Reaching the “discarded” audience


Reaching Low-Income Audiences was the important if frustrating topic of a session. Maurreen Skowran from Raleigh, NC, convened it. Her personal frustration with her paper’s ability to ignore huge swaths of thr population has led her to develop a project to install digital kiosks to expand Internet access to people who don’t have it at home or at work. First location ideas: laundromats, bus stops, churches. In later conversations, I learn she plans to charge reasonable prices for Internet access (think of airport kiosks) and set the kiosks up with portal pointing to local information sources. Starting in a county with only a weekly paper that has no editorial online presence.

We bounced back and forth between two poles:

a) what a terrible job most traditional media does covering/serving underserved audiences (Vikki Porter calls them “communities of difference”). Best quote on that from Benjamin Melancon: “well there’s no way we can do worse than we’re doing now in terms of content.” (Many of us worry he underestimates the depths still left to sink to.) He has a small non-profit called People Who Give A Damn, apologizes he hasn’t updated the site (naturally, as he is a web guy).
b) inspiring experiments like Maureen’s kiosks and Michael Stoll’s Public Press Project

General agreement that mobile is the future but we need other media in the interim (Michael Stoll made a convincing case for a paper publication). Also that content is as or more important as mechanics, that mainstream journalists have lost touch with huge groups of the population. Not just lower-income, but rural, undigital, non-college educated, etc.

Tom Stites joined us for a while, sent this follow-up note:
Friends — I was cheered to see such a engaged NewsTools conversation about journalism for less-than-affluent people. If you have time and interest, you might find some interesting context in this keynote speech on this very topic that I gave at the 2006 Media Giraffe conference in Amherst:…

Let’s keep this conversation going. It’s crucial to the future not only of journalism but of democracy.


Indeed I think it is.

Tags: Newstools2008, poverty, diversity, digital divide,

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