Originally published: June 12, 2011
Last updated: June 12, 2011 - 10:10am
On June 10, Federal Communications Chairman Julius Genachowski and senior advisor Steven Waldmen were at the Columbia School of Journalism discussing the FCC's new report, The Information Needs of Communities.
Waldmen said 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 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.
Joel Meares notes that Waldman's presentation was simply an abridged version of the presentation he gave yesterday at the FCC’s open meeting where the report was first presented. There were no questions taken from the audience. The room was full of sharp minds ready to ask some challenging questions. Josh Stearns, from Free Press, for example, was in attendance, and said after the event that the FCC report had “dropped the ball” on issues of media consolidation, localism, and enhanced disclosure. Stearns was particularly concerned about the report’s recommendation to shelve the FCC’s ongoing localism proceedings, which gather information from consumers and civic organizations on how broadcasters are serving their local communities. With Waldman saying that the crisis in the media is most acute in “full-time accountability reporting” at the local level, it seems odd that measures specifically in place to address local news services would be disbanded without great explanation or obvious replacement.
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