all of this goes back to James Hamilton [a professor of communication at Stanford University]. He gets tremendous props for caring about this. His story of how he came to study this is really interesting. I heard him describe it as, he was in a convenience store, and he saw a newspaper that was basically just made up of people’s mug shots—super weird. And it was one of the only newspapers in this convenience store, and he’s like, “What the hell is this? How is there a market for this and not a market for news? If people are willing to buy this, what are they not being served by traditional media?”
The research that he does is really interesting because he notes that even when low-income news consumers are taking in media at very similar rates to people who have more money, they’re not being served by the media because the media is obsessed with their target audience. I know that to be true. I’m sure you know that to be true. In public radio, there’s this person we consider, called “Mary.” Sometimes, when people are pitching stories, somebody will say, “Well, why would Mary care about that?” And Mary is in her 50s, she’s well-educated, she’s white, she’s affluent. And Mary is not Maria, you know?
It’s not that low-income news consumers are not interested in being served by media, but there are these huge information gaps that result from targeting higher-income consumers. So the stories aimed at them, especially issues in low-income communities, those stories are more like, “Look at what’s happening on the other side of town.” And there’s this very behind-the-museum-glass mentality. If you’re in a low-income community and you see that story, that might be validating if it’s done well. But it’s not informative. It’s not helpful.