Good Will Hunting

Attytood’s Will Bunch is arguing that philanthropy can save newspapers. But—here’s a twist for you—the papers should be the donors, he says, not the recipients.


In a post today, Bunch declares—based, broadly, on The New York Times report on netbooks (cheap ($99) laptops “the size of thin paperback books that can run all day on a single charge and are equipped with touch screens or slide-out keyboards”)—that newspapers should get into the platform distribution business. “Big-city newspapers,” he writes, “should be giving away netbooks.”

Bunch is arguing, essentially, for the business-modelization of Karma. “Most major American cities,” he notes, ‘have a “digital divide’ — a sizable gap between computer ownership and usage in working class and poorer urban neighborhoods and Internet activities out in the more affluent suburbs.”

But a problem — like the digital divide — also creates an opportunity. The arrival of much cheaper and more user friendly laptops called “netbooks” make it possible to kill two birds with one stone. A massive philanthropic efforts [sic] by large news organizations to bring these simpler computers into once-deprived households would create a bond of community between the media and its new, grateful online readers, and also make it easier for newsrooms to move more quickly away from the expensive print distribution model and into a bold new digital age.


In return, these news organizations — you really couldn’t call them “newspapers” anymore if this scheme were successful — would reap enormous benefits, including a community-relations coup and a closer bond with newfound online readers, a golden opportunity for branding their website (the Web address could, and should, be advertised on the new device), and the chartitable operation could even lead to a new news-gathering eco-structure (more on that in a second.) The newsroom-sponsored netbook drive would even offer flexability in the search for the Holy Grail of a new business model — the goodwill generated by this could encourage voluntary donations from those with the ability to pay, in the mode of NPR, or it could possibly advance the paid subscription model coupled with free access to the neediest of the new netbook owners.

More here.

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.