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Originally published Tuesday, June 21, 2011 at 3:48 PM

FCC hand-wringing over the future of journalism

The Federal Communications Commission is worried about the future of journalism and not offering much in the way of help to ensure independent, aggressive local journalism.

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AFTER a year of study by the Federal Communications Commission into the future of journalism, its report raises a concern about chafing — from intense hand-wringing.

So many words and so few ideas or leadership on how to proceed.

Certainly the demise of robust reporting and local news coverage in America is documented and lamented, but the path ahead, and the FCC's potential role, is not described.

Remedies for sustaining independent, aggressive journalism to provide local accountability and community service are not found in "Information Needs of Communities: The Changing Media Landscape in a Broadband Age."

There's lots of concern about the economic impacts on newspapers and industry compromises in local television news. More concern about the diminished watchdog of journalism as online offerings proliferate in number without apparent depth or heft to coverage.

More voices and more discussion of information gathered and reported by traditional media outlets, especially newspapers.

Sustaining economically viable journalism will require some creativity with tax codes and bankruptcy laws: for example, pointing failing newspaper chains back toward local communities, with incentives and opportunities for local ownership.

Concentration of media ownership does not serve robust journalism. Just say no to cross-ownership of newspapers and radio and TV stations that tie outlets into corporate knots. Act to ensure local ownership and content.

Opportunities exist in the creation of new business models for newspapers. Those structures include nonprofit status and low-profit limited liability companies — terms of accounting art that make it possible to send reporters to city halls, state capitols and Washington, D.C.

The report recommends putting more of the public's business online. Make it available to more eyes. That's a good idea, but rigorous, persistent journalism is basic to accountability in government.

Substantial change is as prosaic as equitable treatment by the U.S. Postal Service, which undermines newspapers with generous subsidies for direct-mail advertising.

FCC commissioners need to get out of Washington, D.C., and get closer to the debate and see the connections. Decisions and directions from the FCC hit very close to home and directly address the desire for strong, local journalism.


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