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Archive for January 2010

The Perils of Un-Bundling

Posted January 29th, 2010 by Steve Waldman - Senior Advisor to the Chairman


Newspaper editors know that for many years popular entertainment and sports features – like horoscopes, comics, and box scores – in effect subsidized the cost of the city hall reporter and other more civically-oriented journalism. In The Big Switch by Nicholas Karr offers an interesting description of this “bundling” process, and the effects of the internet:

“A print newspaper provides an array of content-local stories, national and international reports, news analyses, editorials and opinion columns, photographs, sports scores, stock tables, TV listings,   cartoons, and a variety of classified and display advertising-all   bundled together into a single product. People subscribe to the bundle, or buy it at a newsstand, and advertisers pay to catch readers'   eyes as they thumb through the pages. The publisher's goal is to make the entire package as attractive as possible to a broad set of readers and advertisers. The newspaper as a whole is what matters, and as a product it's worth more than the sum of its parts.
 
"When a newspaper moves online, the bundle falls apart. Readers don't flip through a mix of stories, advertisements, and other bits of content. They go directly to a particular story that interests them, often ignoring everything else. In many cases, they bypass the newspaper's "front page" altogether, using search engines, feed readers, or headline aggregators like Google News, Digg, and Day-life   to leap directly to an individual story. They may not even be aware of which newspaper's site they've arrived at. For the publisher, the newspaper as a whole becomes far less important. What matters are the parts. Each story becomes a separate product standing naked in the marketplace. It lives or dies on its own economic merits.”
 

 

So the question is, can civically-important journalism survive on its own "economic merits"? Do consumers, at the end of the day, value it enough?

 

Posted in Ideas and Debates Newspapers and Magazines
1 Comment

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
2 Comments

FCC Launches Examination of Future of Media and Information Needs of Communities In a Digital Age (Full Public Notice)

Posted January 22nd, 2010 by Andrew Kaplan - Special Assistant to the Future of Media project

FCC LAUNCHES EXAMINATION OF THE FUTURE OF MEDIA AND
INFORMATION NEEDS OF COMMUNITIES IN A DIGITAL AGE
 
COMMENT SOUGHT
GN Docket No. 10-25
 
            As the nation’s expert agency involved in media and communications policies, the FCC has begun an examination of the future of media and the information needs of communities in a digital age. The objective of this review is to assess whether all Americans have access to vibrant, diverse sources of news and information that will enable them to enrich their lives, their communities and our democracy.
 
            The Future of Media project will produce a report providing a clear, precise assessment of the current media landscape, analyze policy options and, as appropriate, make policy recommendations to the FCC, other government entities, and other parties.
 
***
 
            The bipartisan Knight Commission on Information Needs of Communities recently declared:
 
America is at a critical juncture in the history of communications.  Information technology is changing our lives in ways that we cannot easily foresee. 
 
The digital age is creating an information and communications renaissance.  But it is not serving all Americans and their local communities equally. It is not yet serving democracy fully. How we react, individually and collectively, to this democratic shortfall will affect the quality of our lives and the very nature of our communities.[1]
 
The layoffs of thousands of journalists have prompted concern from a wide variety of independent analysts and groups that we may end up with fewer “informed communities.” Last year, a consortium of non-profit media groups issued “The Pocantico Declaration,” which concluded, “There is an urgent need to nourish and sustain the emerging investigative journalism ecosystem to better serve the public.”[2] The Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism recently stated that business trends in the media were “chilling,”[3]and a 2009 report from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism observed that “accountability journalism, particularly local accountability journalism, is especially threatened by the economic troubles that diminished so many newspapers.”[4]
 
These trends could have dire consequences for our democracy and the health of communities, hindering citizens’ ability to hold their leaders and institutions accountable.
 
On the other hand, while this moment carries great risk, it also presents significant opportunity. The digital age is creating an exciting variety of new sources, business models and delivery methods for news and information. Citizens act increasingly not only as information consumers, but also as information providers. Small start-ups, Internet giants and traditional media companies have accelerated the pace of innovation. In some parts of the media, consumers have more choices than ever and it’s not hard to see how the digital revolution will positively affect news gathering, journalism and information dissemination in many ways.
 
