Exploring a Civic Information Hub for Yolo County

By Autumn Labbé-Renault, Executive Director, Davis Media Access

Davis Media Access (DMA) is articulating a vision for a project that seeks to bring together an award-winning noncommercial community media center in Davis, CA with other local news and culture resources, all in the service of a community and its citizens’ information needs. This vision originates at a moment when the decline of local news is being addressed nationally but the decline of historical funding in our own noncommercial community media sector is not.  It’s a moment for reinvention.

Generally, this would be a new source of community and civic information about Davis/Yolo, drawing on the strengths and needs of people in the community, and available to all. We don't see this as a commercial venture; we do see it as a supplement to existing local sources of information. How this would work or function, or how it would be funded, are questions we hope to answer through our exploration phase. Please see the full concept paper for more information about DMA and this vision.

What’s a Civic Information Hub, and why do we need it?

This concept isn’t simply about funding local news differently. Though the loss of local news in our communities has been devastating and has rippled deeply, even magically restoring former levels of funding wouldn’t address a key issue: the ways in which people consume and share information have radically changed, and the old ways alone can’t meet what communities need. And a central problem with the collapse of local news is that instead of trained professionals reporting facts, we have apps such as X, Facebook and NextDoor where rumor, unsubstantiated information, speculation and fake news run rampant.

But the core issue is that people’s information needs are not being met. Every week we have people contact DMA seeking information about an event, resource, or community issue, or looking for coverage of same. This lack of readily accessible and accurate information is a civic information problem—a civic health problem, if you will—and it’s crippling the way communities can address public problems.

From The Roadmap for Local News: A new practice is emerging from the local news and information crisis, one that holds the possibility of restoring, and even improving, the civic health of our communities. It should have these goals:

  • Coordinate around the goal of expanding “civic information,” not saving the news business
  • Directly invest in the production of civic information
  • Invest in shared services to sustain new and emerging civic information networks; and
  • Cultivate and pass public policies that support the expansion of civic information while maintaining editorial independence

This “civic media” practice carries forward the most valuable traditions of American broadcast and newspaper journalism by dedicating itself to informing the public, elevating voices, and impacting public policy and the processes of self-government. It also builds on that legacy by transforming who produces journalism and how they produce it, expanding journalism’s forms, and sharpening the definition of what it is for.

What’s DMA’s role?

Much has been written about the decline of journalism in this country, and with it, an immeasurable loss in dispassionate, fact-based, independent and accountable reporting. Far less has been written about another media system: what most call Public, Educational and Government (PEG) access television, and what DMA refers to as noncommercial community media, since our version in Davis includes Low-Power FM radio.

Community media is fundamentally about building more connected, cohesive and resilient communities through media making, and meaning making from that. By and large, our mission has been to help those in our community to build critically needed skills, to tell their stories, and to foster a sense of inclusiveness and belonging. Our mission is one of community service.

DMA has been doing this work for 36 years. The COVID-19 pandemic sharply shifted DMA’s work and focus, and provided us with opportunities to shine while serving our community in new ways. These included technological and staff support for nonprofit virtual events; remote programming that allowed us to ramp up how many local voices; and perspectives we featured during this time, and provision of critically relevant local news and information. We continue to serve Davis/Yolo through informative programming and strategic partnerships designed to amplify the work of other nonprofits, local government, and community-based projects and events.

DMA has tangible infrastructure (studios, recording equipment, web sites, archives, FCC licenses) as well as technological expertise and experienced journalists among board, staff and volunteers. Additionally, we are deeply networked throughout Yolo County.  We have the momentum, will and opportunity to create a truly innovative framework here in Davis, one that could serve as a roadmap for other community media centers across the country.

Status of work to date

I’ve spent the past couple of months conducting an initial assessment of the concept through a series of meetings with journalists and editors; elected officials; foundation staff; librarians, and nonprofit and community leaders. We’ve identified two project phases: a deep community information needs assessment in Davis and in Yolo County’s other three cities, which will in turn provide data to support and inform further development and a pitch for project funding.

As of April 2024, I’ve secured a $5,000 commitment from Yolo County Supervisor Lucas Frerichs’ office, and a pledge for another $5,000 from the City of Davis towards a $50,000 planning grant. We envision a community engagement process much like the one we successfully utilized in the ramp up to launching KDRT in 2004. Civic media practice includes connecting with community stakeholders  to find out what information they need to access, how they will access it, and what’s important to them. This next phase is about asking strategic questions and listening deeply.

For more information: Full concept paper