There are two ways you could approach that problem. One is you could do more enforcements, and the FCC did. Two months ago they did some enforcements on video news release use. I think that’s effective. But the law doesn’t say you can’t do it, it just says that if you do it you have to disclose it. So, some people are disclosing it but it’s not having an impact. And disclosure all happens fleetingly; it’s a short mention during the piece or at the end of the show. Now, just imagine a very simple change: put all that online permanently and in a searchable format. Suddenly, the local newspaper reporter once a quarter can write the story about which of the local TV stations is selling off their airwaves to the highest bidder and which isn’t. And the national watchdog group can do, which chains have the most pay-for-play examples, which have the fewest. That’s an instance where you can see that a disclosure approach could be extremely effective.

Also, in the pay-for-play stuff, we still have the rules. This is “in addition to” and not “instead of.” In fact, all the stuff we talked about is in addition to it and not instead of.

Another one of the criticisms I’ve seen was of the recommendation to do away with the localism proceeding. The emphasis is on local, the concern is about local, and yet the localism proceeding—which is a way the agency gets input form the community—is being done away with.

But it hasn’t done anything. The localism proceeding has come up with a couple of specific proposals, which we didn’t agree with. The value of the citizens weighing in was really important, five years ago, when it happened. To me the localism proceeding is an example of the limits of the approach. You had this proceeding, you had hearings, people came in and expressed their opinions, and then nothing happened for four years. Why is this a model of great success?

The comments that people made in the localism proceeding did actually inform our proceeding. That was one of the things that struck me as odd about the reaction. I would flip the argument and say: Why do you care if the localism proceeding is terminated when we just did a 365-page report about promoting local news? The localism proceeding didn’t.

But if you drew from the localism proceeding doesn’t that make an argument for its use and value?

We did use it. But why continue it? What does it actually do? I’m open to argument but I don’t know what it actually does going forward. They put forth a set of specific recommendations which were proposed a few years ago and which the commission hasn’t done anything about and isn’t going to.

I think it was a symbolic blow to people. People had invested time and energy into the localism proceeding and so to terminate the localism proceeding was wounding. Instead of looking at the fact that we just produced this report all about how to move to the next level in terms of improving local communities, which was informed by the localism proceeding and the comments that people gave then and more recently.

I think it’s sort of an inside-the-Beltway thing. I had broadcasters come up to me and say, I don’t know why you’re going to make us keep logs of our music programming for you. And I would say, no one at the FCC thinks that’s going to happen. Well, if that’s the case, we should let the rest of the world in on the secret. If it’s not a live proceeding it should be closed down. The idea that the most effective way for people to help shape the media in their community is to complain to the FCC I think is probably not the right way to look at it. The best way to get involved in media in your community is in your community. And we’re going to try to give you more tools to make it more effective.

Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor.