Mapping Your Community’s Information Ecosystem

(This post from The Local News Lab’s Medium channel discusses a collaboration with Internews to launch a Listening Post project in Jersey Shore.)

“Listening is a revolutionary act,” says Jesse Hardman, the journalist behind the New Orleans Listening Post. We’ve spent a lot of time in our work at the Local News Lab exploring how newsrooms can better listen to their communities and how that listening can transform reporting and business models.

In New Jersey we are working with Internews and Groundsource to launch a version of the New Orleans Listening Post project with Jersey Shore Hurricane News. The Listening Post “uses cell phones, public signs, and roving recording devices to capture and share voices, information, and opinions from around New Orleans.”

Internews shares our vision of the future of local news as a deeply connected and collaborative ecosystem. This ecosystem approach takes into account how diverse systems (economics, audience attention, technology and more) interact and effect how we build more sustainable and responsive local news.

As a first step to setting up the Listening Post in New Jersey Jesse Hardman and Natalie Chang of Internews spent three days on the ground with the Jersey Shore Hurricane News team doing an “Information Needs Assessment.” In the report Hardman and Chang write:

“Information needs assessments can help provide, through interviews with local stakeholders,a snapshot of how information moves through a community,what issues are most important to residents,and how best to expand the news conversation to a diverse audience.”

While the interviews and findings of the report are specific to the Jersey Shore, the process they used and how they explored the local information ecosystem could be useful to any local newsroom. Internews primarily works on media development projects internationally, so it has been interesting to see how the tools of international media development can be translated to help local newsrooms adapt to the digital age and rethink how to serve communities.

Here are the eight ways that Internews measured the health of the local information ecosystem on the Jersey Shore:

Information needs — This dimension examines the information needs of different segments of the population, and how they change over time. It also looks at the degree that information needs are known to information providers.

2 Information landscape — The information landscape is composed of the physical and institutional infrastructures that support information production and flow, including media outlets, distribution systems, and production units. In addition, we examine the characteristics of information providers, including the media,government,private industry,and civil society,and their capacity to support robust information flows.

3 Production and movement — Production and movement looks at the variety of information and the diversity of content within an information ecosystem, whether from the government, community news sources, social media, word of mouth, and other local information producers. It also examines the role of internet and mobile media as new and rapidly expanding sources of information.

4 Dynamic of access — This dimension focuses on the political, cultural,time,cost,and other factors that affect information flows. In particular, it seeks to identify any barriers to inclusive interaction and participation within an information ecosystem. Broader structures that influence access, such as legal,political,economic,and infrastructural factors are also included here.

5 Information use — This dimension looks at what consumers do with information that they receive. It seeks to identify the factors influencing how information is understood, shared, and applied,such as content,medium/format, source, literacy, and relevance.

6 Information impact — This dimension looks at the relationship between information, knowledge, and larger scale behavior change, such as collective community action,policy change,and planning for the future. Broadly,it examines how information affects individual and community opportunity,well being,and development.

7 Social trust — This dimension looks at at trust in information sources,medium,and content, as well as characteristics and events that influence trust around information.

8 Influencers — Influencers are the people, organizations, and institutions that affect how information flows throughout a community. We are also interested in seeing how influence can change overtime,especially during or after a crisis.

Read the entire Jersey Shore Information Needs Assessment.

Molly de Aguiar is the Program Director for Media and Communications and Josh Stearnsis the Director of Journalism Sustainability at the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.

The Dodge Foundation’s Media grants seek to strengthen and grow the New Jersey news ecosystem and support local journalism as a critical space for innovation, creativity and community building. For more information on this work, visit the Local News Lab and the Dodge Foundation’s website.