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"Journalism and the New Media Media Ecology: Who Will Pay the Messengers?"

Publicly Owned and Operated Media

What follows is an honest attempt to document a two-day conference at Yale Law School, "Journalism and the New Media Ecology: Who Will Pay the Messenger?" The reporter is Bill Densmore of the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the Missouri School of Journalism. As with a similar in-the-moment report from a gathering at Harvard University two weeks ago, I make no warranty about the accuracy of direct quotes -- captured on the fly -- but make a promise to have supplied appropriate context as best as possible. The sessions are being videotaped. Consult that source for the final history of this event.

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In this session, we hear Ellen Goodman, Rutgers University Law School; Josh Silver, executive director of FreePress.net; Laura Walker, general manager of WNYC, New York; and Lawrence Grossman, of the Digital Promise Act.

Goodman: Redefine the definition of 'public' media

Goodman opens with some observations about what public media should become. She overviews the Public Broadcasting Act enacted during the Johnson administration. She says public media needs to involve technological convergence. The case for public media is that there are still market failures -- failures to provide for the public good -- that need to be addressed. If there is a case for public media, even if you don't buy the market-failure argument, then its three functions are:

  • Creation
  • Curation -- aggregation, synthesis
  • Connect -- Engage in the community where located

She calls public media: "The last locally owned substantial electronic media outlets."

She asks: Can public media save journalism?

CPB funding is only 35% of the funding of public media. But it is critical, lynchpin funding; it allows media outlets to attract funding from other sources. One of the problems with CPB funding tied to infrastructure is it ties up the media in a legal infrastructure. It makes it hard to move broadcast properties off of the broadcast spectrum and

"We need to rewrite the public broadcasting act so that it isn't broadcast focused ... there is no reason why the media experiments we have been hearing about shouldn't be able to get funding." She quotes Bill Kling, who thinks of public broadcasters as being "base camps" for all kinds of other non-broadcast news services.

  • Redifine entities that are entitled to public media funding
  • Insist on enw forms of networking
  • Restructure appropriation to a trus tfund or other sustained funding source

Silver: Bringing the public into media debates

Josh Sliver says Comcast-NBC deal is expected to be announced on Sunday.

"There's a really simple question that I'll pose to you and then I'll tell you the answer." He says looking at the divorce of advertising from media -- is there enough advertising, subscription revenue to fund the needed journalism. The answer, he says, is absolutely not. Not without losing the majority of professional journalists. "If the answer is no and it can't fix itself then we have to look at the public sector like almost a necessary evil." What he finds as an advocate is people generally don't like the idea of government money going to pay for media. "It's almost like getting your kid to eat asparagus. You might night like it but until you can show another solution to . . . democracy . . . it absolutely must happen . . . it's not the desired source, but it's the essential one."

He says there have been lots of conferences about seeking the solution. Over the the last couple of months there have been two reports that have come out -- the Knight Commission report and the Len Downie/Columbia Journalism School report. What he likes is they have both been willing to tackle and reach the essential conclusion he has stated above.

Accountability media is as essential as phone service, says Silver. "Actually making these changes happen is a collosal task," he says. Ideas: Taxing spectrum, or a tax on imported electronic device, or a tax on advertising. He says these are non-starters in Washington D.C.: "It is mind-boggling the amount of power and omnipotence that you run up against . . you are disgarded as totally pie in the sky, you're dreaming and you get literally laughed out of the room."

What's needed, says Silver: "Is a movement," of people who understand how important journalism is. He says it can't be ideological. He talks about the failure of the Corporation for Public Broadcast to be effective compared to public broadcasting in other nations. He says public broadcasting funding amounts to $1.35 per capita, $400 million a eary. "It's what one company got as a bailout -- it's embarassing, it's trivial."

The people who made the Carnegie Commission in the 1960s were agressive and they had a vision. "And we are now at a similar place. History is repeating itself."

Walker: The subway analogy

Laura Walker is the president/CEO of WNYC, New York. WNYC has three stations, a 35-person newsroom and 1.6 million listeners. The produce the show "On the Media."

Walker riding to work recently on the subway, reading her Kindle about decline in newspaper revenues. She looked up and saw four people on Kindles, 12 on iPods, and only five people were reading newspapers, and three them were reading the free tabloid paper, not a paid-circulation paper. "For me it was a perfect snapshot of the dislocation facing the old media world."


Moderator asks: Is there any possibility of getting more public funding for public media?

Josh Silver: Japan has speeds 30 times U.S. speeds of Internet access into homes now. Finland just passed a law mandating symmetrical broadband at 1 megabit speeds into 90 percent of Finish homes by next year. If you said we were going to do that in the United States people would say it was impossible. But it's not impossible where the political will is there for it. If we were to succumb to conventional wisdom, we would say Larry is right.

Grossman: "I admire Josh's optimism. We will have powerful broadband in this country long before we have support for content."

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