Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Movement to online newspaper publication leaves out rural and poor

Roy Hoffman of the Mobile Press-Register published this op-ed in the New York Times this morning about the recent decision by The New Orleans Times-Picayune and other papers in its publishing family (including the Mobile paper), to publish a print edition only three days a week.  Here's an excerpt that highlights the consequences of that decision for the poor--and the rural--especially in light of Alabama's digital divide.
Countless folks I've profiled in my home state have been old, poor or seen as marginal; they live down rural lanes or speak English as a sec on language.  Yet they clutch the paper when it's in their hands.  they are hungry, too, for news of their community, town, state and nation seven days a week.
Hoffman goes on to offer an anecdote based on his recent reporting in Prichard, Alabama, a small city of 23,000 that made national news last year when it was unable to pay its pension obligations.  The poverty rate in Pritchard is a whopping 36%, and the police chief there estimated that just 25% of the population have Internet access.  Hoffman believes many there rely on the print edition of the newspaper:
How many Prichard residents read the newspaper itself?  Far more than subscribe, I'd harvard to guess. I've written many stories about people and places in that community, and I know how papers get passed around at the barbershop, the church social, the front porch.  
Hoffman goes on to make a plea for government intervention to make news accessible to all in this digital age of newspaper belt-tightening:
Whether it's through a commitment to public Wi-Fi service in every town, or giving tax deductions for family computers and online services, or offering free classes on how to operate what for many are still newfangled gadgets, attention must be paid.

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