Chairman: Information Needs of Communities, at Columbia
CHAIRMAN JULIUS GENACHOWKSI
REMARKS ON INFORMATION NEEDS OF COMMUNITIES
COLUMBIA SCHOOL OF JOURNALISM
NEW YORK, NY
JUNE 10, 2011Thank you, Nicholas Lemann for hosting us today, and for your outstanding leadership of
Columbia's Journalism School.
Thank you Alberto Iguarden for your thoughtful remarks, and for being one of the main reasons
we are here today.
Discussing this report at this place has special meaning for me.
As Nick mentioned, I graduated from Columbia. I didn't attend the journalism school, though I
did take a class here, and worked for the Columbia Journalism Review.
Journalism was a big part of my life back then. I wrote for the Columbia Spectator, and in last
year here I reestablished Columbia's original newspaper, Acta Columbiana, as a competitor to the
Some people have tried to infer from that certain views on media competition policy.
I've been lucky in life or Zelig-like. At law school, I was an editor under a remarkably talented
Harvard Law Review President who went on to great things.
At Columbia, I was an editor under a remarkably talented Spectator Editor-in-Chief who went on
to great things.
When I wanted to hire someone to lead a major FCC project on the information needs of
communities in the digital age, I called my Spectator boss, Steve Waldman.
It was the right call. Not only because the other fellow was busy, solving a financial crisis,
reforming health care, and fighting two wars. Steve Waldman's unique background made him
the perfect person to lead the effort on this report.
Steve worked for years as a highly respected reporter and editor at Newsweek, U.S. News &
World Report, and the Washington Monthly.
He then became a successful Internet entrepreneur, starting Beliefnet.com, a successful online
multi-faith community that had millions of Americans as regular users. In his spare time, he
wrote for WallStreetJournal.com.
Steve has done an incredible job with this project, and it's one of the highlights of my career to be
his set-up man today.
I mentioned that I took a J-school course while I was in college here. Well, the course was with
Fred Friendly, and I went on to become part of the great project he ran here at Columbia, helping
him with books including The Constitution: That Delicate Balance, and with the incredibly
engaging and informative PBS shows developed under Fred's leadership here at the Media and
Fred, who was Edward R. Murrow's producer and then President of CBS News, was one of the
great heroes of journalism. I'm so pleased that his wife, Ruth Friendly, is here today.
Another American hero and another person I'm proud to call a mentor is Newt Minow,
President Kennedy's FCC Chairman. And like Fred Friendly, a legend. He delivered the
powerful "Vast Wasteland" speech 50 years ago last month.
In another zelig moment, his daughter Martha Minow now Dean of Harvard Law School was
my professor twice in law school, and through Martha Minow I got to know Newt Minow long
before I became FCC Chairman. He has become a close and trusted advisor in this job.
Both Newt Minow and Fred Friendly helped shape my approach to today's topic.
Most of us remember Minow and Friendly as visionaries who realized that an emerging new
technology television had the power to dramatically change our world for the better.
Fred Friendly called broadcast television, "the greatest teaching tool since the printing press."
In his "Vast Wasteland" speech Newt Minow spoke of how the new technology of over-the-air
TV could help quote "destroy poverty around the world."
It would shortchange their legacies to limit their inspiring messages to the technology that was
new back then.
To my mind, they weren't talking about the power and potential of one particular technology, but
all communications technology.
They understood that just as the technology called the printing press changed everything, so
would the technology called television, and so would future technological innovations in
communications and media.
They both believed that it was critical for our nation to harness the power of communications
technology to seize the opportunity of new media. New technology, new media would be
essential to meeting needs that are the foundation of a healthy democracy: a vibrant free press and
an informed and empowered citizenry.
No technology in history offers more potential to facilitate that ideal than the Internet.
When we put out Spectator at Columbia when Steve and I were students, we used manual
typewriters, giant typesetters, hot wax, and x-acto knives.
My son started college this year. He has a phone in his pocket with more computing power than
anything we had access to in the 1980s. A device that gives people everywhere access to all the
information in Butler Library, and much more; and that empowers people anywhere to publish
words or photos onto a network that connects more than 2 billion people worldwide.
Internet connected phones like my son's have been used in our time to bring down governments,
crack open closed societies, and pave the way to democracy and freedom.
When the bipartisan Knight Commission issued its report last year catalyzing the discussion we
continue today, they didn't predict what we've seen in North Africa and the Middle East. But
they knew something was up.
Thank you Alberto Ibarguen for your vision, and thank you and the Knight Commission for
asking the FCC to take a closer look at the issues around the changing media landscape.
As Chairman, I was happy to answer that request. And I'm pleased that, thanks to Steve
Waldman and a remarkable team at the FCC, the Commission has now released an in-depth and
thoughtful report on the information needs of communities in the broadband age, a report that's
already drawn praise from a wide range of sources including a long list Journalism School Deans
thank you, Nick.
Steve Waldman is here today to present the report's key findings and recommendations. Before
we hear from Steve, I'd like to highlight three reasons why I think this report is so important.
