News Leadership 3.0

January 26, 2010

Future of Media Project: FCC Wants Your Views by March 8

It looks like the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy, and its 2009 report “Informing Communities: Sustaining Democracy in the Digital Age,” attracted close attention from the Federal Communications Commission—which is great, since one of the goals of the Knight report was to influence US media policy. On Jan. 21, the FCC announced its own remarkably similar initiative, the Future of Media Project.

This project seeks to “review the state of traditional sources of news and journalism, and new models for providing information to consumers and communities… The goal: to help ensure that all Americans have access to vibrant, diverse sources of news and information that will enable them to enrich their families, communities, and democracy.”

To start, the FCC has a lengthy list of questions concerning the role and future of media. Journalists, news organizations, and anyone with an interest in access to news and info for their community should take some time to peruse and respond promptly to this list. DEADLINE: The official comment period ends March 8.

Here’s what’s going on and how to get involved…

(This is part of a series of guest posts by Amy Gahran. Amy is looking how news organizations and other institutions can implement the findings of the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy, This joint project of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Aspen Institute Communications and Society program produced the report, “Informing Communities: Sustaining Democracy in the Digital Age.” Read all posts in this series.”)

Here is FCC’s Jan. 21 public notice about this project. This document contains 42 questions on which FCC is seeking public comment, as well as procedures for officially submitting comments. FCC Future of Media Questions

It’s pretty long and complex, but it’s worth reading. For example, here is question no. 1:

“What are the information needs of citizens and communities?  Do citizens and communities have all the information they want and need?  How has the situation changed during the past few years?  In what ways has the situation improved?  Gotten worse?  Consider these categories:

  • media platforms (e.g., broadcast, cable, satellite, print, Internet, mobile, gaming);
  • media formats (e.g.,  video, audio, print, email, short message formats);
  • geographic focus (e.g., international, national, state, regional, local, neighborhood, personal);
  • media affiliation (e.g., independent, affiliated with an advocacy organization or movement, academic, governmental);
  • organization type (e.g., commercial media, non-profits, public broadcasting, cultural/educational institutions);
  • types of journalism (e.g., breaking news, investigative, analysis, commentary, beat reporting, objective reporting, advocacy, specialized, general interest, citizen generated, collaborative); and
  • topics (e.g., politics, crime, schools, health, disasters, national news, foreign news, children’s programming).”

...Yes, that whole thing really is just the first question. They’re not all so long, but the question list is compelling, and I’m very glad a key federal media policy agency is giving this topic a serious look.

I’m also glad to see that while the FCC initiative is examining media aimed at geographically defined communities and regions, it does not seem to focus exclusively on geography. There are many kinds of communities, defined by ethnicity, language, income, class, religion, age, interest, sexual/relationship orientation, and other characteristics. All of these community types matter—and it was perhaps a significant shortcoming that the Knight Commission report examined info needs solely for geographic communities.

ACTION STEP: HOW TO COMMENT

FCC has launched a Future of Media Project blog, run by William Freedman (Associate Bureau Chief, FCC Media Bureau). Having a blog that’s open to comment on a policy issue under consideration is a significant step forward for a high-profile federal agency.

Freedman has created a series of blog posts, all of which solicit public comment on the giant FCC question list. Apparently comments to this blog will be considered officially submitted comments. They will become part of the record, and will be considered in relevant FCC rulemakings, decisions, and actions.

Here are the blog posts:

You can leave public comments on these blog posts. It’s a good idea to address specific questions here by number, in order—and also to include in your blog post your name, affiliation, and some contact information.

If your comments are lengthy, or if you also wish to submit supporting documentation, it’s recommended that you submit comments via the FCC’s Electronic Comment Filing System. Or you can submit them by mail. Instructions for these options are at the end of the public notice document above. (Reference GN Docket No. 10-25)

ACTION STEP: TELL FCC ABOUT YOUR LOCAL MEDIA

The Future of Media project also is gathering information about local media landscapes. You can describe Media in Your Community. It’s pretty free-form, so response types vary.

If you respond to this—and I recommend it—it’ll probably be helpful to list as many different types of community news and info sources as possible. Don’t just list your local newspapers, magazines, and TV/radio stations. Consider relevant community sites, blogs, social media groups, e-mail lists, newsletters (print or pdf), bulletin boards, services like Craigslist, or other info sources. Include links to examples.

And if the “community” that matters most to you is not defined just by geography, say so—and describe what factors do define your core community.

Also, describe what each type of community media in your list contributes to your community. What are the strengths and weaknesses of each in terms of usefulness, timeliness, relevance, community-building, and civic engagement?

I realize this sounds like a lot of work. It is. The FCC is asking for a lot here, on a tight deadline—but it’s potentially a huge opportunity.

It’s important that the FCC hear not just from large media corporations in this effort, but from people who create, value, and use all kinds of community media. The comments to the FCC Future of Media Project can become a valuable foundation to influence all sorts of US media policymaking in coming years.

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Exploring innovation, transformation and leadership in a new ecosystem of news, by journalist and change advocate Michele McLellan.

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