Suppose you want to run an awareness campaign for, say, methods that prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STD) in a sub-Saharan country. Suppose you want to reach the widest possible audience because most adults are concerned by this issue. Suppose you have a well thought-out campaign message. Which medium do you go for?
"The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them."
-- Thomas Jefferson to Edward Carrington, 1787
Photo credit: Flickr user David Paul Ohmer
London’s Big Issue often features interviews with famous movie stars like Kate Winslet while the latest Big Issue South Africa features a review of a recently released local movie about 1950s apartheid.
Bogota has La Calle, Manila has The Jeepney magazine, and Washington, DC has Street Sense. Similar publications are found all over the world and have one thing in common. They are all written by people who are either homeless or living in vulnerable, temporary housing.
Many of these publications are part of The International Network of Street papers (INSP), a network of 101 street papers in 37 countries on 6 continents. The readership of these papers is at an astounding 30 million globally.
Are newspapers dead or dying? The growing chorus in the West seems to be: yes, newspapers are dead or dying. The internet is going to win and we all face a future where all the news that is fit to note will be on-line. Whatever happens in the West, reports suggest that in Asia at least newspapers are doing very well indeed. According to a recent report in TIME Magazine, for instance, as Asian societies become more open newspapers are sprouting all over the place and finding millions of readers.
Asia's media expansion has mirrored the fall of its dictators, as newspaper readers thrill at no longer getting just the day's propaganda. In Indonesia, the number of newspapers has increased from a few dozen when strongman Suharto was deposed in 1998 to roughly 800 today. The market is so buoyant that a new English-language paper, the Jakarta Globe, revved up its printing presses last November, just as several cash-strapped American papers were readying their final editions. "The Indonesian middle class is growing, and many households subscribe to two newspapers," says Ali Basyah Suryo, strategic adviser to the start-up Globe. "People like to hold the newspaper in their hands and even clip stories or save copies. It's seen as a valuable product."
In most of the post-industrial democracies of the global north there is a growing worry about the fate of newspapers. Many are dying or in trouble, including some venerable titles. Agonizing essays are being written about all this, and the issue is dominating more and more seminars on the future of democracy.