In the mass media age, mass communication researchers interested in civic engagement and participation focused primarily on media and media use. However, given the upending of traditional media institutions and the rise of social media and other digital communication technologies that are giving rise to new sources of information, the contemporary media environment calls for a focus on information received from media (and non-media sources), and whether that information meets communities’ information needs. This article unifies different theoretical traditions into a definition of community information needs and a model of community information needs, information seeking and processing, and civic engagement, which can begin to guide theoretically grounded need assessments. The community information seeking and processing model proposed also requires a fresh look at methodological traditions; community-based participatory (CBPR) research is suggested as a possible framework to follow. The CBPR framework capitalizes on the unique scholarly and professional strengths of the mass communication discipline not only to assess information needs but also to help fulfill those needs and study the community-level effects of a robust information environment.
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Copyright © 2015 Mass Communication & Society Division of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.