Ethan Zuckerman at Knight Media Learning Seminar

“It’s a challenge for us to connect people’s stories to their communities,” says Ethan Zuckerman, Director of the Center for Civic Media at the MIT Media Lab, a leading thinker in civic media.

“The problem isn’t the web, the problem is us,” says Zuckerman. “We have to find a way to become media producers.” his point: The Internet is the most powerful tool to connect people to diverse types of information. However, that is the potential of the tool, not its promise.

We all filter the world down to the places we want to be, Zuckerman notes. We practice homophily – we gravitate toward people like ourselves.

The web is no different. People are finding ways to participate in online conversations with people like themselves.

As tourists in a city, if we want to various parts of the city, we find a guide. How do we create guides for the Internet that can show us not only what we want to see, but what we need to see?

We need to find ways to capture and sort information, and then distribute the information to amplify it. Guides must be able to:
Curate: comb through the information to pull out the most interesting or relevant pieces.
Translate: make the information understandable.
Contextualize: explain why the information matters.

I’m struck as I listen by the relationship between these functions to Nathan Shedroff’s model of information design: moving data through information to knowledge (more on that later).

At Media Lab, developments like Media Cloud and Voces Moviles help people understand their information on the platforms they are already using. The hard work is figuring out the tools that can best connect specific people to their specific communities. Using that thinking, people can annotate their own spaces with the technology best suited for that work.

Then, communities can, and must, become curators for their own conversation.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation “supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged” ( The 2012 Media Learning Seminar in Miami Florida brought together leaders of community foundations, media professionals, technology entrepreneurs, researchers, educators, and foundation staff to engage community leaders on the issues of media’s role in communities. I attended as a representative of the James L. Knight School of Communication at Queens University of Charlotte, a grantee of Knight Foundation. Read my articles on the conference here.

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