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Newspapers in Rural Areas Face New Challenges With Introduction of Broadband

BY Lisa Goldman | Tuesday, August 28 2012

Broadband Internet access is coming to rural America, thanks to a federal program that brings $7 billion in targeted investments to the project.

In the age of Craigslist, the idea of a small town that relies on a local weekly newspaper with classified ads might sound like something out of Andy Griffith's mythical town of Mayberry. But those towns and their weekly papers still exist, along with a local population that lags behind the rest of the country in digital literacy — partly because they are often from an older demographic.

With broadband access, the question is whether it is financially possible — or desirable — for rural newspaper editors to move their content online.

PBS explores this question in an interesting Media Shift piece that includes interviews with the editors of these weekly newspapers that might strike many as relics from a bygone age.

For digital advocates, the introduction of broadband has no drawbacks. It is simply an essential element of living in the modern world.

Technology leaders say that these rural residents are on the wrong side of the country's digital divide, and small businesses, rural citizens, and far-flung towns run the risk of falling further behind as cities increasingly become more digitally savvy. Broadband access must be partnered with public education, experts say, so that communities and citizens understand the impact of faster Internet access -- think of it as building a highway system without teaching people how to drive.

But local newspaper editors find themselves "... struggling with the same economic worries that larger publications have seen online." Is there a business model that allows a print newspaper to go digital without losing crucial revenue? Perhaps, given that rural newspapers are being forced to enter the digital age a decade later than larger, urban publications, they will skip the website stage and go straight to mobile?

These questions and others are addressed in the article, which includes a link to the report on a roundtable about rural small newspapers in the digital age, hosted by Washington State University's Department of Communications.