Two emails arrived over the weekend that advertised important civic work.
First, in hard-hit industrial northeastern Ohio, the Knight Foundation is supporting an elaborate process called “Voices and Choices.” Through this process, thousands of residents will help to set a new course for the region. The centerpiece of the project is a deliberative forum called a 21st Century Town Meeting, organized by the great people at AmericaSPEAKS. I’m from the Rust Belt myself (Syracuse), and I think nothing is more challenging and important than creating good jobs and a general sense of optimism in such places. On a visit to Youngstown, OH during the trial of former Rep. Jim Traficant, I was struck that civic problems may be partly responsible for the region’s economic deficits. Far too many Youngstown people were proud of Traficant as a colorful local character who had stuck his finger in the eye of the rich and powerful. But he had done nothing for Youngstown, and I thought his popularity was evidence of civic hopelessness and defeat. If the “Voices and Choices” process builds civic confidence and capacity, it will be enormously valuable.
Second, J-Lab, the Center for Interactive Journalism at the University of Maryland, is once again offering funds for “innovative citizen media projects.” I helped to pick the first round of projects in 2004; they were a fascinating mix of youth-media websites, community blogs and podcasting services, online civic databases, and other good ideas. Up to $17,000 is available for each project that receives New Voices funding from J-Lab.