HOME
          
LATEST STORY
Newsonomics: BuzzFeed and The New York Times play Facebook’s ubiquity game
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
June 9, 2011, 1:15 p.m.

FCC report recommends targeting government ads toward local news

So the long-awaited FCC report on “the information needs of communities” is out. And it’s big, in every sense: Not only does it weigh in, all told, at 465 pages of meaty pdf, but it’s also perhaps the most substantial and comprehensive look at the state of the United States’ media environment that’s been so far produced. The report is nearly two years in the making: FCC chairman Julius Genachowski tapped its author, the journalist Steve Waldman, to “assess the state of media in these challenging economic times and make recommendations designed to ensure a vibrant media landscape” back in October…of 2009.

Reports like this one, of course, are relatively common, especially during our current time of anxiety about the state of the news industry (not to mention all the other anxieties that accompany it). The tomes, long-form status updates with “state of,” “media landscape,” and the like in their titles, often rehash — and, more optimistically, reiterate — common ideas about news delivery and consumption.

And on the one hand, it seems, “The Information Needs of Communities: The changing media landscape in a broadband age” is yet another entry in the “state of the news media” meta-genre: Much of it, from what I can tell, is a summary of what we already know — we need more on-the-ground reporters and we need more collaboration between for-profits and nonprofits, etc. — distinguished mostly by the not insignificant fact that the summarizing is being done by Uncle Sam.

The report’s key takeaway, it seems, is that the state of local media is…not great. As The New York Times’ write-up notes, “The report’s findings, while often self-evident, painted a dim portrait of local media” — a state of affairs that, Waldman noted, causes “ripple effects throughout the whole media system.” As a solution, the report proposes, intriguingly, a system in which “foundations, philanthropists and individual donors might create a national organization for the funding of local school reporters on the Teach for America model.” (That’s another common recommendation of the “state of the media” genre. “Report for America,” as an idea, has been percolating for a while now; Martin Langeveld, for one, suggested it in 2009, just before Waldman got his gig, in response to Len Downie and Michael Schudson’s “Reconstruction of American Journalism” report.)

Here’s something new, though: As another antidote to the well-documented problems facing local media, the report also recommends that the government actually intervene — not the word it’s using, but — by funneling money into local ad markets via government advertising. Those “be all you can be” military-recruitment ads? Run ‘em on WHDH, rather than NBC. As the report words it (p. 352): “Consider targeting current government advertising more toward local media businesses.”

And here’s its explanation (emphasis mine):

In 2005, the amount spent was $1 billion, according to the General Accounting Office. Currently much of this spending goes to national entertainment media. Some local broadcasters have argued that this could be targeted to local news enterprises without undermining the cost effectiveness of the campaigns, and perhaps even saving taxpayers money. We agree. Targeting existing federal advertising spending to local news media could help local news media models — both commercial and nonprofit, online and off-line — gain traction and help create local jobs, while potentially making taxpayer spending more cost-effective. In the past, it may have been more cost effective to buy national rather than local but technological improvements have made it possible to easily buy local media placements on TV, in print and online — so that shifting ads to local news media could prove more cost-effective for taxpayers.

That’s not wholesale intervention…but it comes close. And if it’s true that the level of government funding for news organizations has dropped sharply in recent years — as argued by USC’s Geoffrey Cowan and David Westphal in one of last year’s “state of the media”-style reports — then government ad support could be one way to stanch the decline. (This could also be a controversial recommendation, of course, which is probably why the report goes out of its way to emphasize that “it is imperative that this strategy be implemented in a way that is strictly non-political and not subject to political manipulation.”)

Also new-ish and noteworthy: In the “journalism education” section on p. 355, the report recommends that “foundations and philanthropists help fund journalism-school ‘residencies’ for recent graduates who can help manage year-round efforts to produce significant journalism for the community, using journalism school students.” It’s a step, the report notes, that “could enable journalism schools to significantly increase their impact in communities, while improving the quality of their instruction at the same time.” And it is almost exactly what Columbia is doing with its New York World publication.

Anyway, that’s just a small take on a big document. If you read the report (light beach reading, for the win!) and happen to come across anything else noteworthy in it, let us know.

POSTED     June 9, 2011, 1:15 p.m.
SHARE THIS STORY
   
Show comments  
Show tags
 
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
Newsonomics: BuzzFeed and The New York Times play Facebook’s ubiquity game
The ubiquity game has different rules for digital startups than for legacy businesses. But for both, figuring out the right relationship with Facebook is key to their audience strategies.
Jeff Israely: Good content marketing benefits from a smart publisher’s touch
Our startup correspondent, building Worldcrunch in Paris, on the thinking behind its operation’s pivot: “The smart brands know they’ll lose your attention if they use this new publishing power simply to push their merchandise.”
How a hobby foreign affairs blog became a paywalled news destination — and a business
World Politics Review has grown from one man’s side project to a small news operation supported by a niche paywall.
What to read next
2481
tweets
Millennials say keeping up with the news is important to them — but good luck getting them to pay for it
The new report from the Media Insight Project looks at millennials’ habits and attitudes toward news consumption: “I really wouldn’t pay for any type of news because as a citizen it’s my right to know the news.”
926The next stage in the battle for our attention: Our wrists
News companies have moved from print dollars to digital dimes to mobile pennies. Now, with the highly anticipated launch of the Apple Watch, the screens are getting even smaller. How are smart publishers thinking about the right way to serve users and maintain their attention on smartwatches?
705A wave of distributed content is coming — will publishers sink or swim?
Instead of just publishing to their own websites, news organizations are being asked to publish directly to platforms they don’t control. Is the hunt for readers enough to justify losing some independence?
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Encyclo is our encyclopedia of the future of news, chronicling the key players in journalism’s evolution.
Here are a few of the entries you’ll find in Encyclo.   Get the full Encyclo ➚
The Daily Telegraph
The Seattle Times
Corporation for Public Broadcasting
U.S. News & World Report
Storify
The Chronicle of Higher Education
Seattle PostGlobe
Google
Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism
California Watch
MinnPost
Grist