Frankford news gets prominent display with ‘The Digital Ave’ [video]

In a world where news is becoming increasingly digitized, how do individuals who don’t have regular access to the internet stay in the loop? Bob and Jim Smiley of The Frankford Gazette provide The Digital Ave as one answer.

The Digital Ave is a storefront projection that provides a live update of headlines and tweets via The Frankford Gazette, the neighborhood’s news publication that began as a website and now prints monthly. The father-son duo teamed up NorthEast Treatment Centers to project the feed in the NET building’s storefront area. This project has come to fruition roughly a year after the TextBlast service — an app that lets community groups send mass-texts to their memberships — was launched.

Since the project is fairly new, it’s been hard to gauge the level of success but, the number of TextBlast subscriptions has risen about 10 percent in the past week, Jim Smiley said. He and his father say it may be attributed to residents seeing the promotion for the TextBlast as they read The Digital Ave.

The Twitter feed was very important. All the kids in Frankford are tweeting,” Jim Smiley says as he points to the Twitter feed on The Digital Ave. “I do have to clean up the language sometimes,” he adds with a laugh.

“As far as we know, no one else has done this before,” Smiley said. With any new idea there was trial and error. The projections started out as a white background with black text, which was quickly dismissed in favor of the dark background with white text currently used. The type of film used for a rear projection setup like this was important too. The film that is currently used is a matte white color that allows for readers to be able to see the text while allowing for the projection to pass through. Jim Smiley says he looked into a clear film made by 3M, but the costs were in the thousands.

“We don’t have any money. If we could pay for storefront space it would be a lot easier, but we have to depend on partners in the community, like NorthEast Treatment Centers, to help us,” Smiley said. Sonya Mendelovich who spoke on behalf of NET says that partnering with the community in addition to the rehabilitation programs NET provides is very important and is a continuous goal. “We have computers in our clubhouse downstairs, which provides hours that are a little more flexible than the library. The access is important,” Mendelovich said.

Despite The Frankford Gazette being a smaller-scale news outlet, it may have started the next generation of digital news access in Philadelphia.

Shanice Richardson is a student reporting for Philadelphia Neighborhoods, the publication for Temple University’s Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab.

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