State Civic Networks Ready to Fill Void Created by Lack of Public Trust in Government and Reduced Journalism Resources

A new national state-by-state effort is underway to assure a vibrant and transparent democracy in America. Powered by robust technology tools that allow for unprecedented access to public policy discussions, the goal is to reverse Americans’ declining participation in civic activities. The founder of this project, The National Alliance for Public Affairs Networks (NAPAN), now seeks partnerships with citizens, business, nonprofits and other groups interested in opening windows on the operations of state governments.

The Concern

Citizens’ trust in all three branches of government is at all-time lows, according to a 30-year tracking trend by the Gallup Poll updated in September 2013. At the same time, there are 30 percent fewer newspaper reporters since 2000 and local television news time dedicated to news stories is on the decline. While the judicial, executive and legislative branches actively operate in states daily, the understanding of what and how decisions are being made at the highest levels go largely unreported and consequently unnoticed by the general public. The correlation between a lack of trust in government and the media’s coverage of government is no coincidence.

Expanding and Creating State Civic Networks

Concern about a disengaged and apathetic public created NAPAN, a nonprofit organization that believes the general public deserves, needs and merits unfiltered coverage of and access to the three branches of government in all 50 states. Through the creation of civic networks in each state, nonprofit institutions can provide video broadcasts from all three branches of government and tools to allow citizens, journalists, bloggers, advocacy groups, policymakers and others direct access to information about legislation, votes, and government activities and decisions. These networks take advantage of new technologies and fill the void left behind by the decline in news media coverage. With increasing broadband accessibility growing across the nation, the timing is right to launch a national campaign to create these networks.

NAPAN’s goals are to:

  • Raise the nation’s civic health by providing citizens more digital access to state government activities and making the government process more transparent, by providing citizens with tools of engagement. These include digital archives of legislative meetings, legal proceedings, executive branch agency activities, press conferences, public policy discussions and debates, the electoral process and other events and forums that shape public policy and state government’s role in our society.
  • Create a National Civics Trust Fund to provide states with critical resources and work plans to facilitate the operations of full-time civic digital networks in every state.

A first step in creating state civic networks is to conduct a thorough survey of existing state public affairs coverage in the states.

Universal Support for Government Transparency Efforts

Support for NAPAN’s efforts comes from a variety of organizations. “Citizens should be able to more easily monitor the workings of state and local government,” the Federal Communications Commission reported in a 2011 publication, “The Information Needs of Communities,” which advocated for more state public affairs television networks. Even the Radio and Television News Directors Foundation noted that many state public affairs networks “have become the de facto sources of pool feeds for television news coverage of state government events.”

Government associations like the National Conference of State Legislatures, the National Association of Secretaries of States, the Council of State Governments and the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners have all passed resolutions supporting NAPAN and its efforts.

To date, 24 states have some structure in place for civic networks, ranging from full-time operations and staffs to those with limited resources and timeslots.

Next Steps

NAPAN is developing an initial work plan, making plans to conduct a comprehensive survey of existing state public affairs networks and identifying new opportunities where networks do not exist.

Supporting this effort to promote representative democracy and engaging more citizens in the state government decisions is critical. If you share NAPAN’s vision for a stronger America, contact us at info@napan.org and we’ll let you know how you can support this important effort.