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OSU Law Professor To Direct First Major News and Society Study in 40 Years

Professor Peter Shane Will Serve as Executive Director of The Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy

April 14, 2008

Contact: Barbara Peck, (614) 292-0283

Professor Shane

Professor Shane

Ohio State University Moritz College of Law Professor Peter Shane was named executive director of the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy, a commission created by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Aspen Institute.

The high-level Knight Commission will look into whether the information needs of 21st century American citizens and communities are being met and make recommendations for public policy and private initiatives that will help better meet community information needs.

The Knight Commission will be chaired by Theodore B. Olson, former solicitor general of the United States, and Marissa Mayer, vice president of search products and user experience for Google. Alberto Ibargüen, Knight Foundation president and CEO, and Aspen Institute president and CEO Walter Isaacson, will serve as members ex officio. The new Knight Commission will include at least a dozen other respected representatives of journalism, communities and policy. The Commission's executive director, Peter M. Shane, is the Jacob E. Davis and Jacob E. Davis II Chair in Law at Moritz. He will direct the Commission's research and writing, and will be advised by public feedback as well as that from scholars, journalists and policymakers.

“It is thrilling to be involved in a project that seeks to address such socially significant issues so expansively,” Shane said. “Knight and Aspen have created a spectacular opportunity to combine the best thinking from the worlds of both theory and practice, across a wide range of disciplines, in order to formulate an action agenda that is both visionary and pragmatic for the future of American democracy.”

The Knight Commission, funded by $1.7 million in Knight Foundation grants, will meet in public throughout the year and will operate out of the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program.

“The Commission will look at the issues of information, news and society from the perspective of communities across the nation,” said Alberto Ibargüen, Knight Foundation president and CEO. “We want to assess their information needs, then take a snapshot to see how they are being met. The Commission will offer creative recommendations to improve democratic problem-solving at the local level through more and better engagement with relevant news and information.”

“We begin this inquiry with a totally open mind,” said Olson, a Washington, D.C., attorney. “We want to understand the state of local communities' access to the information that citizens need for self-governance. We are open to input from all sources.” “The methods of receiving information have changed dramatically over the past several years, and will likely differ community to community,” said Mayer, a West Coast software engineer. “The Knight Commission will assess these information needs and will propose potential solutions.”

Ibargüen and Isaacson, both having strong backgrounds in news, are ex-officio members.

“The business models we’ve relied on to provide news and information to our communities are stressed and changing. New platforms offer an astounding array of choices, creating the most connected world we have ever known with the greatest volume of available data,” said Ibargüen, a longtime newspaper executive and former PBS chairman who also chairs the Newseum board. “But as those choices proliferate and as those virtual communities connect us globally, the need for local, reliable, contextual civic information remains and, I believe, is being met less and less effectively.

“We live in a democratic society built on the premise of an informed electorate - yet the very structure on which that democracy is built - the local election held in a geographically defined community - is more and more an uninformed decision. That concerns us.” "We are grateful to Knight Foundation for funding this endeavor, for its guidance and leadership, and for selecting the Aspen Institute to run it,” added Isaacson, a popular author who was chairman and CEO of CNN and the editor of Time before joining Aspen. “We are particularly delighted that Ted Olson, a distinguished constitutional attorney, and Marissa Mayer, a brilliant technology executive, will bring their expertise and wisdom to this topic.” Added Isaacson: “We expect the other members of the Commission to complement the chairs with their expertise, diverse perspectives, and experience to form an innovative, open and thoughtful approach to the topics.”

In the late 1940s, the Hutchins Commission addressed the free press, calling for journalism to be presented “in a context that gives it meaning.” In the 1960s, the Kerner Commission, in its inquiry into the causes of racial tensions, called on the mainstream media to reflect all of America. Also 40 years ago, the Carnegie Commission recommended transforming educational television into “public broadcasting,” leading to the nation’s current system of noncommercial public service broadcasting. This Commission will take a comprehensive look at information needs of communities, building on similar successful commissions in the past.

Professor Shane came to Ohio State in 2003 from Carnegie Mellon University's H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management. He is an internationally recognized scholar in administrative law, with a specialty in separation of powers law, and has co-authored leading casebooks on each subject. He has served on the faculty at the University of Iowa College of Law and was dean at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. In addition to his outstanding law teaching and scholarship, Professor Shane has received a National Science Foundation grant for interdisciplinary study related to cyberspace and democracy. At Ohio State, he provides strong leadership in interdisciplinary scholarship and teaching.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation promotes excellence in journalism worldwide and invests in the vitality of 26 U.S. communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. Knight Foundation focuses on ideas and projects that create transformational change. Nearly 20 years ago, the Knight Foundation created the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics. That first Knight Commission has helped restore intercollegiate athletics to the control of university presidents.

The Aspen Institute, founded in 1950, is an international nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering enlightened leadership and open-minded dialogue. Its seminars, policy programs, conferences and leadership development initiatives seek to promote nonpartisan inquiry and timeless values. The Institute is headquartered in Washington, D.C., with campuses in Aspen, Colo., and on the Wye River near the shores of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. Its international network includes partner Aspen Institutes in Berlin, Rome, Lyon, Tokyo, New Delhi, and Bucharest, and leadership initiatives in Africa, Central America, and India. The Communications and Society Program is one of 21 policy programs at the Aspen Institute. It addresses the societal and democratic impact of the communications and information sectors.