The Future Will Be Net-Neutral - Multichannel

The Future Will Be Net-Neutral

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Steven Waldman,
senior adviser to FCC chairman Julius Genachowski, says an open Internet is key
to the future of journalism, and particularly the new media that will play a
big role in that future.

He says there is no
harm, at least theoretically, in the decline and fall of traditional media -- as
long as there is something to replace immediate replace those sources in their
useful function of delivering news and civic information.

Waldman is charged
with coming up with a report to the commission on the state and fate of the
media in the midst of radical change. Look for his policy advice, gleaned with
the help of part-timers, current staffers and "kibitzers," to show up in
everything from the national broadband plan to the ownership-rule review.

He talked with Multichannel NewsWashington bureau chief John Eggerton about that
project.

MCN: Are you here to be the savior of
traditional media or to perform last rites and figure out what's next?

Steven Waldman

Steven Waldman:
Obviously, we are not looking at it as saving any particular company or
industry; that is really not our job. We are looking at it in terms of
preserving certain functions, in which I do include accountability journalism.
So, if all the newspapers and TV stations disappeared tomorrow, in theory that
could be fine if they were immediately replaced by something else that would
serve the same function for citizens and democracy.

We are looking at it form the point of view of, are certain
functions being performed. We fully expect that some of what was being done by
newspapers won't be done by newspapers any more. We are neutral on whether that
matters. The question is whether or not someone or something is going to
perform those functions.

MCN: You have talked about there being obvious
implications for the future of journalism in the broadband initiative. Have you
made any recommendations in the national broadband plan?

SW: Yes, I am
working with the broadband team on parts of the report related to the media.

MCN: Have you talked to broadcasters and cable
operators?

SW: I am just
starting to. I have had a couple of meetings with local broadcasters. It will
absolutely be a critical part of this. We will probably have some workshops. I
know there is a little bit of workshop fatigue so we will try to keep it to a
minimum. We will try to spend as much time as possible with broadcasters and
other media players to help figure this out.

MCN: You said that broadcasters and newspapers
could theoretically go away if there were something to immediately take their
place. But as a practical matter, that can't happen, can it?

SW: No, I was
making the point that I don't think it is the FCC's particular responsibility
to save a particular company or even a particular industry. We have to look at
broad public interest principles.

MCN: Long-term, yes, but short-term, since
that is what we have and it is not immediately replaceable, doesn't this have
to be looking at how you do help the traditional media?

SW: I don't know
yet. Probably. I made the comment as a highly theoretical point to stress that
we are not in the business of providing bailouts or encouraging bail outs to
particular companies or industries, so we have to look at it from a different
perspective. We have to look at it in terms of setting out the basic goals and
principles for communities, citizens and democracy.

And, of course, when you do that you naturally end up
considering policies that have direct effect on real-life companies living and
breathing at that point. So, of course, what we are looking at doing could
affect current media players.

MCN: You have talked about the open Internet
being directly connected to the future of the news media. Do you think network-neutrality
rules are necessary to the future of journalism?

SW: Yes, but let
me state it in a slightly more abstract way. Having an open Internet absolutely
is important to the future of journalism, because if we don't it will check off
the innovation that is providing a lot of the best future prospects for
journalism.

Suddenly, a lot of the exciting innovations that may be part
of the future media landscape could wither. I am not saying citizen journalism
is going to be the answer to all problems, but there is a tremendous amount of
innovation going on now among former newspaper journalists, citizen journalists
and local groups. And if they don't have the ability to get traction in an
organic way and find its audience, it is hard to see how this wave of
innovation in the last year or so would continue with the same force.

MCN: You talked about broadcasting; are you
talking to cable operators?

SW: We will be
talking to cable operators. On a micro level, we will take a look at the whole [public,
education and government] channel regime and how that has worked or not worked
over the years.

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