It’s sort of this conditional optimism—there’s a big “if” to the optimism. If we address this one area of concern, we will have the best media system we’ve ever had. If we don’t, we have really serious problems. That’s the weird thing about the message. It’s not like I’m conditionally optimistic because I think it’s all going to get better on it’s own. We actually have to pay attention to this and if we don’t, there are going to be severe consequences. But if we do, there are so many other things going for us right now, that you really could have the best of both worlds.

That’s a tough message. And government reports particularly tend to be one or the other. It’s like, “A Nation at Risk,” or… well, I guess there aren’t that many happy government reports. And there are evangelists on both sides of this argument. There are people who think that the market will solve everything and there are people who think it’s all going to hell. I just don’t agree with either of those things. I think the truth is a little more complex than that. This, A, makes it harder to appeal to those groups, and, B, just makes it harder to concisely convey that. It would be easier to have a wake-up call if you were just saying everything sucks, but everything doesn’t suck. It wouldn’t be true.

The second part of this interview will be published tomorrow.

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Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor.