FCC commissioner Michael Copps told the National Newspaper Association Thursday that they needed to train the next generation of news consumers to distinguish between news and infotainment online, and suggested their future and that of other news outlets hangs in the balance.
"If Americans learn the value of hard-hitting journalism at an early age, it will not only translate into a sharper-eyed electorate-but it might also drive profits for quality content providers as consumers demand more reliable, less-biased information," he said.
Copps proposes a K-12 online news media literacy curriculum to teach kids how to distinguish among the barrage of information coming at them, rather than take the easier route of "picking the opinion narrative that best suits their ideologies, reading nothing else, and just shouting it from the roof-top."
As an example of good work already being done, he cited the News Literacy Project that puts students together with journalists who can demonstrate skills like seeking the truth, gauging bias and determining accountability. He also said PEG channels, libraries and community media centers -- which the President's stimulus program has invested in -- local businesses and others could be recruited to the cause.
"If we expect there to be a demand for quality news, then we need to teach the lessons on how to determine quality," said Copps. "Who knows? Maybe we could actually move from the Information Age to the Comprehension Age."
He pointed out that the FCC's National Broadband Plan advocated for literacy reforms, but he said it must go beyond promoting awareness to incentivizing it.
Copps also took the opportunity to echo his criticisms of the FCC's recently released "future of media" report, which he suggests was long on back story and suggestions for others but short on FCC action. "[W]hen it comes time to step up and do something meaningful with the issues in the FCC wheelhouse, the report instead calls for philanthropies to do more, suggests that Congress might want to act, and proposes that the IRS do something. I looked in vain for comprehensive proposals for the FCC, or even for some healthy starts in that direction..."
Copps is planning to exit the commission by year's end -- his term is up -- but says he will continue to speak out on media issues he cares deeply about.