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Jan. 21, 2010, 2:14 p.m.

The FCC’s future of media project

The Federal Communications Commission today posted its notice for public comment for its “examination of the future of media and the information needs of communities in a digital age.” It’s an ambitious undertaking, to say the least.

The notice lists 42 questions exploring topics that range from the travails of the newspaper industry to what our kids are watching when their parents aren’t around. One of the questions I liked best was No. 8:

Compared to earlier decades, are Americans more or less likely to seek and find more specialized media (i.e., that focused on a specific topic, appealing to a specific demographic group, or promoting a similar ideology or world view)? What are the positive and negative consequences of such patterns?

In my mind, this is the $64,000 question that gets at the role of mainstream media going forward. Will there be media sources that have some measure of credibility across diverse communities, like newspapers in the old days? Or more to the point, is there any role for mainstream media going forward?

Lower down, there’s a group of questions — Nos. 12 through 16 — on business models and financial trends. This is where I wanted to see some recognition that the nonprofit sector is responding to societal needs with innovation and creativity that complement the for-profit sector and eventually may become part of it. But questions about the nonprofit model were scattered throughout the document and didn’t seem particularly well informed. For instance, No. 25 asks in part:

What should be the role of non-profit media that are not noncommercial broadcast licensees (for instance, non-profit websites, news services, mobile applications, or reporting-oriented organizations)?

Likewise, No. 29 asks in part:

In general, how much journalism and other forms of information provision can be supported by private-sector non-profit sources?

That’s a bit like asking how many web pages can be created on the Internet. A better question might be, what is the case for philanthropy, and is it gaining traction with foundations and grassroots supporters? Put another way, do readers/listeners/viewers think of journalism as a socially beneficial endeavor that merits their support like a disease foundation or social service provider?

But the document does suggest that the FCC has some appreciation for what the sector has accomplished so far. It states:

(T)he Future of Media project starts with the assumption that many of the challenges encountered in today’s media environment will be addressed by the private for-profit and non-profit sectors, without government intervention. We will remain mindful of the Hippocratic Oath of physicians, “First, do no harm.”

Let’s hope so.

POSTED     Jan. 21, 2010, 2:14 p.m.
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