Design, HCId, Journalism

Digital news devices disregard the digital divide

Many journalism blogs and conversations are suggesting that E-readers, tablets and new devices will be the future of journalism. These will save news. I disagree. Below is a repost of a comment I made on the Society for News Design blog post about these readers. Matt Mansfield post reports on Roger Fidler, program director for digital publishing at the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri, and his work and reviews of these tablets. Matt has been an important mentor for me in my journalism and design career. I’m not sure where he stands on this issue but I believe him to be someone who does value the user’s (reader’s) needs, society and quality content.

Much of the comments before my response celebrated these devices; though “LdF” eloquently reminds readers that content is king. My response reads

@LdF I agree, Content is king. I think everyone will agree with that.
@Adam Levy I’m struggling with the idea that E-readers are the only possible option. If we think from user’s perspective, how many people are running out to buy, yet another, device to carry around with them? And that’s not even considering the monetary cost of buying an e-reader device. Which brings me to my point about the digital divide.

Sure, there are the people who can afford to buy an e-reader, those people likely have smart phones. I’d be curious to know how many people who take a phone, charger, laptop, camera (maybe), wallet and their lunch to work also want to lug an e-reader around with them.

Then, what is the news solution for people who cannot afford an e-reader? Sure, news is online, it’s free. I think that’s excellent. It works for me. I think we, journalists, designers, need to have some conversation about readers without mobile devices, without internet connections at home (or at least fast ones). Yes, we are designing for the future, but people with low-incomes will exist in the future, too.

I am not arguing that we need to fire up more printing presses for those without internet connections. Because those people, likely, are not buying the newspaper too (because of cost, not interest). So, let’s remember to also design for the future of news on the other side of the digital divide. If we don’t, I predict we’ll see an educated Bourgeoisie and a proletariat without access to news.

Coming back to my point: I have a smart phone, it costs a lot of money, it let’s me read the news without having to buy anything more.

Just playing devil’s advocate…

I do plan to return to the media, journalism community during my career, sometime. I will practice my skills as an HCI professional in other fields, first. I just hope, by that time, news information is not a luxury item that is only available to those with access to high technology. Let us not create a society where only the elite have the opportunity to be educated about their economic, political, social, local and cultural news.

Nina Mehta is an Indian American writer and product designer in San Francisco. She started writing online in the 90s and began her career in journalism near sweet home Chicago. Nina has since lived and worked in Berlin, London, and Tokyo.

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