FCC Adviser Backs ‘Public Media’ as ‘Filter’ and ‘Megaphone’ for Govt-Funded Internet Journalism
March 30, 2010 - 9:50 PMAn adviser to the Federal Communications Commission is an advocate for a "public media" that could serve as a "filter" and a "megaphone" for a network of government-funded journalists competing with non-government-backed reporters.
The advisor, Rutgers University law professor Ellen Goodman, is a distinguished visiting scholar with the FCC’s Future of Media Project, an initiative that aims to shape government communications policy in the digital age. In official comments submitted to the FCC during the drafting of its National Broadband Plan, Goodman said that the FCC should shift from traditional local public broadcasting to a new “public media” centered on three goals: create, curate, and connect.
“The Federal Communications Commission’s broadband workshops and several recent reports have documented national deficits in both the communications infrastructure and the narrative content necessary to involve the entire population in democratic decision making or to foster widespread economic and social flourishing,” Goodman and University of Pennsylvania Research Fellow Anne Chen write in the official comments.
“Information gaps are especially keen in the areas of investigative journalism, effective teaching materials, and content directed to underserved, minority, and poor populations,” they state. “A number of these reports have called on digital public media – building on, but also transcending, the legacy public broadcasting system – to help correct these deficits.”
Universal broadband Internet, the primary goal of the FCC’s national plan, is the key to correcting the nation’s civic “deficits” Goodman argues, calling for a new public media to create, curate, and connect new government-funded journalists with each other and the country.
“We have identified three core functions of digital public media, based on the directives of the Public Broadcasting Act and research on best practices in the field,” she says. “These functions are (1) to create content – particularly narratives in the form of journalism, long-form documentaries, oral histories, and cultural exploration – that markets will not and that is important to individual and social flourishing; (2) to curate content, serving as both a filter to reduce information overload and a megaphone to give voice to the unheard; and (3) to connect individuals to information and to each other in service of important public purposes.”
Public media is necessary, she says, because while information is “abundant” today, “wisdom and knowledge remain hard won.”
“The mission of public media – to engage publics with information relevant to improving lives in particular communities and shared polities – is of growing importance in a world where information is abundant, but does not always reach the people who need it, and where wisdom and knowledge remain hard won,” says Goodman.
To give the public more “wisdom and knowledge” Goodman argues that the government must sponsor public media content, especially journalism, in areas “where there are market failures.”
“Public media should create content where there are market failures in accordance with a public service objective,” she says in her comment. “Public media contributions are especially needed in the areas of enterprise journalism (particularly at the local level), educational content, and content that illuminates issues of particular relevance to minority and underserved audiences.”
As an example, she cites National Public Radio’s Argo initiative, which allows local public radio stations to create and distribute local reporting on “under-developed subject areas,” such as environmental policy and public health.
Goodman also envisions the new public media as a curator of such government-sponsored “enterprise journalism” using its “brand” and “editorial capacities” to raise the profile of public media pieces.
“As the amount of media content proliferates, trusted public media entities have an important role to play as information curators. They can use their brand, community connections, technology, and editorial capacities to raise the profile of important, reliable, and innovative content,” she states.
To “operationalize” the new public media, Goodman says that government-funded journalism must be connected together over the Internet so that “non-commercial” journalists can easily access the public.
“To operationalize this ideal of public access and public service requires a degree of collaboration and openness that is today uncommon among public media entities,” states Goodman. “It requires that the public be able to easily access content created with a public service mission, especially burgeoning noncommercial journalism efforts. And it requires that those creating such content be able to easily access the public.”
Public media would “provide access” to journalistic content that “the market did not support,” focusing on investigative journalism and acting as “base camps” for government-sponsored reporters.
“Public media was meant to provide access to news and information that the market did not support,” she states. “As several reports have recently noted, there are increasing and worrisome market failures in the production of investigative journalism. Public media must be part of the solution, not only by increasing journalistic resources, but also by linking established media entities with new entrants to maximize the impact of journalistic efforts.”
Goodman continues: “One doesn’t climb Mount Everest without the aid of base camps to assist in the ascent and one doesn’t usually create sustainable journalistic organizations without a base level of infrastructure.”
Goodman dismisses any concern over government-funded journalists becoming advocates for government policy, saying that the purpose of public media was to “engage” the public in “debate” about important topics.
“There is often an understandable concern about the line between objective media content and advocacy,” says Goodman. “The first thing to be said is that most engagement does not necessarily entail advocacy, but discourse. Public media ought to be dealing with controversial matters of public concern and ought to be reaching out to engage stakeholders and community members in debate over these matters.”
The new public media are needed, she says, to foster “virtual and real spaces” for intelligent discourse free from the “commercial pressures” of independent, non-government media.
“Indeed, public media entities are particularly needed as virtual and real spaces where respectful and nuanced discourse can occur free from the commercial pressures of generating ever more outrageous flares,” says Goodman.