Yes, but it is largely still a class and racial situation. Remember one third of the American people still do not have high speed Internet and that one-third is largely poor, disproportionately black and Hispanic, although with mobile devices and with phones that’s changing a little bit. But in terms of home-based broadband access, I get a lot of tips and information now from people on the Internet that I normally wouldn’t have gotten in the old days, but it’s still skewed to those who have, and are more familiar with, broadband access. You’re getting a significant percentage of the American people who still do not have broadband access. That’s the part of the population with the most problems.

You paint a somewhat dire picture for what lies ahead and you even ask in your book whether we’re headed toward a de facto apartheid system of media in the United States, in which the divide really deepens. Do you think we’re going there?

I think there’s the potential to go there if the citizens and the journalists do not get together to pressure for government policies that will change things. For example, in the seventies, as a result of enormous pressure on the government, under the Carter administration they passed the Minority Tax Certificate Program, which basically provided incentives to major broadcasters that were selling stations to sell them to racial minorities. As a result you had a significant increase in the number of radio and television stations owned by racial minorities throughout the late seventies and early eighties, until the Minority Tax Certificate Program was eliminated in 1994. Since then the pendulum has swung back the other way.

Similarly, the government could fashion tax policies that would favor independent ownership of Internet sites, that would favor entrepreneurial investment in minority-owned companies on the Internet, that would favor locally based media, because the problem with the Internet is that there is very little locally based media on the Internet. Everyone wants to reach India and Pakistan and California, but what about the neighborhoods right there in your own city? Depending on what kind of government policies are adopted that would favor and provide preferences for minority ownership of our media system, even on the Internet, then that will determine whether this citizen journalism develops in a different direction or whether it goes back into the old patterns.

What is the next book that needs to be written about the media?

The story of the Internet really has not been told yet. What were the political decisions that were made, not only in the United States, but around the world, to create this incredible information system? What were the decisions that could have been made to move it in a different direction? The Internet plays such a huge role in the lives of so many Americans, but most Americans really have no knowledge of how it developed. And I think that’s something I’d want to read; not necessarily write it, but I’d sort of like to read it.

Click here for a complete Page Views archive.

 

Ernest R. Sotomayor is assistant dean for Career Services and Continuing Education at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He was previously president of UNITY: Journalists of Color.