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October 30, 1996
Idea Central, describing itself as a "virtual magazine," is a kind of wonk heaven. Filled with up-to-date and in-depth analyses of social trends and policy initiatives, it has enough statistics to satisfy those whose appetites for details were whetted by the Gore-Kemp debate. Most of the content for Idea Central comes from the twenty-six organizations whose Web sites make up the Electronic Policy Network, a left-leaning umbrella site created by Paul Starr of The American Prospect magazine. It's a diverse collection that includes think tanks and watch-dog groups -- such as the Citizens Budget Commission, Families USA, and the Center for Media Education -- whose jobs are to educate the public while trying to shape public policy.
The editors of Idea Central sift through the reports produced by members of EPN, grouping them together into six branches, from "Education" to "Welfare & Families." The effect is a substantial antidote to the airy nothings of today's political rhetoric. For example, the November-December edition of Idea Central's "Economics & Politics" branch includes a report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities showing that Bob Dole's tax-cut proposal calls for a 37 percent reduction of government spending between now and 2002; it also provides charts and figures showing the programs that would most likely be affected if more than a third of the government were to disappear. Meanwhile, a study by the Economic Policy Institute gives a "statistical portrait" of the standard of living of various groups and concludes that despite the "ten million new jobs" the Clinton-Gore campaign claims to have created during the past several years, the financial slide of the average worker that began in the late 1970s has yet to end.
"Repurposed" content is often maligned in the online world. Idea Central illustrates how skillful repackaging can actually make information more valuable, by selecting and tying together the most trenchant and relevant policy analyses from EPN's braintrust -- information that the general (interested) reader would otherwise not be likely or able to seek out.
Copyright © 1996 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.