Implementing civic media in Chicago

We’re building. We want major media pros to see civic media when they first hear of it not as a shot in the dark but as the harbinger of a dynamic and feasible future for all Chicago newsmedia. For a newsmedia that facilitates a Chicago politics that works in the City that Works. For a newsmedia that enables the 20th century I Will city to become a We Will city.  Here’s the pitch we’ll make when we’ve lined up our ducks:

Since 1988 Chicago Civic Media has developed and implemented dialogic, problem-solving print/electronic civic media formats capable of making citizens and government responsive and accountable to each other in defining and solving the problems and also in maximizing the opportunities that present themselves to communities any size: local, state, or national.

We have also worked to develop an informal, problem-solving civic media network of Chicago public, commercial and community media committed to

  • giving all Chicagoans an informed voice in the government decisions that affect their lives, neighborhoods and city.
  • Making citizens and government responsive and accountable to each other in defining problems and maximizing opportunities (Transparency alone won’t get the job done!)

Civic media, as we think of it, is a mediating media. To jumpstart it in Chicago, CCM has designed a hyperlocal and (eventually) citywide news and information platform, chicagowrks.com (not online yet) that will enable citizens to gather, prioritize and interact with government on any and all issues of importance.

Financially, civic media will sustain themselves by tapping the Market of the Whole of all Chicagoans who desire an informed voice in the governmental decisions that affect their lives. To maintain the integrity of civic media dialogues, civic media will be funded by a broad spectrum of funding sources including public, private and commercial sources and citizens. Because civic media programming is dynamic – because it’s committed to rational, non-ideological resolutions of profound social differences – it will attract local, citywide and national advertisers. It will appeal to and engage the same demographic groups (e.g. 18-35) that advertisers now see as the “holy grail” of advertising.

But because civic media exist to serve the market of the whole, they are committed to listening to and giving voice to all citizens, not just some. This means that when it comes to addressing controversial issues like gangs and drugs, civic media give voice not only to police and political figures but to taxpayers and businessmen and to those most directly impacted by gangs and drugs: young people and their parents and teachers, and to inmates and gang members.

Civic media’s commitment to hear and reconcile divergent voices is at the root of their enormous appeal to its audience and to their ability to generate viable and enduring solutions to truly intractable problems, like gangs and drugs.

Here’s a link to the work we did in the Austin neighborhood in the late 1990’s. This work came closer than anything I’ve seen to mobilizing an entire community to put a stop to public drug dealing. (Austin’s 15th District had a great District Commander in John Richardson and a feisty community newspaper in the Austin Voice.)

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to a civic media is not racism or elitism, but mindism: the belief, presently widespread among media pros and politicians alike, that ordinary citizens lack the intelligence (are too stupid) to make informed decisions on the issues that affect their lives. It’s this belief, grounded intellectually in Walter Lippman’s 1920’s notion of manufacturing consent and reinforced by the PR work of Edward Bernays, that appears to entitle a very small number of us to think it’s their duty to do thinking of the rest of us.

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