Genachowski Field Event, Phoenix, AZ
"INFORMATION NEEDS OF COMMUNITIES" FIELD EVENT
WALTER CRONKITE SCHOOL OF JOURNALISM & MASS COMMUNICATION
ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY
OCTOBER 3, 2011
Thank you, Dean Callahan for your kind introduction and for your outstanding leadership
of the Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
Thank you to the panelists who are here today, many of whom traveled great distances to
be part of this important discussion. I'm particularly pleased to see so many young people
in the audience who care about journalism and our democracy.
When I was about the age of the students here, I had the privilege of studying under and
working for the great Fred Friendly. Fred had been President of CBS News, and before
that was a producer for Edward R. Murrow and for Walter Cronkite. Fred Friendly has
been gone for too many years, but I know he would be proud and moved that students
every day learn about journalism at an institution named for Walter Cronkite, a powerful
symbol of journalism and its vital role in our democracy.
I commend this school and Dean Callahan for being at the forefront of news innovation. The
School has launched important programs such as its News21 initiative, which enables students to
report on critical issues facing the state and the nation and uses innovative digital methods to
distribute the news on multiple platforms. Cronkite School students now comprise the largest
bureau covering the Arizona statehouse and the only state bureau covering the federal
government in Washington, DC.
I'd also like to thank Commissioner Michael Copps for being here today and for his
commitment to these issues. Mike and I don't always agree on the most effective role for
government in media and journalism policy, but there's no arguing over this: No one
brings more passion, persistence or dedication to these important issues than
Commissioner Mike Copps.
Almost two years ago, catalyzed by a report from a bipartisan Knight Commission, I
asked Steve Waldman to lead a cross-agency team at the FCC to examine the information
needs of communities in the digital age.
The communications landscape has changed dramatically with the entry and widespread
use of broadband on computers, on smartphones, on tablets. We asked: what's the state
of play, and are there recommendations for how to ensure that communities in the 21st
century have the news and information they need and want?
I'm pleased that, thanks to Steve Waldman and a remarkable team at the FCC, the
Commission released an in-depth and thoughtful report this past June on the information
needs of communities in the broadband age.
On behalf of Steve and the team, I'm especially proud that the report has drawn praise
from a wide range of sources, including a long list of journalism school deans (thank you,
Dean Callahan). In addition, experts from across the spectrum of viewpoints leaders
from the academy, from business, and from consumer groups praised its thorough, fair-
minded and lucid analysis.
And even better, this report has sparked discussion and has already spurred action among
stakeholders throughout this ecosystem.
I'll speak more about that in a minute.
But first, I'd like to briefly highlight three reasons why I think this report is so important.
First, it describes how new technology is creating a new world of opportunity to
empower journalists and citizens, and to keep the public informed like never before.
Much is going well when it comes to the Internet and journalism. Digital innovations
have made the gathering and distribution of news and information faster, less expensive
and more democratic. One example: Digital innovations have opened up new
opportunities for tribal communities to preserve and share their culture and history in
ways never before possible. 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
The second is its focus on the challenges.
Foremost is the disruptive impact the Internet and economic pressures have had on local
news-gathering. This report describes compellingly the deficits in the media system
most especially an emerging gap in local news reporting that has not yet been fully filled
by digital media. This matters tremendously. If citizens don't get local news and
information, the health of our democracy suffers. The less quality local reporting we
have, the less likely we are to learn about problems and misdeeds, whether they are
schools that fail children, hospitals that mistreat patients, or factories that pollute the
But the report did not just stop at describing problems. It suggests thoughtful and
practical initiatives that help address the challenges it identifies. It does so recognizing
the essential constraints of the First Amendment, particularly vital in this area of news
And indeed, many of the suggestions are for non-governmental actors a strength of the
report. As Steve has put it, government is "not the main player in this drama."
To be sure, there are important 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 nonprofits that can help make success possible for the journalists and
entrepreneurs that are trying to seize the opportunities of the digital revolution.
