Seattle Political Information Network (2003)

SPIN was an experiment in community-based, interactive communication. It was a response to the various gaps in public information created by the commercial channels that currently carry most of the easily available news and information in society.

In recent years, governmental standards for social responsibility among broadcasters have been relaxed. At the same time, restrictions on ownership of multiple communication outlets by single corporations have also been eased. The combined result is a serious loss of public affairs coverage and declining space for high quality content that reflects the values and interests of diverse sectors of society. In addition, as commercial media organizations respond to the current business imperatives for growth and profits, coverage of government, politics, arts and culture have diminished.

Despite the familiar claims that commercial media are only giving people what they want, it is also clear that many commercial media have experienced declining audiences in times of soaring profits because they have found wining content formulas that sacrifice both audience and content to profit calculations. SPIN is a project dedicated to restoring some measure of political and cultural balance to the public media sphere.

One result of the declining social responsibility in commercial media outlets is the impressive number of creative media workers who no longer can find satisfaction in their chosen crafts. SPIN offers a high quality web-publication format for journalists, commentators, and other culture workers who seek to renew the public sphere of our community.

Another result of the current media gap is that large numbers of active citizens have little place to go to exchange quality information about their community. There are many pressing issues — from the environment and affordable housing, to local responses to globalization — that engage these citizens on a daily basis. Yet there is little way for these citizens to make news that attracts public attention to their efforts. SPIN will be a place where news about a variety of issues that matter to our quality of life can be posted and discussed.

SPIN is at present an idea that has generated interest along a network of academics, communication workers, writers, and active citizens in the Seattle region and beyond. We are working on a web-based design that will serve high quality information and cultural content within an interactive environment that encourages networking and civic action with a public voice. It is also a project that enables students to learn about how digital media can democratize public communication and information processes.

The first meeting of the SPIN project was held in December 2002. Billed as a “conversation with community organizers, culture workers, and media activists aimed at creating a Seattle Political Information Network,” the meeting served as a fruitful brainstorming session for creating an interactive information and publicity system for community activists and issue advocacy networks. Distributed at the meeting was a SPIN 1.0 document detailing a vision for the project, a program for the meeting, and background information of participants.

The lessons learned through conversations with community activists have been applied to the development and design of the Seattle digital youth commons, Puget Sound Off. Thus, even though SPIN was not realized, its vision lives on in the form of PSO.