Poking Around the Digital Divide

Hear that? The thud of a silence ringing in your ears is the sound of the media's holiday hibernation. Still running on autopilot, most outlets opted for softball coverage of the latest earth-shattering report from Media Metrix.

Credit the Washington Post and the New York Times for covering stories beyond those that were handed to them. The Post broke from the pack with its look at the Floyds, a Virginia family that has woven PC use into its daily life.

Headline writers at the Post billed the story as a look at the "digital divide." Trouble is, the African-American Floyd family may match the divide's ethnic lines, but it misses the split on class. Among the tasks the clan's newspaper-publisher patriarch has used the Web for is buying $1,800 wheels for his Porsche. Let's face it, few middle-American families left out of the Net boom are tooling around in German sports cars. But reporter Jacqueline Salmon's story is more shaded than the headline lets on, recounting the ways relatives have coaxed each other online over the years.

The Post's take beats the Journal's weepy tale of the ex-NBC exec who joined iVillage with dreams of Net riches. The upshot? He got axed before the company's high-flying IPO and now works for the hard-luck salary of $175,000.

The New York Times poked around beyond the vending-machine reporting on Media Matrix's latest call of the e-commerce horse race. The Times aimed at the digital divide from the planet's point of view. The paper's Web site reported that volunteers for the State Department's Global Technology Corps are headed to the fronts of undeveloped nations, ready to share their Net savvy. The Corps rustled up a roster of 20 or projects, including its collaboration with a Florida group to set up an ISP on the island of St. Lucia. The program's got enthusiasm, Jeri Clausing reports. What it doesn't have much of is equipment.

Small, quiet projects, it seems, lack the media cachet that donors feed on.

"Every company is willing to help when there is a CNN crisis," one Fed official told Clausing. "But if you call somebody up and have a project on something that's not in the news, it's hard to find someone willing to provide 10 or 15 computers." That's a situation that will no doubt be eased by the coverage on the Times' all-the-bytes-fit-to-post site.

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