In sorting through these trends, the starting point is the First Amendment. Any time the government reviews the structure of the news media, it must do so with great sensitivity to the paramount need to protect free speech and an independent press. Moreover, the Future of Media project starts with the assumption that many of the challenges encountered in today’s media environment will be addressed by the private for-profit and non-profit sectors, without government intervention. We will remain mindful of the Hippocratic Oath of physicians, “First, do no harm.”
... Read More.

Posted in Public Notices
4 Comments

Comment on: Information Needs of Communities and Citizens

Posted January 20th, 2010 by William Freedman - Associate Bureau Chief, Media Bureau

The Future of Media project encourages comments and suggestions on the key questions about the changing media landscape.  This post includes broad questions about the information needs of consumers and citizens.  (The full public notice can be found here.)

 

1.    What are the information needs of citizens and communities?  Do citizens and communities have all the information they want and need?  How has the situation changed during the past few years?  In what ways has the situation improved?  Gotten worse?  Consider these categories:

 

·        media platforms (e.g., broadcast, cable, satellite, print, Internet, mobile, gaming);

·        media formats (e.g.,  video, audio, print, email, short message formats);

·        geographic focus (e.g., international, national, state, regional, local, neighborhood, personal);

·        media affiliation (e.g., independent, affiliated with an advocacy organization or movement, academic, governmental);

·        organization type (e.g., commercial media, non-profits, public broadcasting, cultural/educational institutions);

·        types of journalism (e.g., breaking news, investigative, analysis, commentary, beat reporting, objective reporting, advocacy, specialized, general interest, citizen generated, collaborative); and

·        topics (e.g., politics, crime, schools, health, disasters, national news, foreign news, children’s programming).

 

2.    How have the changes in the media landscape affected the delivery of critical information in times of natural disasters, extreme weather, or public health emergencies?  From where do people get their information in such situations?  What, if anything, should the Commission do to ensure that communities receive such often life-saving information widely and quickly?

 

3.    How do young people receive educational and informational media content?  How do they consider and process the news and information provided to them?  How should these patterns affect government policy toward the future of the media? 

 

4.    Are media consumption patterns different in minority communities?  How would those differences affect business models for various media platforms?  What are the implications for the availability of news and information in minority communities?  How should such business models and their implications affect government policy?

 

5.    What roles should libraries and schools play in supporting community information flow?  How can communities best make use of citizens’ talents and interests in the creation, analysis, curating, and sharing of information? 

 

6.    What are the best examples of Federal, state and local governments using new media to provide information to the public in a transparent, easy-to-use manner?  When has this public information been provided directly to consumers and when has it been used as the basis for lower-cost reporting?  In what formats should such data be provided?  Should the laws on government provision of information to the public be changed?

... Read More.

Posted in Public Notices Ideas and Debates Information Needs of Communities
4 Comments

Comment on: Business Models and Financial Trends

Posted January 20th, 2010 by William Freedman - Associate Bureau Chief, Media Bureau

The Future of Media project encourages comments and suggestions on the key questions about the changing media landscape.  This post includes questions about business models and financial trends in media.  (The full public notice can be found here.)

 

12)  In general, what categories of journalism are most in jeopardy in the digital era?  What categories are likely to flourish?  While much is still to be determined as media companies test various business models and payment approaches in the coming years, based on what is known now, are there news and information needs that commercial market mechanisms alone are unlikely to serve adequately? 

 

13)  Many media companies are struggling, but others are reporting healthy profits.  What explains the differences in performance?  What roles are played by debt levels, consolidation patterns, government policies, geography, diversity of and/or decline in revenue streams, technological innovation, cost reductions, and audience growth?

