Tag Archives: blogging

Using money from public notice advertising as a digital dividend to help bridge the digital divide

Google Fiber, coming to Charlotte soon, taken March 20, 2015, at the Best Minds conference at Queens University. Photo by Scott E. Lundgren, @scottelundgren

Google Fiber, coming to Charlotte soon, taken March 20, 2015, at the Best Minds conference at Queens University. Photo by Scott E. Lundgren, @scottelundgren

People from Pew Research, Google Fiber, and the Charlotte community met on a Friday night at Queens University in Charlotte to talk about the digital divide and the potential transformation from Google Fiber.

I heard some of the talk because Scott Lundgren streamed it on Meerkat. I could listen in because I have broadband access at home.

Not everyone in Charlotte does. The city has pockets where broadband penetration is only 40%.

One tiny mention during the Q&A after the formal presentations at Queens intrigued me – the idea of  a “digital dividend.” Migration to digital tools can save money for businesses and government, and that dividend could be used to help bridge the digital divide.

Try applying that idea to a longstanding digital issue affecting N.C. businesses and governments – required public notices that historically have run in selected newspapers. Local governments want to stop spending the money to advertise public notices in newspapers and simply post the notices on their own sites. Newspapers and the N.C. Press Association propose a compromise this year, in which governments get a 15% discount for repeat advertising and the notices get posted online for free. They rightly argue that most newspaper sites generate more traffic than government websites. They also have at least one lobbyist in Raleigh as well as their own editorial pages to share the benefits of their compromise.

But they’re not the only sites delivering information. Choosing who gets the government contract for advertising public notes can be a political game, and in some small towns, that contract has had the power to kill small news organizations and feed the growth of others. It falls into the “picking winners and losers” category of state and local government law.

So let’s return to that concept of a digital dividend. What if the money currently going to public notice advertising in print was considered a potential digital dividend designated specifically for helping bridge the digital divide?

Use that money to make the notices more accessible to everyone. (And yes, that means everyone, regardless of political leanings, association membership, or ability to fund lobbyists in Raleigh.)

That money could go to one or more of these things:

  • local library support for computers, wi-fi, broadband and community outreach so people can access information online.
  • internal local government work to make the public notices more useful, granular, searchable by topic, and available to all through something like a simple RSS feed. (The state of Utah does this, with a site run by the state archives. I bet others do too.)  As they stand now, the notices are unstructured text blobs, unsearchable on a granular level, like for company names, specific addresses, or type of notice.
  • nonprofits specifically working on bridging the digital divide, like Pangaea in Polk and Rutherford counties, which is a 501(c)3 building out broadband. It has received Facebook grants to help broaden digital access in its rural area.
  • outreach work to lawyers and others who also must post certain kinds of notices but do so behind paywalls. Convene some meetings to discuss how to open that information to all.
  • a fund for unconnected communities in Charlotte and Raleigh, to help pay the $300 initial fee for Google Fiber.
  • the local government’s general fund, to help keep property taxes from rising (yes, this bullet point acknowledges political realities. It also helps longtime property owners on small fixed incomes as well as the big property owners. It doesn’t directly help the many newcomers and millennials who are renting, and it does nothing to help bridge the divide.)

Admittedly, the public-notice advertising money isn’t huge compared to the millions that the N.C. General Assembly manages. A 2009 survey by the N.C. League of Municipalities mentioned price tags of $10,500 for Monroe and $42,000 for Charlotte. But it adds up. A 2011 poll by the Associated Press came up with an estimate that local governments in North Carolina alone spent about $6 million in 2010 on legal ads and public notices.

And admittedly, any solution is complicated by differing media circumstances in each N.C. town. If you want to reach people in Davidson or Cornelius, Davidson News or Cornelius News are good bets, but a local paper in Fayetteville might have bigger reach today than a Fayetteville blogger. RSS feeds that reach any site are the best future-proofed solution to that problem.

This issue has been cussed and discussed in Raleigh and in local governments for at least four years now. It’s a bit arcane, not sexy, so proposed solutions generally reflect what Raleigh lobbyists or a few informed legislators want. But the Queens University discussion stemming from Google Fiber’s arrival raised the idea of a digital dividend. Let’s start thinking how that could work for something concrete like government’s public notices.


Forget two-a-day practice; three-a-days will either kill you or get you in game shape

Two-a-day football practice

Two-a-day football practice looks easy compared to three-a-day blog posting

The latest class assignment from an online journalism class through P2PU involves posting three times a day on a blog.

The assignment reminds me of the approaching intense summer high school football practice in the United States. And it’s not just football; soccer players at summer camps, track team members and other young athletes commit to twice a day practices in the off season.

It’s hot; it’s hard, and it separates the serious athletes from everyone else.

I suspect this class assignment will do the same. Posting three times a day online is often billed as a way to drive traffic; I have long suspected it changes the content as well, encouraging lightweight, easy posts without much depth. At the same time, perhaps it encourages quick thinking and sharing of those thoughts without too much self editing.

In that respect, perhaps the assignment encourages the kind of sharing that Twitter has captured. Some have questioned whether Twitter or Facebook are killing blogging. The assignment gives me a chance to convert some Twitter time to creating something of perhaps longer lasting value. Or perhaps not.

Either way, it’s worth a start. The assignment comes from TokyoMango, or Lisa Katayama, who also edits BoingBoing.

Photo credit: kaiju, from Flickr, licensed through Creative Commons.

Of networks, soccer parents and representative journalism

“Network weaving is not just ‘networking’, nor schmoozing. Weaving brings people together for projects, initially small, so they can learn to collaborate. Through that collaboration they strengthen the community and increase the knowledge available in it.”
Valdis Krebs and June Holley

Leonard Witt down in Georgia has some interesting ideas about representative journalism. He’s worked out the money ideas of hiring professional journalists for small interest groups of 1,000 or so. The quote above is from a PDF paper linked at his site, explaining the role of a “network weaver.” He advances the idea that a weaver, or marketer, or community builder, is necessary to make connections among groups interested in particular information. He says that job enables the funding of high-quality journalism.

One example he uses: the long-established carpet-making community in Dalton, Ga. I can imagine another similar one: the BMW community of Upstate South Carolina. I searched around quickly to see if anyone was already there, and found a post on a national blog that validated what any soccer parent knows: The best news comes from the soccer sidelines. Confirming it, spreading it, reporting it in the online community facilitated by a weaver is the next step.