Friday, August 24, 2012

And is there any town that more lives the idea of "Don't Panic"?

 As much as I fought getting one, I must admit I do severely dig my smart phone. It's a battered Samsung Mythic, and it's a little over two years old. I'm way past the point of updating, but I tend to keep hardware until it quits working all together.

 Anyhow, one of the reasons I like my smart phone is because it fulfills a boyhood dream of having a hand-held, portable guide to Life, the Universe and Everything of my very own, and one that was updated in more or less real time. Just fire up the pitiful little browser, call up Wikipedia or Google, and I'm off. Should I wake up in an unfamiliar land, I've got Lost Planet and Wikitravels bookmarked. Finally, with Twitter and the AP, I've got a running, to-the-minute news-feed right in my pocket, which brings to mind the e-readers in Transmetropolitan. Hell, my phone's use as a communication device is almost tertiary.



 I like not having to deal with dead-tree newspapers and not having to wait until the television news got around to telling me what it thinks I should know. I remember going to a journalism conference in Oxford back when I was in high school, almost twenty years ago, and one of the guys there, some cat from the Poynter Institute told us we were a little over a decade away from total digital dominance in the media. He said by the time the new millennium was upon us, we'd all be getting our news via this new "Internet" thing.

 Now, I thought the guy was goofy, especially since I lived in a county that didn't at the time have local Internet connection (and didn't get high-speed connections well into the 2000s), but he was only a decade-and-a-half off, it seems. We're definitely living in the future on this one, with Internet news sources running neck-and-neck in importance and irritation with what we're now calling "Old Media".

 Back in June, the owners of the local rag, The Times-Picayune, abruptly cut its daily output. After finding out in the goddamn New York Times, a solid third of the employees were canned, and the paper went to three-a-week printing with plans to greatly expand the paper's deservedly maligned web presence. The TP has always had some good reporters and apparently blind layout and editing folks. I feel y'all.

 This came as a shock to all of us, not just the TP or the readers, but also the other publications in the area. Which brings us to this neat little article, all about what those other publications plan on down with the huge journalistic whole the TP left. Go ahead and read it, it's pretty interesting and as a news junkie living in a politically fascinating town, I'm sort of looking forward to it.

 However, one thing I noted was that New Orleans has about 70% of domiciles with broadband, which the story suggests is unacceptably low. Maybe, I don't know. Growing up without Internet, my gut opinion is that a little bit is better than nada, but I do get where they're going. And, let's face, part of the reason that not every home in New Orleans doesn't have Internet is because not every home in New Orleans has power, and there's really not a good reason for that fact. That's a whole 'nother mess and for another time, though.

 Anyhow. What struck me is that although they noted the lack of home connectivity, the story really didn't address the whole smart phone issue. Not everyone has a computer, but damn near everyone has a cell phone and most of them have smart phones. Conservatives that hate minorities but don't want to own it are forevermore yowling about poor folks with cell phones as an example of "there's really no poor people, just folks not as hard-working as Mitt Romney and George W. Bush", but that's gibberish. The technology has advanced to the point that the damn things are so cheap to make, therefore the companies will make cheap versions for hoi palloi while still soaking those with too much money to spend on more-expensive-but-basically-the-same versions. Capitalism! Same thing with smart pads. Not everyone can buy an iPad, but a Kindle Fire is less than 200 bucks and cheaper brands do exist.

 What I'd like to see, especially from New Orleans-based Internet news services, is a focus on mobile news. With smart phones/pads and sites like Twitter, it's possible to keep up pretty well without ever buying a newspaper or turning on the television, and that's without the media giving it much thought. Make your mobile pages accessible for all, something everyone can connect to regardless of how expensive their device was. Encourage sharing of stories via Twitter or other social sites, and make sharing as easy as possible. Give your readers a reason to be loyal so when they need news via another medium, they know you work with and for them. There may be ways of giving them the opportunity to be a part of the information-sharing experience, but then I think of newspaper comment sections and wonder if there are other things to do. A stroke for the future.

 Anyhow, I'm interested in seeing not only how this plays out for the various publications, but also if affects the average New Orleans resident, most of whom will read a newspaper or magazine if it's in front of them and like knowing what's going on in this wild, weird city. Granted, the main reason they want to know is so they'll have something to piss and moan to each other about while waiting for the bus, but hey. Now, some hopefully useful websites for those looking for New Orleans news and news in New Orleans, in no particular order:

The New Orleans Times-Picayune
The NOLA Defender
The Lens NOLA
NolaVie
The Gambit
The Uptown Messenger
The Baton Rouge Advocate, which announced it'd start a print run in New Orleans soon. I suggest you check them all out.