Last year, after a contentious land use plan, I got together with civic leaders to perform a “post mortem” on the project. Over a pitcher of beer, the conversation veered quickly to a fundamental question: “How do people get their civic news?” We scribbled on napkins as they dissected their own neighborhood to the block level. The napkin below is a snapshot of this fascinating conversation.
- The people who live in "A" will be most affected by the "New Project," so get to them personally and through every medium possible.
- The people in B are more affluent, so they will be involved and are technology-savvy
- The people in C are mainly snowbirds, so you'd better get out E-newsletters over the summer explaining the project before the late- fall hearing when people are beginngin to return.
Just how many times do we embark on contentious projects without asking the important questions on delivering civic news? Social media may just be muddling matters more, with a focus on the medium, not the ultimate user.
Nonetheless, social is here, adding to the traditional formats (email, electronic newsletters) and traditional human options (face-to-face).
Luckily, the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project (@pewinternet) has already figured out this is a big deal. The following bullets highlight key points from several articles from Pew (sprinked with a couple of local pointers as well).
- Local TV draws a mass audience largely around a few popular subjects; Local newspapers attract a smaller cohort of citizens but for a wider range of civically-oriented subjects.
- Though local papers are moving online, there is evidence that young people find specialty websites and search engines a preferable way find the local material they want. (such as Sarasota Day ).
- This mirrors reports from a recent study from Sarasota on how people learn about activities downtown. SRQ media found print and social media tied in influence, though varied by age, with younge people seeking out social and older folks turning to print. (see 2nd and 3rd last to slides in this presentation).
- Local news is going mobile. Nearly half of all American adults (47%) report that they get at least some local news and information on their cellphone or tablet computer.
- The information they seek out on mobile platforms is practical and real time: 42% of mobile device owners report getting weather updates and 37% get material about restaurants or other local businesses on their phones or tablets. Fewer get news about local traffic and transportation, general news alerts or other local topics.
- The share of adults in the United States who own an e-book reader doubled to 12% in May, 2011 from 6% in November 2010.
- Hispanic adults, adults younger than age 65, college graduates and those living in households with incomes of at least $75,000 are most likely to own e-book readers. Parents are also more likely than non-parents to own these devices.
- Projections are that tablet sales will reach nearly 500 million units by 2015.
- Surveys in Philadelphia PA, San Jose CA, and Macon GA show that those who believe city hall is forthcoming are more likely than others to feel good about (1) the overall quality of their community; (2) the ability of the entire information environment of their community to give them the information that matters; (3) the overall performance of their local government; (4) and the performance of all manner of civic and journalistic institutions ranging from the fire department to the libraries to the local newspaper and TV stations
- In addition, government transparency is associated with residents’ personal feelings of empowerment: Those who think their government shares information well are more likely to say that average citizens can have an impact on government
Other interesting stats:
- For Boomer-aged segment (50-64), social networking site usage grew 60% - from 20% to 32%.
- 71% of online adults use video sharing sites such as YouTube. Over half (54%) of users 50-64 have used them and 31% of those aged 65+.
So what does all this mean?
- It helps to ask how your stakeholders get information and like to get information – the neighborhood groups told me what they wanted: (1) ready-made newsletter articles on to explain hot button, complicated subjects, (2) a photo bank and (3) more maps.
- It looks like YouTube is a big hit with all ages.
- Apple’s launch of book writing software, combined with the adoption of devices, means that localities can publish all manner of pamphlets, books and guides for stakeholders. In fact, ease of publishing may end up being a challenge.
The newsletter bank was particularly interesting - kind of "well Duh" since civic groups and others who publish newsletters are dying for content. For the project I worked on, a decision to move an interchange in parallel with a land use proposal raised the anxiety level. A sample article on how infrastructure projects are prioritized would have helped explain that the move was in the works for years and how it rose to a top priority project. Duh.