Today the FCC released the findings of its inquiry into the Future of Media, a project begun in early 2010 in response to the Knight Commission. In a report over 450 pages long, author Steve Waldman and the Working Group on Information Needs of Communities inspect the shifting media landscape and lay out how relevant policy and regulations can be more “in sync with the information needs of communities and the fluid nature of modern local media markets.” The central issue at hand, the report states, is the shortage of “local, professional, accountability reporting”.
That sense of the vital link between informed citizens and a healthy democracy is why civic and media leaders grew alarmed a few years ago when the digital revolution began undercutting traditional media business models, leading to massive layoffs of journalists at newspapers, newsmagazines, and TV stations. Since then, experts in the media and information technology spheres have been debating whether the media is fulfilling the crucial role envisioned for it by the Founders. In 2008 and 2009, a group that was both bipartisan (Republicans and Democrats) and bi-generational (“new media” and “old media”) studied this issue at the behest of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The group, the Knight Commission on Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy…posed a bipartisan challenge to the FCC, whose policies often affect the information health of communities. The chairman responded in December 2009 by initiating an effort at the FCC to answer two questions: 1) are citizens and communities getting the news, information, and reporting they want and need? and 2) is public policy in sync with the nature of modern media markets, especially when it comes to encouraging innovation and advancing local public interest goals?
The Knight Commission’s series of white papers has been moving into action the recommendations of Informing Communities. Later this month a white paper by Michael Fancher will offer actionable steps on the issue of local journalism and community information needs.