No Room for Discussion at FCC Report Panel

Waldman re-presents his report at Columbia J-School

Columbia University’s J-School and the FCC hosted a panel today to coincide with yesterday’s release of the Commission’s “Information Needs of Communities” report. Columbia Journalism School dean Nicholas Lemann presided over a panel that included FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, Knight Foundation President and CEO Alberto Ibargüen, and the report’s chief author, Steve Waldman.

Due to some rather poor timing, the event did not include questions from the audience, or from Lemann. Ibargüen spoke, and then introduced Genachowski, who introduced Waldman, who essentially delivered an abridged version of the presentation he gave yesterday at the FCC’s open meeting where the report was first presented. Wonderfully, Waldman name-checked again our Dean Starkman’s “Hamster Wheel” feature to describe the state of the current multi-tasking journalist—though he said he bureaucratized the image with the term “hamsterization.” The only thing missing from yesterday’s presentation was the PowerPoint slides.

The bad timing meant that Waldman only really got into one of the recommendations of the report. This recommendation, one of the major pillars of the back end of the report, is that rather than filing cumbersome physical Public Interest Obligations papers, information regarding PIOs and disclosures be put online by stations. They would be in machine readable and searchable formats that would allow the public to inspect them. The recommendation fit in with the report’s push for all-round increased transparency and an increased leaning on citizens to use that transparency to hold stations accountable themselves. “Technology has allowed transparency to become a more effective policy tool,” said Waldman, after declaring the current PIO system “broken.”

It’s a shame Waldman was not able to get into other recommendations of the report, which you can find summarized here. The room was full of sharp minds ready to ask some challenging questions. Josh Stearns, from Free Press*, for example, was in attendance, and said after the event that the FCC report had “dropped the ball” on issues of media consolidation, localism, and enhanced disclosure. Stearns was particularly concerned about the report’s recommendation to shelve the FCC’s ongoing localism proceedings, which gather information from consumers and civic organizations on how broadcasters are serving their local communities. With Waldman saying that the crisis in the media is most acute in “full-time accountability reporting” at the local level, it seems odd that measures specifically in place to address local news services would be disbanded without great explanation or obvious replacement. (Stearns’ quick-reaction column on the report, published yesterday, can be found here.)

We’ll have to wait to hear Waldman’s response to early critics of the report. And, as Ibargüen teased, with Waldman’s parents in the room—both of whom are journalists and copy-edited the report—debate might not have been overly frank even if time had allowed. For now, you can see video of the three speeches below, courtesy of the Knight Foundation’s Vimeo page.

Alberto Ibargüen at Columbia Journalism School from Knight Foundation on Vimeo.

FCC chairman addresses new report from Knight Foundation on Vimeo.

Steven Waldman about his new FCC report from Knight Foundation on Vimeo.

Note: Originally, this post stated that Josh Stearns was affiliated with “Free Minds.” It was meant to read “Free Press.” CJR regrets the error.

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Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor.