Federal Communications Commission

Trial Balloons Category

Would You Tip for Good Content?

Posted January 27th, 2010 by Elizabeth Andrion - Deputy Chief, Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis

Mark Nadel, an attorney in the FCC's Wireline Competition Bureau, has long been thinking about the following idea for supporting news and information production:
One business model to consider is creating a new “social norm,” similar to the one that currently leads American consumers to voluntarily contribute on the order of $40 billion/yr to food servers.* PSAs would teach consumers that they should feel obligated to make appropriate financial contributions to individual journalists, journalistic organizations, or any producer of a creative work if the consumer finds the work valuable and wants to encourage the creator to continue producing more.
Testing the idea. The idea could be tested by suggesting to media news organizations that they hire arrange to produce an ad that attempted to create a new social norm: consumers of journalism should feel obligated to reward journalists for their work. It might use a voice over that said something like this: 
“While journalists are happy to make their work easily accessible to you online, they also need to make a living. Right now limited revenues from online use has helped force newspapers and magazines to “release” hundreds of reporters, if not go out of business altogether. If you enjoy and value the work of a particular journalist or media firm and want them to continue to produce that kind of material, then show them with your wallet. Next time you enjoy a story, before you click to the next link, look for the “$” icon to make a payment for the valued content. Most of you tip food servers at least a dollar a meal for their efforts; make it a habit to do the same for those who provide you with food for thought.”  The visual might include clips from famous films about journalists, e.g., “All the President’s Men,” “Deadline USA” [Humphrey Bogart], “The Pelican Brief.” Talented writers and producers could do better and produce multiple versions.  The ads would then be tested to evaluate their effectiveness.
Adoption. If some ads were effective then the FCC could designate them as PSAs and expect that any broadcasters offering news online would find it in their own interest to broadcast them. One would also expect the music, film, and television industries to ask to collaborate on PSAs that applied to all creative content.
This social norm concept is discussed in much greater detail an 8-page section of a 2004 law review article published in 19 Berkeley Tech. L.J. 785, 837-45 (2004). It is posted on the FTC’s website at 
* See Paul Wachter, “Why Tip?”, NY Times Magazine, Oct. 12, 2008, at p56.

Posted in Ideas and Debates Trial Balloons Business Models and Financial Trends
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Corporate Campaign Money and Media

Posted January 25th, 2010 by Steve Waldman - Senior Advisor to the Chairman

Ellen Goodman, a professor at Rutgers University School of Law and expert on media policy emailed me with this fascinating point about last week's Supreme Court ruling:

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court this week overturned statutory controls on corporate funding of campaign advertising (Citizens United v. FEC).  It is a hugely significant decision in that it will allow corporations to expend unlimited funds to promote or defeat candidates for office.  Before this decision, the corporations were limited to directly funding “issue ads” and funding candidate advertising only through PACs and political parties.   The decision will mean a flood of advertising dollars onto broadcast television, cable, and every other medium.
Putting aside what this will mean to electoral politics, what will it mean for news and information?  In the short term, it will probably mean tons more advertising dollars especially for local broadcast stations.  One could imagine a scenario in which these dollars were re-invested in local journalism, and it was the kind of journalism that supported beat reporters and the other kinds of information gathering that has been under threat.  But it’s not at all clear that this is the kind of journalism the market would support or, therefore, that ad dollar recipients would choose to expand.
One thing that seems fairly clear is that the influx of ad dollars will REQUIRE more journalism.  Corporations will be required to disclose when they are responsible for advertising (over a certain dollar amount).  But it may not always be obvious why they are supporting a certain candidate.  Journalism will be required.  This might be just the kind of database journalism that the “crowd” or citizen journalists can do, if they have access to the right kinds of data.  Or it might be the kind of journalism that only intrepid, “feet on the ground” full-time journalists can do.  Probably, it will be a combination of both.  Will the news and information apparatus up to making meaning from increased corporate spending on elections?


Posted in Ideas and Debates Trial Balloons Business Models and Financial Trends