A mobile approach to news in New Orleans: I watched the “60 Minutes” profile on the Times-Picayune, the New Orleans paper that recently cut staff and reduced its old-tree edition to three days a week. The story focused on the cutbacks and the complaints, all but avoiding any meaningful discussion about the paper’s digital products or even a single mention of the other fine news organizations in town.
I’ve grown weary of reports like these, which fail to introduce new ideas and merely point the finger back at a dying model. (It was even more apparent when the next segment on “60 Minutes” profiled Ideo, an idea consultancy.) But I thought of an idea, so I thought I’d share:
One of the key points was New Orleans is one of the nation’s least-wired cities, and without a daily paper, this population is not being served. While many have focused on subsidizing broadband access to the city’s poor — unsuccessfully in most cases — I would love to see similar efforts to subsidize smartphone access. This is where news consumption is shifting, and why limit news access within just the home itself?
Imagine, for example, a commercially-sponsored effort (i.e. Pepsi and Verizon) to offer deeply-discounted rates and free, older-model Android smartphones to low income New Orleans residents. These phones would have the Nola.com (Times-Picayune) and WWL’s apps pre-installed. In return, both news organizations offer discounted advertising space for both sponsors to promote the program. Simultaneously, both Nola.com and WWL could apply for grant money to improve their mobile experience, being careful to sustain these older Android editions.
This is just an idea, and I’m not an expert on New Orleans’ digital divide. But looking at it through a mobile lens — instead of a print or broadband issue — may open up some new opportunities.