I wanted to take a moment post my comments to the FCC today. I believe they are a pragmatic analysis of the current situation.
This post was edited based on my revisions during the meeting.
Mr. Chairman, Commissioners:
Thank you for the opportunity to address you today.
I believe the Internet represent the future of the media. Surveys show more and more people are getting their news online, and the number of sources for their news is growing. Online advertising is growing faster than any other medium, and its growing by almost the same proportion as print advertising is declining.
According to the Project for Excellence in Journalism, eight percent of online Americans write some form of a blog. While 51 million Americans subscribe to newspapers, 57 million Americans have read or do read blogs – 39% of online adults. The numbers show the trend continuing and online alternatives gaining wider and wider acceptance.
However, there is one very important note to consider. Online news sites generating the most traffic are those owned by large media corporations which have the power and finances to publish a significant amount of content. My site, which focuses on Florida politics, sees the number of visitors in one week that TBO.com gets in less than one hour; at the same time, I personally post in one week the same number of stories TBO.com posts in less than one hour. Content drives traffic, and large media corporations have more content.
The best hope that citizen journalists have to compete with large media corporations is hyperlocal news sites. These websites offer news more localized than even local newspapers could ever offer. Moreover, some might even argue the newsworthiness of such hyperlocal news; so large media corporations simply do not devote the resources to it. This provides an opportunity to produce local news that did not exist even five years ago.
So, where are we today?
As you have heard and will hear from others, changing the rules on media ownership will have a negative impact on local news coverage. The larger media corporations can grow, the less local news will be generated, simply because it is more cost efficient to produce one national report that can be used by local affiliates in any city.
At the same time, not changing the rules on media ownership will have a negative impact on local news coverage. Newspapers, and to some extent television and radio, are seeing a declining audience resulting in declining advertising dollars. It is a downward spiral that will never be reversed. One of the effects of this audience shift is a reduction in local news, which is already being seen as newsrooms across the country downsize.
Now, if you can’t change the rules because local coverage will suffer and you have to change the rules because local coverage is starting to suffer, what do you do?
You have to find a middle ground.
If you change the rules, but in doing so put a greater impetus on large media corporations to serve the public interest. If you allow broadcast companies to buy newspapers, but require that they provide more resources for local and hyperlocal news. If you allow companies to buy more radio and televisions stations within a market, but require a minimum of HD and digital programming on those new stations to be dedicated to locally-produced and locally-oriented. Finally, you should make it easier for low-powered, community radio and/or television stations to operate.
If media companies, who still produce the bulk of online content, are not strictly required to provide local news, then the amount of local news online will decrease. Simply pointing to the Internet as proof of competition will not be enough in the foreseeable future, there are not enough local content providers and the audience is not yet comfortable finding those that do exist.
In the end, while I recognize some action may be taken, I strongly urge you to temper any action you take with the recognition of the need for greater oversight on those companies who move beyond the current limits. It is still better to do nothing than to change the rules without oversight.