Science Bloggers for Students DonorsChoose Challenge

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Reaching the under-served

Notes from the Blogging While Brown Conference
Chicago, Illinois

Workshop: “What’s next for traditional media?”
Participants: Monroe Anderson, Eric Easter, and Bruce Montgomery

The conversation, initiated by Eric Easter of went like this:
“Some people think that EbonyJet should be a CNN [for black people]. No it shouldn’t. Black people watch CNN and they get all the other news offered by mainstream news outlets. So our purpose is to present that news and explain what it means to black people, how that information relates to their lives.”

So I pondered….EbonyJet relates the commonly known news to the lives of their special audience – the African-American demographic.

But is it fair to assume that all news is so common and that everyone has such easy access to this information. And then I thought: What about news information that is known to have low reporting and low specific audience reporting? Science.

Then Deborah Small made a valid point that EbonyJet elevates celebrities above academicians.. I totally agree! The response from Mr. Easter:
“When we go to the publishers with this same issue - try to add more substance to the features- they push back. That type of content doesn’t sell magazines!”

For real? So, it’s all about selling magazines. I get that selling magazines is the goal, but must it be the only goal? I was under the impression that Ebony Jet once had a responsible role in the African-American community. What has happened? Have they changed or has our perception of them changed?

There was some hub-bub. My hand was quickly in the air, but I wasn’t called on. The conference organizer even got in on the action, Gina and as she correctly noted that this actually identifies an opportunity for someone (a blogger) in this room to fill. One or all of us could create the vehicle and supply this information we are complaining about EbonyJet not providing.

However, I do take issue (or two) with this proposal.

For one, as online people we tend to attract others like us and few people not like us, i.e., other smarty-pants type bloggers.

Two, EbonyJet has access to a demographic (and a rather dedicated one at that) that I and many others would like to reach. Activism or actionism is about reaching more than the choir. It’s about reaching people who need the help most and are the least likely to participate (out of fear, economics, no access to info etc) – the underserved. For me, EbonyJet has a direct line to one of my target audiences – the African-American community. So, why can’t a compromise be reached? To me, effective science outreach means reaching the most under-served audience. And if the point of EbonyJet, and other black media outlets, is to relate to people – to bring relevance and information to people – then it can’t just be about appealing to the lowest common denominator.


BB said...

Great post with great points. The online community is so huge that every individual has to do a great deal of filtering to break down into manageable amounts of information. Online information may be at your finger tips, but it isn't spoonfed to you the way television and magazines are - you have to already have a search image and spend time searching (to continue on an optimal foraging analogy). So, as you point out, the people reading blogs that interpret science, tend to already have the pertinent information in mind. Case in point - I am a scientist, and I read science blogs such as your own. My sister is a photographer, and she reads photography blogs.

So what we need is publicly available, spoonfed information and interpretation of science issues by knowledgeable people that can relate the information to the underserved communities. Since this doesn't sell magazines, what we need, in short, is PBS news for the underserved/minorities. One reason this doesn't exist currently, is that the underserved/minorities don't have the capitol to support such a service. It might be time to appeal to Obama...

vetmomof2 said...

I want to answer one of your questions regarding the role of EbonyJet in years past. I have original copies of EJ and they were about social issues, there were articles of substance not just articles on the beauty of the week or the fashion of the latest basketball player/celebrity. It is sad EJ has gone from a magazine there to provide information of substance and frivolity to a "just sell magazines" mentality.
Their logic is flawed but not one that has not been accepted by all types of business folk. For example, the railroads were in prime position to be the leaders in "transportation" not railroading. They too missed the mark when it came to growing with the consumer; they should have been the leaders of the airline and vehicle industries.
To go even further, I liken EJs philosophy to how the civil rights movement was stopped in its tracks (or at least slowed to a molasses pace). Black folk got a “good government job” and got to shop in White folk stores, thought "well we made it" and stopped fighting. They failed to teach the next generation that the fight was not complete, that there was still serious inequality and that desegregation was not and IS not integration.
But let’s not give them all the blame. The consumer has some responsibility here. If we want EJ to go back to its roots, we need to show them that we will pay for it.

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