The Future Will Be Net-Neutral


Steven Waldman, senior adviser to FCC chairman Julius Genachowski, says an open Internet is key to the future of journalism, 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 immediately 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 to show up in everything from the national broadband plan to the ownership-rule review.

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

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

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: 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.

For a full transcript of this interview, click here.