An ancillary goal

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Ask me why I wanted to launch Pegasus News, and you’ll find several answers: I hate inefficiencies, and I saw lots in the local news biz. I also, frankly, wanted to build a business where I could directly reap some of the rewards of its (knock wood) success after years of being a hired gun.

But one of the big reasons was social. I passionately want to bring a sense of community and connection to cities. That’s part of why our model is so intertwined with community groups.

Some of our propaganda pieces include a quote from Robert Putnam:

For a variety of reasons, life is easier in a community blessed with a substantial stock of social
capital
. . . . [N]etworks of civic engagement foster sturdy norms of generalized reciprocity and encourage the
emergence of social trust . . . .

[But] by almost every measure,
Americans’ direct engagement in politics and government has fallen steadily and
sharply over the last generation, despite the fact that average levels of
education – the best individual-level
predictor of political participation – have risen sharply throughout this
period. Every year over the last decade or two, millions more have withdrawn
from the affairs of their communities.

Farai Chideya‘s remarks at We Media reminded me of the only quibble I’ve heard from the community groups with whom we’re working: What about the members of our community who aren’t wired?

That’s where my ancillary goal comes in:

We want to help enable free WiFi access for everyone in our coverage area.

This is not entirely altruistic. We’re a digital-only product, which means that anyone who isn’t online can’t use our service.

There’s two components of this goal:

  1. Computer access
  2. WiFi

I don’t know exactly how to do this yet — and I’d like to hear suggestions from our readers. I know it’s not something we’ll necessarily do ourselves. We may serve more of a catalyst role.

Google is trying to put free WiFi in San Francisco, and there’s lots of debate over their motivations and methods.

The computer part is harder. Although there are already ideas out there. I had a conversation a while back with Kerry Goodwin, the Weed n’ Seed coordinator for the Ferguson Road Initiative, about an interesting program he is working on. The idea is to set up a monitored computer lab in a vacant apartment in low-income complexes. This particular program is for students, who would get to use laptops under supervision every afternoon. And, if their grades improved enough over a certain period of time, they would get to take a laptop from the lab for free. Said used laptop would then be replaced with a new one, thus keeping the equipment up to date. Because the center runs on WiFi, then the successful student should be able to use the laptop at home as well.

Obviously, someone would have to pay for this, and it isn’t going to be a young startup. And right now, we’re focused on proving that our business will work. But once we do that, I don’t want anyone saying that our community-driven vision of news excludes lower-income readers.

Mike Orren is the Chief Product Officer of The Dallas Morning News; President of Belo Business Intelligence; husband to Crystal Orren; and a Mungarian at Munger Place Church in Dallas, TX. All opinions herein are mine alone.