Media’s Problems, While Serious, Said Fixable

Following up on Thursday's release of the FCC’s landmark study “The Information Needs of Communities,” FCC senior adviser Steven Waldman and Chairman Julius Genachowski say the goals of the report are attainable: making sure all Americans have access to the Internet, but that the journalistic content provides the kind of reporting, and therefore accountability, that truly serves communities.

A day after the federal government released its most-detailed report on the future of media, Steven Waldman, the FCC senior adviser behind it, said today he remains optimistic despite “serious problems” with today’s media landscape.

“While we are all aware of very serious challenges that face us, they are fixable,” Waldman said. “If we can preserve and allow innovations to continue to address the serious problems, we really can have the system that the founders wanted and the best media system that we’ve ever had.”

Waldman’s comments were part of a presentation on the report, “The Information Needs of Communities,” Friday morning at Columbia University in New York.  Waldman shared the podium with FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, Knight Foundation President-CEO Alberto Ibarguen and Columbia Journalism School Dean Nicholas Lemann.

In outlining the report — which explores the current state of traditional and digital media and offers regulatory recommendations to improve accountable reporting and community access — Waldman said it’s necessary to bring public policy in sync with modern media.

The report could spur some relief for TV broadcasters, as it suggests the FCC “reduce paperwork, terminate unnecessary rules and move to an online system for public disclosures.”

Waldman called for increased accountability by stations when it comes to “pay-for-play” disclosures, saying paid or sponsor-driven content should be labeled not only on air but also online.


The practice of advertisers dictating content or reporting is “a serious problem,” but can be abated through a searchable, online database of stations that are “selling their airwaves,” Waldman said. “We propose a system based on transparency.”

Waldman cited current circumstances making it increasingly hard for TV stations to produce the kind of in-depth local news that serves their communities. Staff cuts, and increased pressures on those who remain to produce more, means some of the beats stations used to cover — courts, state governments and agriculture, for example — are not getting the attention they need, he said.

At the same time, though, he praised local TV news for actually growing (the number of local news hours has increased 35% in the last seven years) at a time when other legacy media, like newspapers, have been shrinking, or even folding. Many broadcasters have also taken advantage of digital opportunities to expand the reach of their local news.

“When its done really well it serves … an unbelievably broad audience,” Waldman said.  “That really is serving democracy.”

In introducing Waldman, Genachowski said the report “makes it clear that the new technology is creating a new world of opportunity to empower journalists and inform the public like never before.”

And although the First Amendment significantly limits the government’s role in regulating media, “whether journalism can realize its potential depends on public policy decisions,” he said.

To truly ensure accountability — and therefore democracy — there needs to be universal public broadband and Internet access for all Americans, the FCC chairma said. At the same time, government agencies should have their information and databases online as a means of making them more accessible to both reporters and citizens.

Regulations creating obstacles that keep traditional media from distributing content on digital platforms must be streamlined. Business models to sustain new media must be developed, he said.

“Universal broadband and healthy journalism are mutually reinforcing goals,” Genachowski said. “It is the principal of access to information for all.”

All of which, Waldman said, is part of promoting the larger goal of the report — making sure all Americans have access to the Internet, but that the journalistic content provides the kind of reporting, and therefore accountability, that truly serves communities.

“If we can address the shortfalls while preserving the best … we could have the best media landscape the country has ever had,” Waldman said.

Comments (6)

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len Kubas says:

June 10, 2011 at 3:04 pm

The FCC’s jurisdiction does not include THE INTERNET nor does it include CONTENT. In legal terms, this report is dicta, and any broadcaster who likes it will come to rue that.

    Peter Grewar says:

    June 10, 2011 at 7:02 pm

    The FCC’s jurisdiction does indeed include the Internet, since it does regulate telecommunications, not just wireless services. That particular debate was settled long before the Internet, when the Federal RADIO Commission was replaced by the Federal COMMUNICATIONS Commission.

Sergio Rataus says:

June 10, 2011 at 4:04 pm

Sounds like more left wing liberal agenda with MORE control and LESS actual business freedom. Fine, even though I disagree with what providing FREE internet access to EVERYONE will do to certain businesses, if that’s important to them, it’s the least of the problems that can come from this. If they really want the public to be truly served, release the restrictions on broadcast and let them run more like cable operators, allow OPEN access to broadcasters to stream ALL their content and generate additional revenue from it, and GET OUT OF THE WAY! Its funny how may government officials ignored broadcast for years, and now, as digital media has grown, they now want their hands on it and implement their type of control. Typical liberal “take away from you and keep for me” BS.

Gene Johnson says:

June 10, 2011 at 4:43 pm

It is not the government that precludes broadcast stations from streaming their content. That’s copyright and the folks who own the rights to the programming (stations are free to stream the programming they produce themselves, assuming such programs don’t involve other content requiring copyright licensing).

Also, these constant comments about the “left wing liberal agenda” and the conclusions that some seem to derive from their assumptions indicate that they haven’t actually read or fully comprehended what is being said or written about. Where did anyone say that the plan is to provide free internet access to anyone (although that would not be such a bad thing, except for the internet access providers)? “Universal public broadband and internet access for all Americans” does not necessarily mean that it is free. On the other hand, there is a large percentage of Americans who can’t afford the $40, $50, $60 or more per month that hi-speed broadband costs.

Finally, it’s a bit of an overstatement to say government officials ignored broadcast for years (particularly given the DTV conversion). And just how to they “want their hands on it [to] implement their type of control?” What kind of control?

    Peter Grewar says:

    June 10, 2011 at 7:03 pm

    James, those comments come from the sort of people who prefer not to let facts interfere with their ideology.

    len Kubas says:

    June 11, 2011 at 1:15 am

    of course, Jame’s comments come from the sort of people who prefer subsidy to the free market.

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