06.17.2011 02:43 PM
Health of online journalism linked to universal broadband, says Genachowski

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski last week used the release of a new report on the information needs of communities as an opportunity to focus attention on the link between universal broadband availability and “healthy online journalism.”

Speaking at the Columbia School of Journalism in New York City June 10, Genachowski called the pair “mutually re-enforcing goals.”

“The larger the online market, the greater the scale, the more likely a news and information online business can succeed,” he said.

The focus of Genachowski’s speech was a new 478-page online report, “The Information Needs of Communities,” authored by veteran reporter, editor and online publisher Steve Waldman and members of the FCC staff.

During his speech, Genachowski observed that “much is going well” with 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,” he said.

However, several challenges remain, including the “disruptive impact” the Internet and the economy have had on local newsgathering.

“Newspapers have cut back staff and — something we would have thought impossible 10 years ago — shut down,” Genachowski said. “Many local broadcasters have cut back on news budgets; many stations have no news at all.”

According to the chairman, the new report identifies a gap that is emerging in local news reporting that to date has been left unfilled by digital media. Meeting this challenge will be important if journalism is to maintain its traditional role as “a vital check against corruption by those with power,” he said.

Genachowski said the report identifies areas in which the government, the private sector and nonprofits “can help make success possible for journalists and entrepreneurs that are trying to seize the opportunities of the digital revolution. Those include:

• ensuring low entry barriers for news and information entrepreneurs, including preserving Internet freedom and openness;
• streamlining and removing burdensome rules and obstacles for traditional news media seeking to distribute their work on digital platforms, and encouraging new news partnerships with non-profits;
• enabling development of business models that can sustain news and information in the 21st century;
• promoting government transparency and encouraging the development of ideas like State C-Spans;
• moving public information from paper files to the Internet in a way that’s easily available to consumers, citizens, and reporters; and
• achieving universal broadband access for all Americans.

Genachowski credited Waldman and the new report with deepening the understanding of how technology affects the information needs of the nation’s communities and said it offers “a set of practical and First-Amendment friendly recommendations to fill real gaps and improve the news and information landscape.”

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