THE FUTURE OF MEDIA AND INFORMATION NEEDS OF COMMUNITIES IN A DIGITAL AGE:

A response to FCC Public Notice  DA 10-100

By Beau Berman Hartford, Connecticut

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is wise in launching an examination of the future of the media and the information needs of communities in a digitial age. All Americans deserve access to vibrant and diverse sources of news and information. Posing questions and welcoming input from a spectrum of citizens is not only a shrewd endeavor on the part of the FCC, but a necessary one. In its 2010 call for comment, the FCC posed 42 questions in its public notice pertaining to the state of the media, listed across seven categories.

The two questions most germane to the future of media surround:

1. The role of user-generated journalism 

2. How young people receive educational and information media content

The role of user-generated journalism continues to expand. In years past that might include calling into a radio show to voice your opinion. Now, it encompasses many practices, including the submission of your own writing on sites like BleacherReport, Medium, and Huffington Post.  Citizen journalism and user generated content is leading to blurred lines. It’s a matter of credibility and it’s a matter of confusing fact and opinion. The old adage is to “consider the source”. Well what about when you don’t know who the source is, or if it’s a 15 year old from Egypt, or a 57 year old from Wyoming who is an expert in “video cloning”?

Of course, citizen journalism can improve upon traditional media by providing more immediacy and better video angles and providing content without the bureaucracy. But the proliferation of technology among all populations means that more and more news will be coming from “unofficial-stringers”, freelancers, interns, members of the public and other “viewer-submitted” sources. This could erode journalism jobs or create new ones, but this question is very much connected to many of the other questions posed by the FCC.

As for young people and the media, it’s clear that young people will be a driving force of media consumption. The key demographic for advertising in local TV is 25-54 years old. So today’s youth are tomorrow’s buyers. They are who the advertisers target or will be targeting 10 years from now when they are in the proper consumerist demographic. So the FCC should be thinking about our youth and what they are accustomed to seeing, what they want to see, and perhaps most importantly, what they need to see.

________________________________________________________________________

The FCC leads it’s questions with perhaps the other most important topics:

1. Needs of news consumers

2. Business models and financial trends

Needs are the ideal journalism should strive for as a service to the public and they are constantly juxtaposed by the business side of the equation, which keeps media viable in a capitalist society.

 INFORMATION NEEDS OF COMMUNITIES AND CITIZENS

*Information needs

  • Citizens and communities need unfettered access to information about what is happening around them
  • That information needs to be timely, accurate and free from bias
  • Communities currently lack this brand of information – be it a problem of access or attention span- the reason varies
  • Overall access to information has improved with the advent of the internet including blogs, social networks, RSS feeds, et al.
  • But information delivery may not have improved when considering the potential for information overload, distraction by social media sites and a cacophony of media “voices” that may or may not be accurate
  • United States citizens are heavily focused and informed on domestic issues
  • The lack of cognizance and understanding of foreign events and issues among U.S. citizens is problematic
  • Cable news channels have become increasingly politically partisan, driving a wedge between information and unbiased presentation of that information
  • Investigative news has seen a resurgence but has also faltered at the national level, with the alleged stifling of former CBS Network reporter Sharyl Attkisson
  • Local television news is criticized for running stories heavy on crime and destruction

*Covering emergencies

  • The rise of social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook have provided a fast stream of information during times of natural disasters, extreme weather and public health emergencies
  • However, the recent ebola happenings display the penchant of the national media to perhaps saturate the landscape of coverage despite a low risk to public health
  • The FCC faces a challenge in getting information to communities faced with such events – but one effective measure is through the use of social networking sites
  • Perhaps paid advertisements or contracted alerts via Facebook and/or Twitter would help disseminate this information effectively

*Youth media consumption

  • The nation’s youth are increasingly consuming media via mobile devices from internet-based sources
  • This trend should absolutely influence the FCC’s decisions and regulations
  • For example, while a shot of Janet Jackson’s genitalia on national television was a grave concern in 2004, children and teens can easily see more graphic images in an instant on their smartphones in 2014
  • The FCC must determine the extent to which online media can and should be regulated now and in coming years

*Media consumption among minorities

  • Minorities in some cases, crave a venue for consuming content hyper-relevant to their culture
  • The “digital divide” in some cases, could impact minorities of lower socio-economic status by limiting access to online media
  • However, the increasing reach of mobile platforms for media is impacting minorities just as it impacts the rest of the nation
  • A “new digital divide” has been suggested – implying that minorities have more smartphones than whites
  • The FCC must monitor media consumption among minorities
  • Changing demographics may also change who is considered a minority in the United States, particularly with the growth of hispanic citizens