At the FCC, we've recently implemented one of the report's recommendations purging
the Fairness Doctrine from our books. In addition, I've asked the Media Bureau to move
ahead with the recommendation to give religious and other noncommercial broadcasters
more flexibility to raise money for charities in their communities or around the world.
And I've asked the Media Bureau to develop and move forward on a plan to advance the
report's principles related to disclosure.
In this Internet age, of course the public information in the "public file" kept by
broadcasters should be online, not in filing cabinets. And as we've heard from thoughtful
leaders in both the broadcasting and public interest communities, there should be a
streamlined and non-burdensome online mechanism for broadcasters to disclose key
information about their service to their communities.
As I mentioned, the report has stimulated action among outside stakeholders. I'm
delighted to hear Dean Callahan's announcement about the new initiative by many of the
nation's top journalism schools. Funded by the Knight Foundation, this initiative will
carry forward the issues raised in this report.
Other groups are announcing constructive steps as well. The Council on Foundations is
moving ahead with an effort to make detailed recommendations to the IRS about
potential tax changes to remove obstacles to nonprofit media innovation. A significant
group of newspapers, local broadcasters, and web-based news providers have all
endorsed the report's suggestion that the federal government target a greater portion of its
existing advertising spending toward local media. And Carolina Academic Press has
decided to publish the report as a book to help get it wider circulation.
I'm looking forward to hearing from representatives of media companies and public
interest groups today. While they may differ on some of the details, they have come to
support the basic framework for broadcaster transparency, as I've indicated. This is a
significant development. I want to applaud both the leading broadcasters represented
here and the public interest groups for your constructive and positive approach to this
topic. I believe this will benefit American communities and the broadcasters that serve
Finally, we continue to make strides on a fundamental recommendation of the report
achieving universal broadband access for all Americans.
The report has no more important recommendation. The principle of universal access to
information, and the recognition of its necessity, goes back to the early years of our
republic, and has been a constant throughout our history. 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 20th century
newspapers, radio, and TV were all universal. The emerging news delivery mechanism
of the 21st century broadband Internet of course must be too.
Ubiquitous broadband wired and wireless is an economic imperative for the United
States. Our broadband economy is a bright spot in these challenging economic times.
The broadband economy is growing and creating jobs. It is helping not only new
businesses grow and compete, but also empowering existing businesses to expand their
markets on new platforms.
That's true of existing news and media businesses as well, more and more of which are
innovating on new platforms, seeking to reach their audiences however they are choosing
to read, watch or interact.
And the larger the online and mobile broadband markets, the more of a return on
investment news companies can achieve.
Ubiquitous broadband is essential not only for a healthy economy, but for a healthy
democracy. As recent events overseas have powerfully confirmed, real-time, two-way
interactive communications are essential in the 21st century to the fundamental rights of
expression and assembly, and essential to an informed citizenry.
There's much we have to do to achieve universal and ubiquitous broadband.
We must unleash more spectrum for mobile broadband, helping drive continued growth
in a thriving part of our economy, and helping avoid consumer frustration over dropped
connections and higher prices.
And we must close the broadband deployment and adoption gaps in the U.S. Right now,
about 20 million Americans live in areas without broadband infrastructure, and 100
million Americans don't subscribe to broadband at home.
At the FCC we're in the homestretch of our effort to modernize the Universal Service
Fund, the program that ensured affordable telephone access for every American in the
20th century, but that now needs to be transformed for a broadband world.
Improving broadband infrastructure and increasing broadband access will drive our
overall economy, and will help inform and educate everyone in our country. Increasing
broadband access will provide specific benefits to news entrepreneurs and businesses
seeking to make the math work in these challenging and changing times.
Getting to 100 percent broadband adoption from today's level would represent a 50
percent increase in the online audience in the United States. The larger the online
market, the greater the scale and the more likely a news and information business can
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 that fill real gaps and improve the news and
I also thank Bill Lake for his leadership of the Media Bureau and the excellent staff of the
Bureau, not only for the excellent assistance they provided in the development of the
report, but for the work they are doing and will continue to do to move forward on its
It is my privilege now to turn it over to Steve Waldman and Bill Lake. I look forward to
this morning's panels.
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