 

14)  How do trends in advertising affect the viability of different models? Will the abundance of advertising inventory prevent web advertising rates from rising to a level that could support more online content models?  Or will demographic or locational targeting or other technologies raise advertising rates?  What effect will such advertising trends have on consumer privacy?

 

15)  Does the efficiency and specialization of the Internet make it less likely to support the cross-subsidies that existed for many decades within newspapers (in which, for example, popular human interest content effectively cross-subsidized news reporting)?

 

16)  In the aggregate, how much money do Americans spend on news and information media and how has that changed over time?  Which companies and industries have benefited from these shifts and which have suffered?

 

Please weigh in on any of these questions, or offer your own.

Posted in Public Notices Ideas and Debates Business Models and Financial Trends
No Comments

Comment on: Commercial Broadcast TV and Radio, Cable and Satellite

Posted January 20th, 2010 by William Freedman - Associate Bureau Chief, Media Bureau

The Future of Media project encourages comments and suggestions on the key questions about the changing media landscape.  This post includes questions about commercial TV and radio.  (The full public notice can be found here.)

 

17)  With regard to national commercial television and radio, what have been the trends, and what is the current state of affairs, regarding news staffing (for network, cable and satellite) and coverage (international, national and local)?  What types of coverage or programming have been changed, and in what manner? Over what time period?

 

18)  For local commercial broadcast television and radio stations, what have been the trends for staffing, the amount of local news and information aired, the audience ratings for such programming and local station profitability?  What have been the roles of station debt, advertising revenue declines, government policies, efficiency improvements, and ownership consolidation (including combining the news staffs of commonly owned or operated stations)? What has been the impact of competition for audience from the Internet or other information sources?  How are these broadcasters using the Internet, mobile applications, their multicast channels/additional program streams, or other new technologies to provide local news and information?  How have these changes affected the availability of educational programming for children?

 

19)  Broadcasters have certain public interest obligations, including that they provide programming responsive to the needs and issues of their communities and comply with the Commission’s children’s programming requirements.  Cable and satellite operators have their own responsibilities (some of which are discussed below). Should these or other existing obligations be strengthened, relaxed, or otherwise re-conceptualized in this digital era?  Should such obligations be applied to a broader range of media or technology companies, or be limited in scope?  What should be the nature of those obligations, and what would be the most effective mechanisms for ensuring the availability of news and information?  Have the FCC’s past regulatory or deregulatory approaches (e.g., public interest guidelines, disclosure requirements, expedited license renewal procedures) been effective, and if not, why not? 

 

20)  When determining whether the public’s needs are being met, should policymakers assess the adequacy of community information by looking primarily at particular media delivery systems (e.g., broadcast, cable, satellite), by focusing on general media types (e.g., television, radio, print), or by looking at information availability within a community as a whole (e.g., neighborhood, city/town, state)? 

  

Please weigh in on any of these questions, or offer your own.

Posted in Public Notices Ideas and Debates Commercial TV and Radio
No Comments

Comment on: Noncommercial and Public Media

Posted January 20th, 2010 by William Freedman - Associate Bureau Chief, Media Bureau

The Future of Media project encourages comments and suggestions on the key questions about the changing media landscape.  This post includes questions about non-commercial media, including non-profit websites, public TV and radio.  (The full public notice can be found here.) 
 
21.   With regard to nationally-oriented noncommercial television and radio (including public broadcasting stations), what have been the trends and what is the current state of affairs regarding news staffing and coverage (international, national, and local)? 
 
22.   For local noncommercial television and radio stations, what have been the trends for staffing, the amount of local news and information aired, audience ratings for such programming and local station financial health? If there have been news staff contractions, what type of programming has been cut back or changed? What have been the trends in funding from governmental, private sources and viewer/listener donations? What has been the role of government regulation? What has been the impact of competition for audience from the Internet or other information sources? How are public broadcasters using the Internet, mobile applications, their multicast channels/additional program streams, or other new technologies to provide local news and information? How are they collaborating with non-broadcasters? How have these changes affected the availability of informational and educational programming for children and other informational and educational material?
 
