But for media advocacy groups who had hoped for the government to step up to the plate in a stronger way, it was Copps who emerged as something of a hero with a strong statement released Thursday, which he read aloud (with some variations) at the FCC’s open meeting. The report and its recommendations, he said, “are not the bold response for which I hoped and dared to dream.”
the overarching conclusion of the Staff Report seems to be that America’s media landscape is mostly vibrant and there is no overall crisis of news or information. But there is a crisis when, as this Report tells us, more than one-third of our commercial broadcasters offer little to no news whatsoever to their communities of license. America’s news and information resources keep shrinking and hundreds of stories that could inform our citizens go untold and, indeed, undiscovered. Where is the vibrancy when hundreds of newsrooms have been decimated and tens of thousands of reporters are walking the street in search of a job instead of working the beat in search of a story?
Copps reacted particularly strongly to the suggestion that the FCC abandon its localism proceedings, and, noting the report’s suggestion that disclosures be made easily available online, questioned the effectiveness of moving disclosures online without providing any recourse to the public for whom the information is now available.
But let’s also remember that disclosure is a means to an end—not an end in itself. If disclosure brings to public light actions that require redress, where is the redress to be found? Some will doubt whether it is to be found in a Commission that has for most of 30 years sworn off public interest rules and guidelines. Why would consumers bother to plumb the Internet looking at public files if there is so little confidence their effort will be rewarded with remedial action?
At the American Journalism Review, editor and senior vice president Rem Reider plays realist, describing the report as “the death knell for the notion that the answer to the field’s myriad problems is a federal bailout.” And that’s good, he argues, name checking the Downie-Schudson report published in CJR in 2009 that called for an “FCC-bankrolled Fund For Local News” (Rieder’s words), the very kind of bold initiative that might actually go some way to addressing the problems outlined in the new report’s first few hundred pages. Reminding us of the bind that public money can put outlets in—“as NPR’s panicked sacking of CEO Vivian Schiller suggests, the largesse for public broadcasting does not come without serious costs,” he writes—Reider says that calls for government money, popular three years ago, are now completely unrealistic.
More government assistance seemed a nonstarter at the time. And now, with Congress searching frantically for ways to slash spending, and given the Tea Party disdain for the “lamestream” media, the chances are slim and none, and slim left town.
Corporate reactions have been streaming in, too. An e-mail from Patch, posted at Poynter, saw the granddaddy of global hyperlocal arguing that it was working hard to fill the gap in local reporting that the report outlined. Time Warner Cable signaled its approval, while Hearst Television’s David Barrett’s reaction suggested local TV broadcasters were pleased by the report’s suggestions their hands be somewhat untied.
One of the more interesting reactions, for my money, has come from Tom Grubisich, editorial director of Local America, writing at the website Street Fight, which covers news about hyperlocals. Grubisich says the problem with the report is that it thinks too much in terms of old media models involving print and broadcast—in both diagnosis and recommendations—and concludes that its “back-to-the-future prescription for community news in the digital era is a big disappointment.”
To make the point, Grubisich excerpts this piece from the report:
“ to get to the level of accountability journalism [in local reporting] that likely existed in 2000, the media sector would need to hire roughly 5,000 reporters, costing about $265 million . The U.S. spends $560 billion a year on K-12 schools, with increasingly discouraging results. It would cost about $231 million a year to ensure that every school system has at least a half-time reporter covering schools.”