First, the report makes clear that new technology is creating a new world of opportunity to
empower journalists and keep the public informed like never before.
Digital innovations have made the gathering and distribution of news and information faster, less
expensive and more democratic.
In the U.S. today, more people are getting their news from the Internet than newspapers. And we
see more and more news and information entrepreneurs pursuing their visions online and on
mobile with creativity and confidence in their ability to succeed.
That's true of startups for-profit-and non-profit and it's true of an increasing number of
established media entities as well.
It's true of recent graduates and students of journalism schools like this one. Because under the
leadership of Nick Lemann and others, journalism schools have been changing their curricula to
respond to the digital opportunity, and originating more journalism.
Empowering individuals with new digital tools has given us breakthroughs like "hyperlocal"
news. Even in the hey-day of newspapers, this type of block-by-block news and information
Much is going well when it comes to the Internet and journalism.
In our nation's history, we have never had a greater opportunity to realize our founding vision of
a vibrant democracy bolstered by a strong free press and informed citizens.
So the first contribution of the report is its focus on the opportunities of new technologies. The
second is its focus on the challenges.
Foremost is the disruptive impact the Internet and economic pressures have had on local news
Newspapers have cut back staff and something we would have thought impossible 10 years ago
shut down. Many local broadcasters have cut back on news budgets; many stations have no
news at all.
The report identifies an emerging gap in local news reporting that has not yet been fully filled by
This matters, because if citizens don't get local news and information, the health of our
Journalism provides a vital check against corruption by those with power. The less quality local
reporting we have, the less likely we are to learn about government misdeeds, schools that fail
children, hospitals that mistreat patients or factories that pollute the water.
Journalism is essential to accountability. That's why Thomas Jefferson said he'd rather have
"newspapers without government" than "a government without newspapers." The technology
has changed, but the point endures.
The third important contribution of this report is that it suggests thoughtful and practical
initiatives to help address the challenges it identifies.
In crafting recommendations, the report starts with the overriding and correct recognition that the
First Amendment significantly limits the role government can play in addressing issues around
news and speech.
There's a school of thought that would have government help journalism through content
mandates on journalism outlets. Steve and I didn't go to that school.
But the report also recognizes that, as Nick Lemann and other Journalism school deans said in
commenting on the report: "Whether digital journalism can fully realize [its] potential depends in
significant part on public-policy decisions--about who has access to fast Internet service, how
freely Internet users can get all the information available online, and how well professional
journalists are able to fulfill their duty to inform the public."
As Steve has put it, while government is not the main player in this drama, there are areas where
government can make a positive difference. And Steve and his team developed a creative set of
recommendations for government, the private sector and nonprofit sector that can help make
success possible for journalists and entrepreneurs that are trying to seize the opportunities of the
The report's recommendations focus on several key areas:
on ongoing vigilance to ensure low entry barriers for news and
information entrepreneurs, including preserving Internet freedom and
on streamlining and removing burdensome rules and obstacles for
traditional news providers seeking to distribute their work on digital
platforms, and encouraging new innovative news partnerships involving
on enabling the development of business models that can sustain news
and information in the 21st century.
on government transparency and encouraging the development of ideas
like State C-Spans.
on moving public information from paper files to the Internet in a way
that's easily available to consumers, citizens, and reporters; and
on achieving universal broadband access for all Americans.
Let me elaborate on this last point.
The principle of universal access to information goes back to the early years of our Republic. In
1832, newspapers accounted for 95% of the weight carried by the Postal Service, and those
newspapers received a discount for postage.
The primary news delivery mechanisms of the past -- newspapers, radio, and TV -- were all
universal. The emerging news delivery mechanism of the future -- broadband -- of course must be
Achieving universal access to the open Internet would have multiple benefits: not only bringing
the vast online libraries of information to all Americans, but also improving online business
To get to 100% broadband adoption from today's level would represent a 50% increase in the
The larger the online market, the greater the scale, the more likely a news and information online
business can succeed.
Universal broadband and healthy online journalism are mutually re-enforcing goals.
And moving more public information online makes this a virtuous circle. It empowers journalists
and reduces news gathering costs. It also enables new applications to serve citizens and
communities, and boost broadband demand which is why the FCC recently teamed up with the
Knight Foundation to announce an Apps4Communiites competition, with awards for applications
that make the best use of government data that was put online.
The bottom line: Thanks to Steve Waldman and his team, the FCC has issued a thorough and
thoughtful report that deepens our understanding of how technology is affecting the information
needs of our communities; a roadmap and a set of practical and First-Amendment friendly
recommendations to fill real gaps and improve the news and information landscape.
Some of the issues addressed in the report involve debates that have gone on for decades. An
experienced observer of the space yesterday said this report marks "a pivotal change in the
conversation" that can make a real and positive difference.
We'll do our part at the FCC to prove that right because getting it right is essential to the health
of our democracy.
It's my privilege now to welcome Steve Waldman.
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