Northeast: Frankford News Gets Prominent Display with ‘The Digital Ave’

The Frankford Gazette’s “Digital Ave” display projects neighborhood news on a storefront.

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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 Frankford Gazette’s “Digital Ave” display projects neighborhood news on a storefront.
The Frankford Gazette’s “Digital Ave” display projects neighborhood news on a storefront.

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 with 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 was launched.

Since the project is fairly new, it has 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 said 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 said as he pointed to the Twitter feed on The Digital Ave. “I do have to clean up the language sometimes,” he added with a laugh.

Bob and Jim Smiley in front of The Digital Ave.
Bob and Jim Smiley stood in front of ‘The Digital Ave.’

“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 such as this was important too. The film currently being used is a matte white color which allows for readers to be able to see the text while allowing for the projection to pass through. Jim Smiley said 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, said 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.