Friday, October 2, 2009

Study Commissioned by Nonprofit says that Access to News is "Wildly Unequal"

The Washington Post reports today, October 2, 2009, that the John S. and James L. Foundation commissioned a report from the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program.  Aspen Institute studied issues of access to news information across communities, urban and rural.  The study concludes that there is a hunger for information that is unmet in today's society.  The study acknowledges that communities of color, the poor and rural communities have limited access to the Internet.  The report also discussed the importance of newspaper sources of information, but clarifies that it is not about how to save dying metropolitan newspapers.  Instead it is about how to preserve the critical functions of media in a Democracy.  For the full story, please click here.  An excerpt is below:

But that is the task of a high-powered commission that says, in a report being released Friday, that the country's growing hunger for information is "being met unequally, community by community." The elaborately named Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy raises the specter of two Americas -- one wired, the other not so much.

Citing estimates that more than one-third of the country has no broadband connection to the Internet, "that's a hell of a lot of Americans who don't have access to the way we're communicating," says Alberto Ibarg?en, president of the Knight Foundation, which commissioned the year-long study with the Aspen Institute. "When an urban kid who wants a job at McDonald's or Wal-Mart has to apply online, if you don't have digital access, you can't apply."

The panel, co-chaired by former solicitor general Theodore Olson and Google Vice President Marissa Mayer, pays tribute to the importance of newspapers as "the primary source of fair, accurate and independent news" in many cities. But the report pointedly fails to offer a strategy for survival, saying "the challenge is not to preserve any particular medium or any individual business." Instead, it focuses on promoting "the traditional public service functions of journalism," in whatever form.

Walter Isaacson, president of the Aspen Institute and a former Time managing editor, says the report's focus is "not how do you save dying metropolitan newspapers. There's a wariness to assume that the old institutions should be preserved just for their own sake." He says the challenge is "coming up with a way that people who provide good and relevant information can pay their mortgage and put food on their table."


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Call me old fashion and out of touch, but I just don't see newspapers being replaced on the local level as a prime news outlet. Hard hit in this terrible recession/depression, I think local newspapers will return as well as key metropolitan dailies once the economy rights itself. As one who got a start as a local reporter many years ago, I know that the news we covered and the depth of that coverage simply will not be replaced by the web. The big media oriented websites don't care and cannot go that in-depth on local issues. As far as local websites somehow covering the news, it is laughable--at least currently. Local websites want to talk about the applefests and holiday doings, all tied into advertising. It is so simple to start a local website today that with spin-offs probably few will make money at that level. So who will the public return to? Its trusted local newspaper. Local newspapers need websites but they also need that trusted paper edition! The local newspaper is the only viable media outlet that will send a reporter to cover the townhall board meeting and delve into the police report and out those drunk drivers. No, I think there is a real need and possibly a financial scenario to be made for at least local newspapers and the wonderful, large metropolitan dailies. At least I hope so.


Posted by: Ron Derven | Oct 5, 2009 12:11:55 PM

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