En octubre del 2009 se difundió en Estados Unidos un informe sobre este tema elaborado por un grupo de expertos a pedido de la Knight Foundation (el subrayado es mío).
Consideran dos tipos de informaciones como muy necesarias: “To lead full lives in America’s democratic republic, citizens need two kinds of information: civic information and life-enhancing information. These may come from the same sources or through the same media. The same information sometimes serves both purposes, but they remain distinct categories. Successful problem solving for both individuals and communities requires access to both. Yet, millions of Americans lack ready access to relevant, credible information in either or both categories” (p. 23).
Lo primero que pide el informe es más acción para promover la universalidad de la banda ancha: “What is a government to do? We think there is a lesson in the administrations of Dwight D. Eisenhower and Abraham Lincoln. They understood the need to connect the nation and did it, using the latest, popular technology. In the middle of the Civil War, the nation embarked on the construction of the transcontinental railroad, linking east and west for commerce and development. Post-World War II, Eisenhower caused to be built the United States Interstate Highway System, allowing the connection of the entire nation by car and truck. Lincoln did not ask if people travelled for pleasure or commerce. Eisenhower did not care whether you drove a Cadillac or Ford. They cared that the nation be connected and that is our lesson. In the area of communications today, there is no greater role for public bodies, whether White House, Congress or state and local legislatures, than to invest in the creation of universal broadband access for all Americans, regardless of wealth or age, no matter that they live in rural or urban communities. Enabling the building of a national, digital broadband infrastructure and ensuring universal access is a great and proper role for government” (p. II).
Esto debería hacerse mediante una acción conjunta entre el Estado y la sociedad: “Information is as vital to the healthy functioning of communities as clean air, safe streets, good schools, and public health. People have not typically thought of information in this way, but they should. Just as the United States has built other sectors of its vital infrastructure through a combination of private enterprise and social investment, Americans should look to a similar combination of strategies in developing its information infrastructure as well”. (p. 13)
Y aquí habría un déficit democrático: ““For individuals, failure is the inability to apply for jobs online. Failure is the inability to get relevant health information. Failure is not being able to take advantage of online educational opportunities or use online tools to track the education of one’s children. Millions of Americans lack the tools or the skills to match their information-rich contemporaries in pursuing personal goals. The freedom they enjoy to shape their own lives and destiny is stunted. These people are falling into second-class citizenship. This is true even putting aside the actual civic activities that online connectedness makes possible. Even if they want to engage in the public affairs of their communities, the navigation of life’s daily mundane tasks requires disproportionate time and energy. This is not democracy at work” (p.11).
Los expertos dieron un ejemplo concreto: “in a world where entry level job applications at MacDonald’s or Wal-Mart must be made online, denial of digital access equals denial of opportunity” (p. II).
Hacen una descripción muy buena de una comunidad que no tenía los estándares básicos de calidad informativa: “In terms of community coordination, failure looks like the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. People know of dangers but do not organize in response to them. When emergencies strike, information systems break down. People do not know where to find food, shelter, health care and basic safety. In terms of community problem-solving, failure is the proliferation of problems unaddressed. Downtowns dry up. Pollution spreads. Employers leave. Unemployment climbs. Dropout rates increase. Public health problems intensify. A community without public accountability suffers from unresponsive government. Neglect is common, corruption all too plausible. Money is wasted as government officials are slow and awkward at doing what other governments do quickly and nimbly. Voter turnout is low, not because people are satisfied, but because people are resigned. A community without a sense of connectedness is a group of people who know too little about one another. Social distrust abounds. Alienation is common. Everyone assumes that somebody else is getting “a better shake.” The community loses out on the talents of people who lack either the opportunity or motivation to share their skills. When problems arise, there is little common ground to solve them. People feel excluded, that they are not “part of the action,” and they disconnect from one another” (p. 11).
Varias veces el informe repite que es importante promover el sentido de pertenecer a una comunidad: “communities need to develop a sense of connectedness. They need to circulate ideas, symbols, facts, and perspectives in a way that lets people know how they fit into a shared narrative. A community’s system of meaning evolves as new voices and new experiences enter the information flow. People need access to that information to avoid feeling alienated and excluded” (p. 9).
Sobre el periodismo dicen, entre otras cosas:
1. Los periodistas profesionales son los activistas informativos principales: “Information flow improves when people have not only direct access to information, but the benefit also of credible intermediaries to help discover, gather, compare, contextualize, and share information” (p. XIII). Y más adelante señala el informe: “In any community, journalists are the primary intermediaries for news. They are the people most systematically engaged in gathering, analyzing and disseminating news” (p.14).
2. “Original and verified reporting is critical to community information flow. The challenge is not to preserve any particular medium or any individual business, but to promote the traditional public-service functions of journalism. Rather than ask how to save newspapers, a better question is, “How can we advance quality, skilled journalism that contributes to healthy information environments in local communities?” (p. XV). Dicen que los periódicos son más útiles que la radio y la television: “television and radio are also critical news sources, but are unlikely to offset fully any drop that local communities experience in original, verified newspaper reporting. That is because the average radio station provides under an hour of daily news coverage, and television stations, even as they increase their news coverage, are doing so with fewer and less experienced journalists on staff” (p.27). También recuerdan que en muchas comunidades de Estados Unidos no hay cobertura periodística local: “hundreds, if not thousands of American communities receive only scant journalistic attention on a daily basis, and many have none. Even accounting for community weeklies—a 2004 survey identified 6,704 such papers nationwide—it is likely that many American communities get no attention from print journalism at all” (p. 27). Y luego explican: “The journalism of the future may or may not take the familiar form of newspapers. But for true public accountability, communities need skilled practitioners. They ask tough questions. They chase obscure leads and confidential sources. They translate technical matters into clear prose. Where professionals are on the job, the public watchdog is well fed. Part-time, episodic or uncoordinated public vigilance is not the same” (p. 14).
3. Da un interesante ejemplo de porqué la difusión de información no alcanza: “Information alone does not guarantee positive outcomes. Consider one famous example. A front-page story in the June 8, 2004, Times-Picayune12 in New Orleans detailed a nearstoppage in the work needed to shore up the city’s levees. The mere revelation of that information in itself did not mobilize the effort that might have spared the city the worst ravages of Hurricane Katrina 14 months later. Interested or influential people did not engage with the information in timely, effective ways. Unless people, armed with information, engage with their communities to produce a positive effect, information by itself is powerless. Engagement is the critical point where community and individual information needs intersect. Communities need policies, processes, and institutions that promote information flow and support people’s constructive engagement with information and with each other” (p. 12).
4. Hacer a los legisladores mejor legisladores: “a 2008 MIT study found that members of Congress who are covered less by their local press work less for their constituencies, as evidenced by lower federal spending in their districts. They vote their party line more often, testify less often before congressional hearings, and appear to serve less frequently on constituency-oriented committees. This research suggests a tie between news coverage, voter awareness, and official responsiveness. Voters living in areas with less coverage of their members of Congress were found to be “less likely to recall their representative’s name, and less able to describe and rate them.”(p. 14).
Como respuesta a este informe, el 28 octubre del 2009, la Federal Communications Commission (FCC), la autoridad regulatoria, designó al periodista Steven Waldman como asesor especial para “asegurar que nuestras políticas promuevan un escenario de medios vibrante que alcance los objetivos de ofrecer la información que las comunidades necesitan”.
Waldman tiene una destacada trayectoria en medios tradicionales y es también un emprendedor exitoso en internet, donde creó el sitio BeliefNet