*Libraries and schools

  • Libraries and schools remain important hubs for certain segments of the population to gather and consume information
  • For some adults, libraries represent the only place to browse the internet
  • For children, libraries and schools can guide the conduct of online research, steering children toward productive academic use of the internet
  • Communities may be wise to utilize talented web developers in the community to build town websites or maintain certain pages without pay
  • In times of tough budgets, the creativity of the community might be harnessed

*Governments and new media

  • The best examples of governments using new media to provide transparent information to the public are those instances in which the internet is harnessed in ways that provide open access
  • For example, Hartford, Connecticut has launched data.hartford.gov providing data sets to the public online regarding public health, public safety and other topics

*Measuring the importance of local news availability

  • It is difficult to put a metric toward the value in readily available local news
  • Surveys and questionnaires may provide the best insight into the minds of local news consumers

*Seeking specialized media

  • Compared to past decades Americans are far more likely to seek specialized media sites like the conservative leaning drudgereport.com or the liberal leaning commondreams.org
  • This tendency is problematic in a democracy in which Congress is receiving its lowest approval ratings in history
  • As Congress struggles to compromise on Capitol Hill, news consumers struggle to see opposing viewpoints when they are increasingly seeking reinforcement and echoes of their own viewpoints on cable television networks like Fox News, MSNBC and online at specialized politically-slanted websites

*Demographic groups

  • Older Americans and those in extreme poverty are negatively affected by the rise of internet journalism
  • Those populations have less access to information because of their habits and/or financial status
  • However, the increasing penetration of home internet access could help offset this problem
  • But as more news breaks on Twitter and more news appears on screens instead of printed paper, those who are not comfortable using Twitter and those who cannot afford electronic devices could be left out

*FCC policies in the digital era

  • The FCC should focus less on serving as the penal overlord of traditional media like print and television
  • Instead, the FCC should concentrate on the proliferation of internet media
  • Policies should be drafted to adapt to the changing landscape of media- and determine ways to protect the nation’s youth from dangerous material in thus largely unexplored areas like “the deep web” or “dark web”
  • News is increasingly presented online, which remains a “Wild Wild West” of pornography and profanity
  • The FCC should craft policies to reflect the transition from media on TV and print, to media on websites and smartphone screens

*Governmental entities in a digital era

  • Other governmental entities must recognize and adapt to the digital era
  • Far too many government websites and record-keeping systems are out of date
  • Governmental entities must recognize that news reporters may not always work for a major agency now

BUSINESS MODELS AND FINANCIAL TRENDS

*Journalism in jeopardy

  • Traditional print journalism is in jeopardy in the continuing digital era
  • Traditional broadcast media such as local television news and to some extent, broadcast networks overall may be in jeopardy 
  • Commercial market mechanisms may not be able to serve minorities accurately or to properly execute investigative journalism

*Profit or not?

  • Media outfits that have adapted to the digital era are still raking in profits, while those clinging to the old guard are suffering
  • Vox Media recently raised millions of capital for a new online media outfit
  • Giants like The NY Times are conscious of the need to adapt – it remains to be seen whether they will

*Advertising trends

  • Mobile seems to be the key buzzword in advertising
  • The “Freemium” model is also increasingly popular when it comes to integrating advertising
  • It remains to be seen whether web-advertising will ever be solely viable as a revenue stream to support sites
  • Currently the cost per “impression” is not enough to sustain profit from web content, unless it’s “video pre-roll” (the short video advertisements that preface online video content)
  • Traditional advertisements have become like “wall paper” and consumers glance over it to find the true content they want to consume.
  • Demographic/locational targeting has helped online advertising

 

THE “FUTURE COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION”

The FCC may stand for the Federal Communications Commission but it’s rightly thinking about it’s role in a rapidly evolving industry that directly and indirectly affects the health, safety and perception of the United States in ways we can see and some that aren’t as easy to decipher. The FCC must strive to predict where the media is headed and be prepared to govern that media of the future. While that media system may look different than today’s, the FCC should hold strong to three concepts:

  • The media must provide consumers with useful information, following journalist standards
  • The media is a business and must remain profitable, adhered to capitalism
  • The media is a watchdog, critical to democracy