Preparing a comment to the FTC on the Future of Journalism
Friday is the deadline to submit comments to the FTC public workshops and roundtables, “From Town Crier to Bloggers: How Will Journalism Survive the Internet Age?”. As of Wednesday afternoon only two public comments are showing up on the FTC website.
Last month, I submitted a comment to the FCC about Cablevision’s petition to encrypt basic cable in New York City. I hope to submit a comment to the FTC for their workshops and roundtables and several others I know have been talking about submitting comments. In particular, the Society for Professional Journalists has a blog post asking for comments for their comment.
With that, let me present my initial draft of things that I believe the FTC, and more importantly, the Government as a whole should be considering to address the future of journalism.
Media Education: Journalism and Media Literacy
First and for foremost, I believe that we need much more media education in our schools. We need to be teaching students how to be journalists. From this, they will develop a great appreciate of what is involved in good journalism and why it needs to be supported. Related to this, we need much more education in our schools about media literacy. How do students understand what is being said and unsaid by news organizations, advertisements, websites and so on? How do they determine truth from fiction?
One suggest that has been floating around has been various forms of ‘Write for America’, where newly minted journalists would write in underserved areas, similar to how ‘Teach for America’ works. This seems like a good idea to me. There are many ways that I could see this taking place, such as forgiveness of student loans for those who take jobs reporting in underserved areas up through a twenty first century WPA producing a new generation of great literature.
Reverse Media Consolidation
In theory, it would seem, media consolidation would be a good thing for news organizations. Overhead could be reduced and synergies found. However, in practice it appears that media consolidation has resulted in increased debt loads that news organizations have had to carry, as well as a loss of good local reporting. This has decreased the value of many news organizations’ products. In addition, it appears to have resulted in advertising being driven by larger corporate organizations that have less contact with local businesses. This in turn drives down the advertising dollars received.
One aspect of this is the FCC’s rules on over the air television and radio stations. In looking at whether or not to grant a license, a renewal, or permission to consolidate, the FCC used to look more at the public needs. As we are seeing, a key part of the public need is quality local journalism, and this should be much more carefully considered for all spectrum requests.
Journalism Stimulus Packages
Beyond a new WPA or Write for America project, there are many other ways that journalism is directly or indirectly funded by the government. One large existing package is the paid public notices that local governments are required to put in local papers. There is a continuing battle over whether these public notices should or could be better served by online news organizations.
Here in Connecticut, we have the public funding of State elections. Some of the funding from this goes to advertising, and some of that may go to advertising with local news organizations. Two other states have public funding of elections and there is a bill in Congress to consider public funding of Congressional campaigns. It might be beneficial to designate some portion of such public funding to go to advertising to local news organizations.
Beyond that, other stimulus packages may have had some effect. I cannot help but wonder how many advertisements were bought from local news outlets promoting new cars as part of the cash for clunkers program, or how much real estate advertising has been created as a result of the first time homebuyers’ credit. As legislators draft stimulus packages, they should consider not only how the package affects Main Street, but also how it affects the journalist coverage of Main Street.
To the extent that we can reverse media consolidation and return news organizations to being small businesses providing local coverage, it may be beneficial to look at how the Small Business Administration can help news organizations similar to how they help other small businesses. The FTC and other organizations might also want to work more closely with marketing and advertising firms to help make advances in digital advertising more accessible to smaller organizations.
Better Data Access
Most of my previous comments have been on the business side of journalism. However, there is another very important trend that needs to be considered. Slowly, more and more government information is becoming easily available via the Internet. This helps out reporters get the information that they need. All levels of government from the local up to the national, should be encourage to make more data easier to access. This should include the ability to subscribe via email, feeds like RSS, and increasingly via real time data feeds. Governments should include the ability to retrieve raw data in structured formats so that reporters can better analyze the data. Finally, governments should provide training in accessing this data to reporters and citizens a like.
So, this is my initial draft of comments. What do you think? Care to comment on this draft? Going to create a comment of your own? Let me know.
Updates: Thinking more about media consolidation, not only should the FCC be concerned about this when it relates to the public airwaves, but the FTC should be concerned on how it affects competition and governments providing franchise agreements for companies that use the public right of way to deliver television and telecommunications should be concerned about this.
The public right of way issue also needs to be considered in terms of making sure that public access television is given a proper chance to flourish in this new media ecosphere.