Sunday, January 25, 2009

Geography and Social Innovation

Mike Madison continues his exploration of the challenges facing Pittsburgh media and comments upon the primary theme of my blog:

Second, if one were thinking about the future of Pittsburgh news, one might think: How can we monetize that traffic and leverage the Diaspora to save the Post-Gazette?

Here's an idea: Make the paper all about Pittsburgh -- the city and its neighborhoods, and the region. Get rid of national and international news, or park it in a separate small section. Fewer and fewer people read the Post-Gazette for that, since it's all wire service material anyway. I take my national and international news online, and from the Times (for the liberal slant) and from The Economist (for the conservative slant). Pittsburgh stuff is what the P-G audience wants both online and offline, and a lot of them want it, and it's all that they want.

Mentioning the Burgh Diaspora isn't the connection. My preoccupation is with the mismatch between a traditional cultural/political landscape and the contemporary challenges of economic forces. A good example of reconciliation is Youngstown State University's aggressive courtship of Western Pennsylvanian post-secondary student dollars:

This initiative is breaking down one more barrier along the Cleveburgh Corridor, demonstrating the diminishing significance of the Ohio-Pennsylvania border, a dotted line on maps less than 2.5 miles from the Youngstown city limits.

Pittsburgh's media problem, as I understand it, is one of geography. Newspapers aren't struggling because they can't figure out a viable business model. The issue is that they reflect an outdated conception of community.

The obsession with brain drain is another example of this disjuncture. The only talent that matters is produced locally. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette or the Tribune Review write for a geographically fixed audience as if we still lived in the heyday of industrialization. The story is about all the people who left , not the success of Pittsburghers around the world.

Pittsburgh media could be instrumental in solving the mobility paradox. In fact, evolving media technologies have sparked geographic innovations. The latest and greatest in social media is often miscast in the service of a familiar landscape. Even the vanguard actively reproduces the established sense of place. The new forms of community already exist. Newspapers need to catch up with them.

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