PHOENIX – Investigative journalism is on life support, real news is increasingly replaced with fluff and democracy is suffering because of it, a Federal Communications Commission member said Monday.
“Hundreds of newsrooms have been shuttered, thousands of reporters walk the streets in search of a job rather than walk the beat in search of a story,” Michael Copps said at a public hearing on the FCC’s report on media in the digital age.
His comments preceded three panels discussing the report’s recommendations at a session hosted by Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
Copps, one of five FCC commissioners, said thorough reporting has been sacrificed as news organizations struggle to to deliver greater returns to shareholders.
“And every day, hundreds of reports and stories that Americans should be reading go unreported,” he said.
The FCC report, released in July, said the media is more vibrant today than ever and that the Internet has created more choices for content and publishing. The digital tools that have helped topple governments abroad are providing Americans powerful new ways to consume, share and even report the news, it said.
However, the same tools have cost traditional journalism 13,400 jobs in the last four years and left mainstream news organizations struggling to replace lost advertising revenue. Meanwhile, many Americans don’t have access to the broadband Internet that’s fueling media innovations, it said.
Nicol Turner-Lee, vice president of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies and director of its Media and Technology Institute, said the lack of universal access to broadband is leaving behind millions in under-served groups, particularly residents of rural areas, African-Americans and those with less than a high school education.
“That’s a problem if we are migrating our media to online,” she said.
Turner-Lee said the FCC needs to do make universal broadband access a priority in order to enhance diversity in terms of access to information, news coverage and media ownership.
Julius Genachowski, chairman of the FCC, said the commission is working to make broadband affordable and available to all.
“We must close the broadband deployment and adoption gaps in the U.S.,” he said. “Improving broadband infrastructure will drive our overall economy and will help inform and educate everyone in our country.”
Genachowski said the country’s democracy would be in peril if citizens don’t get local news and information.
The FCC report said democracy requires a healthy flow of useful information and a system that holds powerful institutions accountable. The most significant problem arising out of the digital revolution, it said, is the shortage of local, professional, accountability reporting, which can can uncover problems such as government waste and local corruption.
Leonard Downie Jr., former executive editor of The Washington Post and the Cronkite School’s Weil Family Professor of Journalism, said accountability reporting remains a high priority despite the continued shrinkage of traditional media outlets.
“The motivation is there even though the resources are lacking,” he said.
Downie said journalism schools across the country, including Cronkite School, are becoming important players in providing the news coverage.
The Cronkite School operates Cronkite News Service.
Steven Waldman, author of the report and senior adviser to the FCC chairman, said journalism schools can help plug gaps in accountability reporting.
“Citizens have to understand what’s at risk if you don’t have a strong accountability system and they need to be part of the solution,” Waldman said in an interview.
He said even though there seems to be more content, less reporting is being done.
“We don’t have a content crisis; we don’t have a news crisis; we have an accountability reporting crisis,” Waldman said.
Elvina Nawaguna-Clemente is a reporter for Cronkite News Service