Sunday, March 18, 2012

A 'penny press' for the digital age?

As newspaper companies try to generate more revenue from a shrinking audience, they are catering both content and delivery to a wealthy, educated, white audience, according to a panel at the recent SXSW Interaction conference in Austin, Texas.

Panel organizer Fiona Morgan, a researcher at the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy at Duke University, thinks the old idea of the "penny press" -- which revolutionized journalism by covering news that appealed to a broader audience that flocked to the cheaper publication -- might be updated for the digital age.

Ryan Thornburg, a 2011 Knight News Challenge Winner, has launched OpenBlock, which aims to lower the cost of gathering and publishing basic data about government and public life.

"Property sales, arrest reports, new business openings and restaurant inspections have long been a staple of community newspapers," Thornburg writes. "But until now, publishing them has required a reporter to go down to a county office, pick up a piece of paper, and re-type the information into her newspaper's publishing system. We aim to automate as much of that as possible.

"If OpenBlock lowers the cost of collecting and publishing commodity news in rural markets and staves off some bad competitors, then the next step will be for publishers to reinvest the savings into high-quality, high-impact public affairs reporting," he continued. "Reporters who once gathered paper and went to meetings will need to do more stories about the 'how' and the 'why' rather than simply the who, what, when and where."