There’s no doubt that the ground is shaking underneath what we used to think of as journalism.
So last week, when the Chairman of the FCC unveiled what was most certainly the largest Federally commissioned report on the future of journalism, I wanted to hear just what the FCC had in mind. The report, titled: “Information Needs of Communities” was originally titled “The Future of News,” but in its final form that title was dropped. Three hundred and sixty some pages, the FCC’s long-awaited report outlines the crises facing the news industry is facing in painstaking detail.
The author, Steve Waldman, is a long time journalist, and friend of Chairman Genachowski. In fact, the FCC Chairman explained that he’d been a reporter under Waldman at thet Columbia Spectator. This report would be his chance to edit Waldman.
The challenge of the report is twofold – first, that things are changing so rapidly that it may be impossible to chart in anything but real time. And secondly, that Waldman may be counting the wrong things.
For example, counting the loss of local reporters at newspapers – the report worries about the loss of local ‘hard news’ – yet blogging and ‘bock by block’ bloggging is on the rise. Local newspaper reporters may lose their job, only to go out and start a local blog. Net result? Maybe positive it seems. But not according to the Waldman report.
And while the report counts the increased hours of local TV news as a win – Waldman dutifully reports that stations are counting the auditions of “America’s Got Talent” as public service. Local TV news may have more hours, but it’s hardly getting better.
What we can say after reading the report is that news as we know it is evolving, morphing, shedding its old mass media skin.
What will emerge is likely to be even further outside the purview of the FCC than radio and TV content that is counting on being able to license the public airwaves.
And here chairmen Genachowski seems sensibly aware. “The principle of universal access to information goes back to the early years of our Republic. In 1832, newspapers accounted for 95% of the weight carried by the Postal Service, and those newspapers received a discount for postage.”
Genachowski’s focus on Broadband has both a philosophical and economic underpinning. “Achieving universal access to the open Internet would have multiple benefits: not only bringing the vast online libraries of information to all Americans, but also improving online business models” said the Chairman.
So as the United Nations declares Internet access a basic human right, Genachowski’s vision seems increasingly important. “To get to 100% broadband adoption from today’s level would represent a 50% increase in the online audience. The larger the online market, the greater the scale, the more likely a news and information online business can succeed.”
Which isn’t to say the report isn’t without some intriging findings beyond universal broadband. For example, Waldman proposes that the Federal Government direct its national advertising budget of close to $1 billion toward local media, pointing out that in the past Army Recruiting and Census compliance ads went to national media. A billion dollars would sure spark a local blogging revolution if some of those dollars went to so-called ‘block by block’ media.
You can read the report here.