23.   In general, how, if at all, should noncommercial television and radio licensees change to meet the challenges and opportunities of the digital era? How does the role of public media differ from that of commercial media? If there is a greater role for public media in meeting the information needs of local communities, how should that be financed? What role, if any, should government subsidies play? Should legal requirements regarding underwriting and advertising be changed?
 
24.   Should the Public Broadcasting Act be amended to restructure and augment investments in noncommercial media? Are the experiences of other countries instructive on this question?   
 
25.    What should be the role of non-profit media that are not noncommercial broadcast licensees (for instance, non-profit websites, news services, mobile applications, or reporting-oriented organizations)? What public policy changes (including changes to the tax law, corporate law, or rules about advertising) could improve the viability of non-profit models? How should noncommercial television and radio licensees work with independent non-profit media entities to improve efficiency and content quality? What changes in law or practice could encourage better collaboration among non-profit media?
... Read More.

Posted in Public Notices Ideas and Debates Noncommercial and Public Media
No Comments

Comment on: Internet and Mobile

Posted January 20th, 2010 by William Freedman - Associate Bureau Chief, Media Bureau

The Future of Media project encourages comments and suggestions on the key questions about the changing media landscape.  This post includes questions about the Internet and mobile media.  (The full public notice can be found here.)

31)  With regard to the Internet and mobile-based applications, which news or information operations are successful, and why?  How should we define success?  Do they tend toward a particular type of information or format (e.g., news, commentary, independent, government-generated, user-generated, advocacy-oriented programming)?  What are the most successful business models (e.g., for-profit, non-profit, subscription, micro-payments, advertising-based)? 

 

32)  What role will and should user-generated journalism play?  In what ways can it improve upon traditional journalism, and in what ways can it not substitute for traditional journalism? How can the quality and effectiveness of citizen journalism be further improved?

 

33)  What have been the trends for online advertising in general and specifically advertising supporting news and information parts of websites, both nationally and locally?  How about on mobile platforms?

 

34)  What might be the role of popular technolgies heretofore associated with entertainment or social interaction, such as gaming systems or social media? 

 

35)  How would policies related to “open Internet” or “universal broadband” or other FCC policies about communications infrastructure affect the likelihood that the Internet will meet the information needs of communities?  Are there search engine practices that might positively or negatively affect web-based efforts to provide news or information?

 

36)  Do minority-owned media or media targeted to minority communities use broadband tools differently than other media?

 

37)  What kinds of digital and media literacy programs are appropriate to help people both use new information and communication technologies effectively and to analyze and evaluate the news and information they are receiving?

 

38)  With regard to mobile devices, what role will mobile communications services and devices play in meeting the news and information needs of communities during the next five to ten years?  What is the impact of those trends for consumers, businesses and policymakers?  Should that role be reflected in the Commission’s regulation of the industries involved? 

 

Please weigh in on any of these questions, or offer your own.

Posted in Public Notices Ideas and Debates Internet and Mobile
No Comments

Comment on: Newspaper and Magazines

Posted January 20th, 2010 by William Freedman - Associate Bureau Chief, Media Bureau

The Future of Media project encourages comments and suggestions on the key questions about the changing media landscape.  This post includes questions about newspapers and magazines.  (The full public notice can be found here.)

39)  What are the trends in staffing and coverage at newspapers?  Where staffs have been cut, what kinds of staff have been reduced, and what kinds of news coverage have been affected?  What impact, if any, do such cuts and reductions have on the ability of broadcast radio and television, cable, satellite and other electronic media to serve communities’ news and information needs?  What characteristics distinguish newspapers that are relatively healthy from those in less sound financial condition (e.g., size, debt levels, cost structure, circulation patterns, advertising rates, taxes, ownership structure, location, technological innovation, Internet operation, Internet competition)?

40)  What are the trends in staffing and coverage at print magazines specializing in news and information?

Please weigh in on any of these questions, or offer your own.

Posted in Public Notices Ideas and Debates Newspapers and Magazines
No Comments