Quick thoughts on what’s happening with the New Orleans Times-Picayune and, more specifically, the march toward a digital-news revolution:
I followed the Twitter feed @savethepicayune this morning for two reasons, neither of which is a sentimental tie to newspapers with smelly ink and inconvenient news holes. I followed because
- I’m personally concerned for a longtime friend who works for the Times-Picayune. He’s a good reporter with a family that includes two young children.
- Not everyone gets their news digitally. Sometimes this is by choice. Other times it’s because they can’t afford a computer, or a monthly Internet bill, or a smartphone, or a tablet. It’s the latter who most negatively will be effected by Newhouse Newspapers’ decision to take the TP and some Alabama properties down a digital-first boulevard, which means cutting back on the print edition to three a week.
Most of you who read my site are, technologically, my peers. I have regular computer access and a smartphone. This feels normal. My students, when discussing decreased newspaper circulation, often say, “because everybody gets their news on their phones now.”
The thing is – no, they don’t. Not everybody. Far from it.
About 21 percent of Americans aren’t online regularly. That’s approximately 65 million Americans who either don’t want or don’t have Internet access. I couldn’t find Internet usage figures for the New Orleans area, but if you apply the 21 percent figure to the area’s more than 1.2 million people, that comes to about a quarter-million people who four days a week won’t have access to daily news in their community.
Let’s draw a clear distinction: Newhouse’s right to do what it wishes with its properties is mutually exclusive from my sadness that so many people will not have access to community news. I didn’t follow @savethepicayune to protest Newhouse. I followed as a symbolic gesture of support for a region that will be left with a huge cultural and community void. This stinks.
By some accounts, Newhouse is making a smart, forward-thinking business decision. The New York Times reported that Times-Picayune circulation has dropped from 261,000 in 2005 to 132,000 last March. The area’s population is down, and the economy has been slow to come back.
So be it.
As this country makes its inevitable march toward digital-first media, however, please, somewhere in the back of your mind, remember that not everyone has access to digital news. Some people work two jobs to barely make rent, much less plop down $80 a month for a phone with a digital-usage plan. Some U.S. citizens – 65,000,000 – don’t have or don’t want Internet usage. It won’t be much fun to wave an iPhone app in their faces when it takes them four days to get wind that the tomatoes they bought at the local grocers – and have since eaten – may have been part of a salmonella recall.
In closing, this post isn’t a rip job of Newhouse. They can do what they want. It’s a call to those pushing for a digital-media first strategy – me among them – to remember that for some people it’s not digital-media first. In fact, it’s not digital media at all. This is a call, in our technological march forward, to remember that the land we’re stepping over might just be the information graves of those who live in the very communities we serve.
Let’s not pop the Champagne, congratulating ourselves, when many of our potential clients are left abandoned. There are always casualties in a revolution, on all sides.
Find Dave Schwartz on Twitter @daveschwartz.