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Why this reporter agreed to be in a digital divide ad campaign

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KEYSPOT is the branded network of computer literacy centers in Philadelphia, including city-backed rec centers, Free Library branches and private nonprofit efforts.

Since their federal stimulus-backed launch in 2011, we at Technically Philly have reported on the effort, including the impact, small numbers and celebrated successes. That’s presumably why I was asked to be one of a handful of people included in a public awareness advertising campaign — which also included rapper Freeway and has run on a few outdoor billboards, on SEPTA subway cars and in some train stations.

I’ve had a few questions privately and publicly about the appropriateness of a reporter/editor to be involved in such a campaign, so I thought it was worth sharing my logic.

Centrally, when I was asked to do the photo shoot back in January inside a Drexel University auditorium, I weighed the benefits and potential pitfalls and felt there was more reason to do it than not.

Let me share those thoughts:

Why do it?

  • I personally believe in the need for greater awareness about the KEYSPOT network of computer literacy centers.
  • The organization I most visibly represent has an editorial interest in that same greater awareness.
  • After covering for years many of the stakeholders involved in the KEYSPOT effort, I believe, while impacted by politics and persuasions, that, on the whole, the people behind the effort believe in the mission.
  • For the overwhelming majority of people who see the advertisements, I am nothing more than stock photography
  • For readers and partners, this is a statement that I care about the mission-driven impact of our technology community around access and not just the wealth creation.
  • Most shallowly, it was a new experience.

Why don’t do it?

  • Other reporters, editors and others sensitive to traditional media ethics could view this as a misstep or breach of our industry norms. I am taken less seriously in my profession for being seen as too heavily involved in advocacy.
  • The connection between me and an organization I cover could result in a reporting bias or, even harder to control, the perception of a reporting bias.
  • I’m attaching my name to an organization I have no leadership in. So if it were to be involved in a controversy — or, more likely, when declining centralized funding and lack of central leadership leads to a fracturing of the effort — my name and, by extension, organization are associated with it.

I don’t like, nor do I take lightly, those reasons to not do it, but I simply don’t believe that action should only be taken when there are no negative side effects. There are always negatives, so that’s just a reason for inaction. I’d rather be involved in trying to solve something.

To put it most simply, I felt most of the reasons to not do this were governed by a small minority of peers in the news industry, whose values I don’t think have to reflect my ethical paradigm. Rather, I believe that to be involved in technology, we have to be aware of where our most vulnerable friends are being left behind, and news is involved in the communities it covers. I want to be a part of the solution in any way — even just public awareness.

Oh, and let me say this clearly: I have not received any compensation for this project, and if I had, I would have donated it toward a relevant effort around access.

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