s inaction on two critical issues: a second stimulus plan to prevent potentially crippling unemployment and climate change.  The government gridlock on these issues scares Mr. Krugman, who in frustration concludes:

So if we can’t get action to head off disaster now, what would it take? I don’t know the answer. And that’s why I keep thinking about boiling frogs.

Obviously, not all Americans agree with the liberal Mr. Krugman on these vexed issues. Yet the solution to the dilemma of government gridlock that scares him is not hard to see.  It’s puzzling why smart liberals like Mr. Krugman have been so blind to it.   To wake him up a bit, I cranked out and submitted the following (oddly, it never appeared in the comments to the column.)

Mr. Krugman, with all respect, the answer to your dilemma has been staring all Americans in the face for years: it has to do with the television and computer screens that mirror the nation to itself.  The solution to your problem – rooted in our polarizing, ideologically divisive political media – is a non-partisan, issue centered, problem-solving CIVIC MEDIA whose ongoing interactive public forums give ALL Americans an informed voice in the government decisions that affect their lives. This media exists to make citizens and government responsive and accountable to each other in shaping the nation’s future: solving its problems, resolving its conflicts and maximizing its opportunities.  Its ongoing political dialogs at local state and national levels bring out the best in us, not the worst.

For years all of the interactive communications technologies needed to create a dialogic civic media have abundantly been in place in America. One format – the game show format of voter-driven reality TV – is particularly appealing in a civic media context. Why? Because its weekly votes mimic and, in their sequence, actually refine and articulate the great voter-driven game of democracy.

Just think of what a vital civic media, produced with integrity, could do for the nation. Imagine an ongoing three month contest of ideas starring 16 four-member teams of representative and telegenic ordinary Americans who have been charged to compete AND co-operate with each other in an intensive search, broadcast each Sunday night on network TV and 25/7 on the Internet, for the best solution to your problem of climate change. Imagine these 16 teams being able to interview anyone, anywhere with a view to creating “60 Minutes”-style segments that advance their solutions to this issue. Now imagine millions of Americans linking up with these teams and then voting their preferences each week, as on American Idol. Finally, imagine the excitement and media buzz as millions of Americans, in schools, colleges, business, homes and government offices nationwide cast their votes for a single winning team and best solution.

Interactive public forums like this would at long last give America the decision-making process it needs in order to function in an age of information. The winning solutions of these forums would of course be advisory to government and not binding. Market (citizen) demand for interactive media experiences they provide is enormous. So what’s keeping mainstream media like the New York Times and CBS TV from creating them? Do these managers and conduits of public opinion fear that ordinary Americans lack the interest, capacity or desire to participate in an intelligent decision making process? Are they afraid that American people, given all the information needed to make sensible decisions on the economic and environmental issues you speak of, will make stupid choices, or choices that do not serve the interests of the powers that be?

The implementation of a civic media is critical to America’s future. At issue is the Jeffersonian principle of government “of, by, and for the people.” Should you, your paper and your readers therefore not be giving it careful thought?

When it comes to frogs, I submit that the heat that’s about to boil the American frog comes less from the economic and environmental dangers you speak of and more from the reluctance of the powers that be to give all Americans an informed voice in the decisions that effect their lives.  The real danger, as you say, is the nation’s inability to make  decisions, and in our democracy, civic media is the appropriate response to this danger

Rethinking the “Joravsky Effect” in Chicago

July 9. Ben Joravsky, at right, is an exceptionally able investigative reporter – probably Chicago’s best – at the Chicago Reader, the city’s largest free-distribution weekly newspaper.  Below is a July 9 letter to the Reader editor by Micaela di Leonardi, a professor of Anthropology at Northwestern University, in praise of his recent coverage of two huge stories: Chicago’s Olympics bid and its privatization of the city’s parking meters.  Prof di Leonardi’s take on the “Joravsky Effect”BenJoravskyA got me thinking about what this effect would have to be in order to have a Joravsky Impact at City Hall.

Local Heroes

To the editor:

Would anyone—except maybe Mayor Daley and a number of local developers—deny that Ben Joravsky is a Chicago journalism treasure? Most recently, his simultaneously outraged and sprightly accounting of the ripoffs of parking meter privatization and Chicago’s Olympics bid have kept us all informed and seriously pissed off. But has anybody else noticed the Joravsky Effect? The Tribune and the Sun-Times have finally started doing some muckraking! They’re actually covering developer deals and, dare I say it, TIFs! Of course, we always have to go back to Joravsky for the big historical and political-economic picture.

Give that man a raise!

Micaela di Leonardo

Professor, Anthropology, Performance Studies, Northwestern University

In response, I fired off this response:

To the editor:

It’s all well and good, and certainly true, to hear Micaela di Leonardo call Ben Joravsky “a Chicago journalism treasure”. But her enthusiasm about the impact of his reporting leaves me wanting something more – a lot more. Who cares, I’m thinking, if the “Joravsky Effect” she speaks of triggered some muckraking at the Sun-Times or Tribune? Bottom line, what’s the use of reading good reporting if Chicagoans living in a closed political system can’t do a damn thing with it?

The Joravsky Effect is a nifty concept. But I would ask Ms di Leonardo to consider an axiom of digital age journalism. In an age fueled by demand for interactive media experiences, what journalists report matters less than what citizens can do with their reporting. The Joravsky Effect, to have real impact, must be realized (and monetized) in media platforms that Chicago presently lacks: ongoing, universally accessible public forums designed to give all Chicagoans an informed voice in weighing the pros and cons of any issue of citywide importance.

Wow. Think of it. A city that actually uses modern interactive media to help citizens and government make decisions on the basis of solid information dug up by not only by intrepid reporters like Ben Joravsky but by ordinary Chicagoans as well!

Now that’s a city worth living in. What’s more, a citizen-participatory media is in the cards for Chicago. Why? The answer is staring us in the face. The miracle of digital technologies gives Chicago the chance to create ongoing public forums and civic dialogs, print and electronic, that make citizens and government responsive and accountable to each other in solving the problems, resolving the conflicts and maximizing the opportunities that will shape the city’s future.

From a purely economic standpoint, these civic dialogs will tap massive demand for interactive media experiences, including pent-up demand for interactive political experiences. They will reach out to all 2.5 million Chicagoans, most of us presently marginalized and disempowered when it comes to city politics.

The very existence of this huge “market of the whole,” combined with the ability of modern communications technologies to tap it, makes civic media dialogs like these not just inevitable but imminent.

If all this is so, why aren’t Chicago media execs, foundations, civic groups and university departments of journalism and communication racing to create true civic dialogs before Rupert Murdoch steps in and stiffs us all with exploitative travesties of them? Good question, but soon to be moot because disruptive change is in the air and Chicago’s digital future will differ radically from its analog past. What matters now is to see that the city’s economic, political, educational and cultural futures all hinge on Chicago’s determination to create them before the exploiters do.

BTW, Ben Joravsky deserves a raise, as Ms di Leonardo suggests.

Steve Sewall, Chicago Civic Media Project