Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Future of Media

It took 475 pages for the Federal Communications Commission’s Future of the Media Working group to lay out its rather stale findings. The FCC could have/should have been listening to what critics, academicians, and working media have been saying for years. It would have cost less, I feel sure.

The authors where tasked with surveying the media and information landscape in our country with particular emphasis on local news.

“The authors hold true to the premise that “the First Amendment circumscribes the role government can play in improving local news … most of the solutions to today’s media problems will be found by entrepreneurs, reporters, and creative citizens, not legislators or agencies. Government cannot save journalism,” the report says. Hasn’t it always been that way?

Here’s the scary part: “Today’s media landscape is more vibrant than ever,” the report asserts, there are problems. “[A] shortage of local, professional, accountability reporting” is cited as an example, resulting in a decline in local reporting. What’s the result? It has “shifted power away from citizens to government and other powerful institutions, which can more often set the news agenda.”

I think that I sarcastically called it “news release” journalism.

Admittedly cherry-picking, what follows are some of the points made. You may have read them somewhere, perhaps here.

· Newspaper subscribership has been declining consistently for decades.

· Cost-cutting at major newspapers has been largely successful in preserving their commercial viability. (Employee contracts at the Austin American-Statesman happening again right now.)

· Local accountability journalism has been hard hit, and the erosion of the beat reporting system has resulted in declines in expertise. (See the above, plus the turnover of staff at some local TV stations.

· Shrinking newsroom staffs and the multiplication of media platforms have increased the workload of individual reporters. (Think “doing more with less”.)

· The Telecommunications Act of 1996 – which loosened radio ownership restrictions – was followed by rapid industry consolidation. (Some call it hegemony) This consolidation resulted in both higher profits for radio broadcasters and a decline in the quality and quantity of local news. (Duh? That started with the deregulation during the Reagan administration.) Staffing was slashed. Reporters equal content.

· Locally-owned stations may produce more local news. (We no longer have locally-owned major commercial radio stations in the immediate Austin area.)

· Public radio is emerging as a go-to source for local news. (Think KUT-FM)

· While most local TV stations have increased the volume of news production, the authors note, they (TV newsrooms) have at the same time reduced staff and lessened the depth of their coverage. (That may not be a fair criticism of some Austin TV news, but all are doing more with less.)

· Despite the increase in news production, television news staffs and budgets are shrinking. (See the above. Again, that isn’t fully applicable to all Austin TV stations doing news.)

· So-called “if it bleeds it leads” stories about crime continue to dominate newscasts to the detriment of coverage of other important local issues. (That’s true of one local station in particular. Why? Because covering so-called “spot news” is generally easy and generally inexpensive. It’s right there in front of you.)

· Local TV stations are assigning increased responsibilities to their reporters, including conducting interviews, shooting video and editing their own stories. (Think “one-man-bands”.)

· Nearly one-third of local TV stations are airing news produced by another station. (Think of KXAN TV-produced news on KNVA TV a 9 p.m. each night.)

These direct quotes are most salient when talking about local news coverage by newspapers, TV, and radio.

Broadband expansion with access for all is the most promising part of the report prepared by Wiley Rein, LLP. Mobile connections also hold promise.

Certainly, one can’t distill 475 pages in a short post. It is fair to say that the report does express optimism. It mostly focuses on the possibilities of the Internet, but it’s rather Pollyanna about the future of newspapers and broadcast news. Find the synopsis of the report and the response of the FCC at the Radio Television Digital News Association’s site:

© Jim McNabb, 2011


Anonymous said...

Glad to know there's so much free federal money floating around in Washington that we can pay bureaucrats handsome salaries to sit around for months and write 400+ page worthless reports that no American working to pay his or her taxes has the time or inclination to read. The Obama FCC report reminds me of one of those old Soviet 5 year plans. And the answer for our industry is more state controlled radio stations? I do TRULY FEAR for the future of our COUNTRY.

Anonymous said...

Are you "in our industry"? Better clip that 45 word sentance, kiddo.
Business worship is the cancer that's quickly killing the country.