N.O. way out! A Big, Not Easy solution to a city's journalism crisis


The other day I was bemoaning the journalism crisis (and yes, Sara Ganim, it is a crisis) in New Orleans, where a crime-and-corruption-ridden city with an abysmally low rate of Internet penetration is losing as many as 50 traditional journalists and delivering a printed newspaper to its citizens only three times a week.

Today, I decided to quit my bemoaning and suggest some actual solutions to the problems in the Crescent City. I've published a piece on the journalism website Poynter.org that's entitled, "A Big, Not Easy solution to the journalism crisis in New Orleans."

Here's a snippet:

But there are ways to solve some of these problems. In the case of the digital divide in New Orleans, the biggest issue isn’t lack of interest in high-speed Internet but lack of money. The pending changes at the Times-Picayune scream out for a new, large-scale and well-coordinated philanthropic effort to increase Internet access in New Orleans, to levels that compare to more affluent cities.

America’s larger philanthropic organizations have been understandably reluctant to directly fund newspapers, but I think they would view an Internet-access project much more favorably. Consider, for example, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; Bill Gates has spoken passionately in the past about bridging the digital divide, but so far his efforts have been largely in the area of putting computers in public libraries. What about a more ambitious plan that would partner with the Times-Picayune owners to bundle tablets or other devices that could be packaged with easy access to news and public data?

An even more ambitious – yet very doable – approach to this would also aim to improve hyperlocal journalism in these poorer neighborhoods. Imagine a street-level Internet café that coordinated the charitable tablet program with a couple of hyperlocal reporters (also subsidized), who not only write but work to recruit citizen journalists, from bloggers to photographers.

Also, I propose a philanthropic venture modeled after ProPublica that would produce more in-depth investigative reporting, and partner not just with the Times-Picayune but other news orgs. I realze that's a lot to ask of folks with deep pockets, but we're talking about New Orleans, a much beloved but star-crossed city that was battered by the federal flood after Hurricane Katrina...among other things. If that doesn't open a few checkbooks I'm not sure what would.

There's one more reason for sharing all of this with you. If some of these things work in New Orleans...they might work in Philadelphia, too.