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An Information Community Case Study

Washington, D.C.

Addressing Information Divides With Diverse Approaches
August 5, 2010 |
Dupont Circle
Dupont Circle (Photo Credit: Washington, D.C., Convention & Tourism Corporation), www.washington.org

The District of Columbia, containing a wealth of intellectual capital, national political institutions, and expansive support for innovative industries is well positioned to develop a healthy information ecology in the digital age. Washington’s high concentration of leading political actors, paired with a high volume of influential information hubs, maintains a supply of and demand for information. Within its 61 square mile area, the District of Columbia hosts hundreds of media outlets transmitting news to the rest of the world. The city government’s support for community broadband access points and adoption of open government standards promises to provide its citizens with tools to become engaged in the democratic process. Our survey of Washington’s information community has its basis in the Knight Commission Report “Informing Communities: Sustaining Democracy in a Digital Age,” which emphasizes three important elements at the intersection of media and democracy in the 21st century:

  • availability of relevant and credible information to all Americans and their communities;
  • capacity of individuals to engage with information;
  • and individual engagement with information and the public life of the community.

For many, these needs are met through Washington’s vibrant media scene and broadband initiatives, but D.C. continues to experience an unequal distribution of information. Often, Washington’s role in the national and international spotlight overshadows more local concerns. Furthermore, inhabitants’ access to information is characterized by the same racial and socioeconomic stratification that generates significant inequalities among Washington residents. There are new initiatives arising in both the public and private sectors to increase the flow of information across communities in the District, but it remains unclear how much of this innovation is sustainable. It seems more than likely that many of the innovative models will decline over time, leaving a few profit-making ventures. Complementing these will be media outlets, sustained largely through volunteer efforts, which have embedded themselves effectively in the community.

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