It is not simply a question of improving rural broadband access, or importing technological solutions from the digital riches of Silicon Valley to the poverty of the Central Valley. The digital production gap transcends geography and stopgap measures.

Expanding broadband access, particularly in rural areas, is an appealing answer to digital production inequality. Surprisingly, while high-speed Internet access is important for being an Internet consumer, it is not important for being a producer. At the same time, living in an urban area contributes to consumption of online content, while having little bearing on production. What ultimately matters is class.

And it is the working class that has lost the most during this transformation of the news media. Not only does coverage of their world suffer like that of other constituencies in an era of reduced investigative reporting, but they are also not as apt to contribute to the new citizen journalism cloud.

Any solution to this gap must address the fundamental socioeconomic gaps between digital haves and have-nots. The ability of a city like Modesto to engage more of its citizens online may well rest on its ability to confront this thorny topic. Otherwise, the more elite classes that dominate the cloud will continue to drown out the voices of the marginalized.

This piece is part of CJR’s Nov/Dec 2011 roundtable discussion of the future of news in Modesto, California, and places like it. For more on the topic, click here.


Jen Schradie is a doctoral candidate in sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, and is affiliated with the Berkeley Center for New Media.