Print vs. Online – A Question of Class?

Preamble:

When Robert Scoble spoke at SJSU a few weeks ago, he asked the room full of J-School students how many thought they would be working for a newspaper when they graduate. Lots of hands. Scoble tried to explain that everyone with their hand up might work for a news organization, but not a conventional dead-tree oriented newspaper. The few professors in the room took that a little hard, and have been batting the idea around on a superficial level. The prof. who teaches my grad class brought up Scoble’s comments at the Poynter Institute seminar on Convergence he attended last month. He reported back the general “harumph” let out by the editors and educators in response. Steve Sloan mentioned it, and Scoble picked the conversation back up, asking his readers whether they agree or disagree that print is history.

My Reply:
(posted as a comment on Scoble’s entry)

I agree that newspapers will involve less dead-tree-technology in the near future, but I hope that print never vanishes completely.

For me, it’s a question of access. As long as there are cities full of workers who commute by bus and train, I want a newsstand at the entrance to every station selling the (ugh) NY Post and NY Daily News for 50 cents or a buck apiece – whatever the price is up to now.

Unless you can supply every inner-city resident with an inexpensive tablet PC and free city-wide broadband wireless, forget about eliminating print.

Will papers have to figure out a way to turn a profit? Yes. Do I subscribe to a newspaper? No.

I’m a grad student in Mass Communications at SJSU, and I was at both your talk and Prof. Craig’s presentation on the Poynter seminar. Your bit about none of the J-School kids working for print has gone largely misread here – but rest assured that a few people got it.

Forget about reading the analog/digital paper on the patio with your coffee – the sooner this becomes a question about class and access, the better. Otherwise, who is the news for? Preaching to the elite = preaching to the choir? Maybe.

Has the debate over blogging v. journalism, online v. print, digital v. analog passed over the question of access? I understand that the “early adopters” of technology are usually the ones who can afford it, but what purpose do bright ideas like “blogging as the long tail of communication” or “free access to the online archives of every newspaper” serve if the people who have the most to gain from the information still don’t have access to it?

Here’s what we need to truly democratize information:
1. Free broadband internet access in the poorest parts of the country/world.
2. Inexpensive/subsidized/donated/free computers and a tiny bit of training for the same
poorest parts of the country/world.

That’s it. Let the market handle the rest. If all the meta-bloggers and media critics can be so vocal about problems with privacy and copyright issues, then Let’s Start Talking About Access. How about it?

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Update: as if on cue, Scoble points to this conversation going on at Rebecca MacKinnon’s blog. Her question is “So how do we get more diverse voices into the blogosphere?” The comments touch on some of the ideas about access that I’m thinking about.