‘The Pub’ #95: Sarah Alvarez on how to serve low-income people

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Surely one of the most effective arguments against the continued taxpayer support of public media is that public media serves a socioeconomically elite audience. What’s the point of subsidizing media for rich people who should be able to pay for what they want themselves?

There are any number of initiatives in the public media system to reach low-income people who currently aren’t listening, watching or reading, but former Michigan Radio reporter Sarah Alvarez is skeptical about them.

“I hear a lot more about projects to basically sell the same product to a slightly different group of people,” she told me on The Pub. “I think if you really want to serve a low-income audience, you might have to change your product, and I don’t know how willing folks are to do that.”

Now, Alvarez is running a new journalism nonprofit in Detroit called Outlier Media, which doesn’t publish traditional reports to any kind of traditional platform. Rather, Alvarez offers renters in Detroit actionable information about their properties texted right to their phones. It’s one of the best examples I’ve ever seen of how public-service journalists can adapt their core products for new audiences and platforms.

Also on the show: Trint founder Jeff Kofman on why his web-based automatic audio-transcription service costs what it does; a good lesson I learned about how to not write something racially insensitive; and Current boss Julie Drizin on why Current.org is getting a paywall.

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We welcome your feedback on the show: You can reach me at adam@current.org or @aragusea on Twitter; my supervising producer at Current, Mike Janssen, is at mike@current.org; and you can contact Current generally at news@current.org or @currentpubmedia on Twitter.

If you’d like to offer a comment to be used in the program, please send on-mic tape (recorded in a studio, with a kit, a smartphone, anything) to adam@current.org either as an attachment or through Google Drive. Please keep it short!

Adam Ragusea hosts Current’s podcast The Pub and is a journalist in residence and visiting assistant professor at Mercer University’s Center for Collaborative Journalism.