Monday, January 25, 2010

Citiscope: Reporting on Worldwide City Innovation

In the wake of the troubles and lessons of COP15 we are seeing projects, programs and groups sprouting up around the world setting out to take the high ground in ideas and communications on the up-side of the change and innovations necessary if we are to face the challenges of the planet and our cities. We invite you to have an advance look at the Citiscope project that will be formally announced this March at the World Urban Forum in Rio de Janeiro.

High Visibility Journalism Focuses on City Innovation & Breakthroughs

If cities are “where it’s at” for major policy innovations and breakthroughs of this fast-urbanizing 21st century, how is the broad public to know where -- and how -- it’s happening? How can good story telling be mobilized to draw and excite expanded ranks of city officials? How can civil society be drawn into the debate -- professional and business societies, student and poor peoples’ groups, environmental organizations, even change-oriented civil servants in less-than-responsive city bureaucracies?

We envision a global idea exchange – to inspire action, creative experiments by officials and city innovators in cities everywhere.

Today’s media coverage of cities is falling short. Overwhelmingly, it focuses on conflicts, disasters or alarming incidences of corruption. There’s insufficient coverage of active experimentation in cities to gird themselves for climate change, to upgrade slums, create sustainable water systems, cope with food shortages, create accessible transit, to plan and build “green” and humanely.

Citiscope is being launched in close collaboration with the World Urban Campaign and UN-Habitat. The Campaign, which will be formally announced this March at the World Urban Forum in Rio de Janeiro (15,000-17,000 participants are expected), was formed to increase attention to world cities’ dramatic needs and their potentials for sustainability and human advancement. Multiple corporate, professional, NGO and other organizations, with a cumulative constituency of some 30 million members, have now joined the campaign – a natural audience and source for Citiscope.

Citiscope stories will be based on efforts by leaders, by the private sector, by partnerships and by citizens in real, discrete, geographic places. The coverage will both tell the achievement stories and point honestly to the problems and limitations of the new approaches. That means applying historic standards for quality journalism -- getting the facts straight, providing as much balance in perspective as can honestly be achieved, and building credibility and reader attention in the process.

Two major news stories a week are envisioned. They’ll be short enough (800-1,000 words) for easy reading, set up for moderated discussions, and enhanced by a variety of “new media” elements -- pictures of story sites, charts and graphs, audio and video clips of interviews -- to peak and keep reader interest and prompt other Internet, broadcast and newspaper pick-ups around the world. Qualified observes (academic, other) will also be enlisted to add brief commentaries to place the experiments in their global context.

Stories will be accompanied by a variety of creative links to the web sites of existing organizations, in addition to UN-Habitat, with an interest and stake in cities’ futures -- for example City Mayors, Metropolis, Global Forum, Cities Alliance, ICLEI and Sister Cities, as well as sites of the Urban Age Institute, World Changing, the WorldWatch Institute, Ashoka and others. Each of these groups has strong features to recommend it, and provides a substantial research source. Each will also be invited to nominate city success stories for the attention of journalists, based on its own fields of interest and global contacts.

A major project goal: to develop a cadre of participating journalists -- with a special emphasis on younger journalists -- in cities across the developed and developing world. The writers will be encouraged to write to high journalistic standards, guided where appropriate by trained journalist-editors associated with the Citistates Group. The motivation for the writers? First, they will be paid adequate free-lance fees -– one assurance of quality, timeliness, responsiveness to queries. Possibly even more important, the journalists will have a new – truly global -- outlet for their writing and reportorial talent. Plus, many journalists may be “turned on” to the possibilities of urban innovation stories that they’d not focused on before.

The site will also feature clear summaries on major trends in and impacting cities, authored by journalists and qualified observers worldwide.

Overall project and editorial supervision will be by the Citistates Group, a team of journalists, speakers and policy experts focused on building sustainable, equitable and economically successful 21st century cities and metropolitan regions. Principals of the Group are writers Neal Peirce and Curtis Johnson and the groups’ manager-strategist, Farley Peters. They have authored 25 series of “Citistates Reports” on city and metro futures, sponsored by newspapers and community foundations, on regions across the U.S. They are also produce weekly columns for their sister website citiwire.net.

The Group covered, at the request of the Rockefeller Foundation, its month-long “Global Urban Summit” in Bellagio, Italy, in 2007, and then wrote the book that flowed from that event – Century of the City: No Time To Lose. The Group’s international experience include Peirce’s periodic coverage of international city developments for his syndicated newspaper column (syndicated by the Washington Post Writers Group), and his eight years engaged in Transatlantic issues as a trustee of the German Marshall Fund of the United States. Peirce was one of the 11 global awardees of the 2009 UN Habitat “Scroll of Honour Award,” “for a lifetime of journalism dedicated to reporting on cities for a better urban future.”

Contacts --
Neal Peirce: npeirce@citistates.com; 202-554-8191
Farley Peters: fpeters@citistates.com; 301-855-6482
www.citistates.com; www.citiwire.net
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About the author:
Neal Peirce is a lead writer on the dynamics of state and local government. Earlier in his career, he was political editor of Congressional Quarterly and then one of the founders of National Journal. Since 197, Peirce writes the United States’ first national column focused on state and local government themes, syndicated by the Washington Post Writers Group. Since 1995 he has been chairman of the Citistates Group, a network of journalists, speakers and consultants who believe that successful cities are today’s key to economic competitiveness and sustainable communities.


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