America’s public square—the institutions, networks, and spaces where Americans engage in the critical issues facing our democracy—is facing a paradigm shift. A combination of economic impacts, advances in technology, and social change are re-shaping how we access and engage with the information that connects us to civic life.
Last week, Media Impact Funders and Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement (PACE) brought together several thought leaders to discuss what caused this shift in the first place, and to explore ideas for reconfiguring existing institutions and building new infrastructure to ensure that the public square serves all members of our democracy.
During his introductory remarks, MIF’s Executive Director Vince Stehle acknowledged the urgency of these civic issues, and referenced an article he wrote for the Chronicle of Philanthropy on what philanthropy can do to counter the unhealthy social dynamic of commercial media companies harnessing rage for profit.
Watch the webinar below and use the time stamps to follow along in the recording:
The webinar featured:
- Kristen Cambell (2:23), Executive Director of PACE, which has recently re-released a paper on “infogagement”—a term that describes the recent collision of media, technology and civic engagement. The paper unpacks the collision course and how shifts in media and technology have affected the public square.
- Eli Pariser (7:13), Omidyar Fellow at the New America Foundation, who offered that early on in the Internet age, he thought that technology would solve all of democracy’s problems. But technology has actually concentrated power, not disseminated it. “A few huge companies are structuring the way we have public conversations,” he says, adding that no one has controlled the speech of billions like this before, and the public square is no longer public any more. (You can watch Pariser’s talk from our 2018 Media Impact Forum in which he argues that our current commercial media ecosystem fails to serve all communities and everyone in our community equally.)
- Josh Stearns (11:02), Director of the Public Square Program at the Democracy Fund, says solutions to the public square need to address the root causes and need to center around people and communities. “We have to have an awareness of power and justice,” he says, which lead to growing information inequality. Stearns adds that we need new forms of platform accountability.
- Sarah Alvarez (24:16), Founder and lead reporter at Outlier Media, who talked about how Outlier is serving as a model in Detroit to fill information gaps because “information gaps lead to accountability gaps.” Alvarez says that information equality doesn’t just mirror other kinds of inequality, it’s “begetting and compounding” inequality.
- Ashley Alvarado (31:33), Director of Community Engagement at KPCC, talked about KPCC’s commitment to platform-agnostic engagement and public service. Alvarado gave details on Unheard LA, a live storytelling series that allowed the staff go spend four months in the community and getting citizens to come on stage and share their perspectives.