Redistricting Game, Rochester, NY 2001
and public television stations WXXI,
WPBS, WCNY, WNET, WLIW, WMHT, WCFE, WSKG, WNEDWNED
Nine public television stations collaborated on NYcitizens.org, a Web site dedicated to helping New Yorkers understand and become engaged in the process of redrawing congressional districts through an online game and other interactive features. The partners launched the Web site in the fall of 2001 as the state legislature began the redistricting process, including simple explanations of the politics and processes involved in the task. They found a way to give users a first-hand look at the complexities, however, in February 2002, when they added the Redistricting Game.
The role-playing game allowed users to be one of six different kinds of stakeholders in the redistricting process. For example, a player might take on the role of a white Republican state legislator interested in advancing Republican candidates at the state and national level. Or the player could choose to be an African-American Democratic Party official interested in both electing Democrats and getting more African-Americans elected to Congress. The Center for Governmental Research helped the partners develop realistic roles for the game.
After picking a role, players were led to a grid where they could draw districts based on their demographics and politics with actual census information guiding their decisions. The game worked by certain rules, just as the actual process does. For example, players were unable to create districts that were obviously gerrymandered. Players were told how the districts they created would likely fare in the real world.
The partners created an online curriculum for 12th grade social studies classes to give the game greater participation. They also posted essays from key federal and state lawmakers on redistricting and invited users to post their own essays in response. The site also hosted message boards and links to other resources. The partners said they got positive feedback but could not determine how many users had visited. They planned to keep the site active with other applications, such as an Election Finder that would help users find their local polling places, after the redistricting process was complete.
VP of Television
280 State St - PO Box 30021
Rochester, NY 14603-3021
Phone: (585) 258-0241
Director of National Productions
280 State St
Rochester, NY 14614
Phone: (716) 258-0349
First Amendment Forum, Pittsburgh, PA 2001
Pennsylvania Newspapers Association
The Pennsylvania legislature passed a new, more liberal open-records law in the summer of 2002 after a 10-month effort by the partners to encourage citizens to use public records to make government accountable and accomplish community goals. Post-Gazette editor Jane Elizabeth did not give the project full credit for the new law but she said, "We certainly didn't hurt it."
The effort began Oct. 13, 2001, when 300 people attended a "First Amendment Forum" in downtown Pittsburgh to learn how to gain access to public records and meetings. On evaluation forms, they gave the event an average score of 4.3 on a scale of one to five. The paper learned where citizens needed help most and developed sources for reporting on the issue.
In March 2002, the partners launched a First Amendment Web page devoted to helping citizens gain access to public records and public meetings through the state Sunshine Law and the Freedom of Information Act. Along with tips, resources and links to more information, the site featured a news story every month about the experience of an individual or grass roots organization trying to use the laws. The stories were also published in the Post-Gazette's community editions. Users could post comments and communicate with one another through a site bulletin board The site received an average of 3,600 visits a month through the summer.
Once the new law was passed, the site geared up to explain the new law and help citizens use it. The partners also produced a pamphlet on the new law and mailed it to every municipal office in the region. The paper found that secretaries, clerks and administrative assistants were often the biggest impediments to open records, simply because they didn't understand the law and would deny access that should have been granted. The pamphlet was intended to educate these frontline record keepers on the new provisions. When the project ended, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association took over the Web site.
34 Boulevard of the Allies
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Phone: (412) 263-1510
The People's Agenda, Indianapolis, IN 2001
The Indianapolis Star
While lobbyists roam state legislatures, tracking bills and wining and dining lawmakers, ordinary citizens are left out of the process by the simple business of living their lives. "The People's Agenda" was an effort to restore balance to the process by making sure legislators knew what people wanted and giving citizens updates and score cards on how lawmakers responded.
During December 2000, WTHR and the Star offered Hoosiers the chance to cast a ballot, choosing their top 10 priorities for legislative action in 2001. Nearly 3,500 people responded: 1,343 mailed in paper ballots that had been printed in the paper and 2,088 cast on-line ballots available on both partners' Web sites. They ranked property taxes as their chief concern, followed by a surprise concern with telemarketing restrictions. Other issues included better voting machines, adoption of Daylight Saving Time, school funding, drunk driving and lifetime probation for child molesters.
