The dark side of going digital and how to fight it

Mizzou students Abby Ivory-Ganja and Marlee L. Baldridge are at the Online News Association Conference to cover tech and innovation sessions for RJI. Visit our ONA page to see all the coverage. 

Story by Marlee Baldridge


When you’re choosing to put your digital audience first, says Katlyn Alo, you’re inherently putting another audience second. 

Alo is a data reporter working for Outlier Media, based in Detroit. Outlier Media uses text messages to reach its audience about housing issues. Why? Because their audience is mostly poor, marginalized families who don’t have reliable access to the internet. Alo says her research showed more than thirty percent of Detroit citizens don’t have access to internet. However, they do have access to SMS text-messaging. 


Text-messaging is a great way to reach audiences that might be left behind as newspapers move out of print and solely online. In a industry embracing new technologies (often expensive and requiring a lot of infrastructure on the back end) it’s important to note that many Americans don’t have access to high-speed internet, particularly poor or rural Americans. Alo calls this the “dark side” of going digital.

There is a downside to texting. Many texting services are expensive (Outlier Media pays roughly $15,000 a year for their SMS infrastructure) and requires a lot of time investment on the user’s behalf. There are SMS-news models that allow for subscriptions, like the Text Project. This particular service focuses on a personality essentially guiding the reader through a beat or issue. Because it’s a one-on-one service, it requires much more effort than a single article posted online. 


Another factor to consider is the format. Text-messages need to be short. Their interface needs to be simple to understand. And while invaluable in a breaking news situation, text messages are not evergreen content. But serving the audiences who are left behind is worth the extra effort. 

Read more: Liveblog of this session

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