The Federal Communications Commission is launching an inquiry into the future of media and its role in providing news and civic information.
FCC chairman Julius Genachowski said that rapid technological change has caused financial turmoil that calls into question whether traditional media will continue to be the go-to provider of essential news and information.
The commission issued a public notice teeing up some of the questions it wants answered and launched a web site to collect some of that input. It is not an official notice of inquiry, but an "initiative" with a request for public input via a number of avenues.
The initiative is being spearheaded by Beliefnet.com president and co-founder Steven Waldman, who was brought on back in October to head up the commission assessment of the state of the media and recommendations for preserving it in a time of technological upheaval.
Among the topics that will be teed up for discussion by Thursday's (Jan. 21) announcement are "the state of TV, radio, newspaper, and Internet news and information services; the effectiveness and nature of public interest obligations in a digital era; and the role of public media and private sector foundations; and many others."
"We are at a critical juncture in the evolution of American media," said Genachowski in announcing the initiative. "Rapid technological change in the media marketplace has created opportunities for tremendous innovation. It has also caused financial turmoil for traditional media, calling into question whether these media outlets will continue to play their historic role in providing local communities with essential news and civic information. With this crucial initiative, the FCC commits to fully understanding the fundamental changes underway in the media marketplace and examining what impact such changes may have for Commission policies, while vigorously protecting the First Amendment."
The FCC said the effort "will not include any effort to control the editorial content of any type of media."
FCC commissioner Michael Copps, who first teed up the issue of an agency inquiry into the health of journalism, had some cautionary words about putting too much stock in new media as a substitute for traditional outlets.
"The Internet may one day open new avenues to support the kind of in-depth journalism America needs...But having one's voice widely heard is something else, as is supporting expensive investigative journalism of the kind that nourishes democracy's dialogue and holds the powerful accountable," he said. "Even with all the promise of new media, we need to remember that without content, there is nothing to aggregate, and without intelligent debate on critical issues stemming from insightful journalism, the promise of a smart phone is short-circuited.
"So far, new media has not replaced what we've lost by way of traditional media's decline. Most indicators show three-quarters or more of the news, delivered to the public in all forms, originates from traditional media--newspapers and broadcast. So we confront a two-pronged challenge--ensuring that the broadband of the future can support the information infrastructure which democracy requires and, for the years immediately ahead, stemming the hemorrhage of contemporary journalism."