Most of the students in Mrs. Ramirez's freshman English class at Manual Arts High School in South L.A. complete their homework with the help of their cell phones. Some even write essays on their phones and print them out at school via USB. Eight out of every 10 students at Manual are identified as Hispanic or Latino. Teenagers enjoy being entertained through their mobile devices and prefer for news to come to them through online portals such as Yahoo or Facebook.
Study after study during the past two years has shown that Latinos – more than other racial groups – tend to reach the Internet mostly through their phones. The findings suggest increasing and enhancing the news consumption of students, such as those at Manual, should be as easy as delivering more news to their mobile devices.
The newspaper world must act more like the cable television realm. In other words, individual newspapers should strike carriage agreements and offer bundled subscriptions. A subscriber should receive a good deal for subscribing to a handful of papers at once. A small paper such as North County Times could align with a mid-market daily such as the Sacramento Bee and a national paper such as the Wall Street Journal. Each paper receives an edge by gaining more subscribers than they might have otherwise. To get to this point where people are willing to pay for bundled subscriptions, local publications must first gain the trust and respect of the next generation.
I propose to develop a mobile application and mobile website that is co-branded with a local school such as Manual Arts. Students would download the app to pick up daily updates from the school administration, see their bell schedules and school calendar. The app would allow a news publication like Neon Tommy a new guaranteed distribution platform. We could push news alerts directly to the students.
Most of the updates would be tidbits of reporting that emerge from a project that would involve holding the Los Angeles Unified School District accountable for its spending of more than $20 billion in bond proceeds and millions more in property tax surcharges. The nation's second-largest school district has amassed the funds during the past decade to retrofit schools, fund the construction of new ones and prevent teacher layoffs. Little has been done by the media to make sure the money has been spent wisely.
The app would allow students to submit their thoughts about having class in portable trailers, what classroom technology teachers have troubling using, which walls need fresh paint or any other praise or folly they have about the school.
Rather than beginning the discussion about school spending with parents, the idea is to intrigue students and answer their questions. By dissolving an important subject into bite-size pieces of video, graphics and text, students would be inspired to start conversations with their parents.
This project moves digital journalism forward by testing two hypothesis: that targeted distribution can widen a publication's online audience and that smart interactivity via mobile devices can increase the news consumption of one of the nation's fastest-growing population segments. The students at Manual could become active participants in the public dialogue about how to stabilize school funding in California's volatile fiscal climate.