The paper and WTHR ran a series of reports and editorials on the issues identified, culminating in a Jan. 22, 2001 People's Agenda Town Meeting in the House chambers of the state Capitol. Lawmakers gave up their seats and watched from the balcony as some 200 citizens spoke out on issues from the floor. On Jan. 29, the partners delivered The People's Agenda to the governor and legislators.
On Mar. 26, 2001, the Star and WTHR compiled a progress report to show the status of the People's Agenda issues. Though property taxes were not addressed, a law was passed creating a "do not call" list for telemarketers. Some 800,000 Hoosiers signed up, freeing themselves of unwanted phone calls. Six of the 10 issues on the People's Agenda were addressed by the legislature.
The partners used the format to tackle several other issues in 2001. They sent surveys to hundreds of high-achieving high school students in Central Indiana, asking for their suggestions on improving education for a project called "Ameritchieve." Seventy-nine percent of the respondents identified teacher quality as the key to a good education. Respondents were invited to a public forum on April 22, 2001,to discuss how to attract and retain quality teachers and some 200 attended. A public forum on race followed on June 26, 2001, attracting more than 200 participants. A town hall meeting, Oct. 15, 2001, on national security attracted nearly 400 people. WFYI joined the partnership and aired a one-hour special on the forum on Oct. 21.
The biggest criticism the project received was that its research on the People's Agenda had been unscientific - depending on those who took the time to cast a ballot. So, with the remaining funds from the Pew Center, the partners extended their collaboration into 2002 with a scientific survey, conducted by randomly generated phone calls to all but three Indiana counties, on The People's Agenda for 2002. Again taxes were high on the agenda with education a close second. WFYI broadcast a second town hall meeting from the Capitol and the partners continued to track the legislature's action throughout its 2002 session.
13 Listens Coordinator
1000 N. Meridian Street
Indianapolis, IN 46204
Phone: (317) 655-5619
Assoc. Editor/Director, New Partnerships
PO Box 146
Indianapolis, IN 46206
Phone: (317) 444-4000
1000 N. Meridian Street
Indianapolis, IN 46204
Phone: (317) 655-5775
Dallas, TX 1997
The Arlington Morning News
The Dallas Morning News
The University of Texas, Arlington
The partners seized on an initiative by the city of Arlington to increase citizen participation with "We the City," a civic approach to covering the city's move toward a deliberative model of government. The first stories, Feb. 7, 1997, explained how the media partners' civic approach would track and complement the government's efforts to engage citizens, which included the convening of neighborhood focus groups to replace the more limited public hearings before City Council. Through the spring, the partners sponsored a "civic inventory" of 900 residents, conducted by the university's School of Urban and Public Affairs, to uncover the role of informal community leaders, the importance of incidental meetings among neighbors, and the impact of absentee landlords and renters on a community. The inventory provided a baseline for assessing and comparing the quality of life in various neighborhoods. The partners did stories on issues that surfaced through the inventory and the neighborhood focus groups, including code enforcement, growth and development. Their stories also reviewed what the city's efforts had accomplished and looked at how the city could further involve citizens in their government.
The project proved to be a watershed for the Morning News, which had been in existence less than a year when the project started. The previously skeptical lead reporter attended a Pew Center training seminar when the project was launched and, as a result, spent more time in Arlington's neighborhoods, talking to residents, rather than with public officials. Her reporting stood out in the highly competitive Dallas-Fort Worth market for its richness of sources and voices. Not only did the Arlington experiment prompt more people to get involved in government, it broke down barriers with the media, as more residents began calling the paper with story ideas, attending editor's meetings and writing columns and letters.
Asst. Dir., News & Public Affairs
3000 Harry Hines Road
Dallas, TX 75021
TEL: (214) 740-9349
FAX: (214) 740-9369
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