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FCC hearing draws nearly 350 to Cronkite School

October 06, 2011

Nearly 350 people gathered at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, Oct. 3, for a Federal Communications Commission hearing to discuss the future of U.S. media.

Stakeholders from the public, businesses and universities, including a large number of Cronkite students, came together to hear testimony on the June 2011 FCC report “Information Needs of Communities: The Changing Media Landscape in a Broadband Age.”

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, Commissioner Michael Copps, Chief of FCC Media Bureau William Lake and report author Steve Waldman heard testimony from 12 media experts, including Leonard Downie Jr., the Cronkite School’s Weil Family Professor of Journalism, and Retha Hill, director of Cronkite’s New Media Innovation Lab.

In his opening remarks, Copps said that the report is “a very valuable contribution to the nation's dialogue on the future of our media.”

“The FCC report is an insightful and comprehensive look at our news media ecosystem and makes important recommendations for the digital future,” added Cronkite Dean Christopher Callahan. “It’s an honor to host Chairman Genachowski and Commissioner Copps, and we are optimistic that real action will come from the report and hearing.”

The report analyzes the current state of the American media and information landscape and provides recommendations for strengthening and innovating news and information gathering. It comes from the FCC Working Group on the Information Needs of Communities, which was charged with identifying ways to ensure that the information needs of American communities are met in a rapidly changing media landscape. 

 Among the highlights of the report:

• Achieving universal broadband access is critical to ensuring that the new media landscape serves communities well.

• News consumers are able to choose from a variety of news sources, but many communities face a shortage of local, professional reporting that focuses on accountability.

• Far from being near extinction, the traditional media players – TV stations and newspapers – are the largest providers of local news online.

Downie, former executive editor of The Washington Post, played a key role in shaping the report. At the hearing, he spoke about the need for media outlets to forge unique collaborations with outside organizations in order to support public interest reporting.

Hill, a former Black Entertainment Television executive, spoke about the need for increased diversity in hiring and the place of ethnic media in a rapidly changing digital media world.  

The hearing was held in the Eight/KAET-Phoenix television studio at the Cronkite School. It was live-streamed on the FCC website and broadcast live across Arizona on Arizona PBS Eight World 8.3 through a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The hearing also was made available to stations around the country via Cronkite satellite transmission.

Later Downie, along with Cronkite Professor Tim McGuire, appeared on “Horizon,” Eight’s award-winning public affairs program, to discuss the opportunities and challenges presented in the report and at the hearing. According to Downie, while traditional mainstream media are struggling with a loss of ad revenue that has forced outlets to reduce local coverage, emerging collaborations such as nonprofit media startups and university-produced journalism are beginning to fill the gap.    

In addition, audience members live-tweeted their observations during the hearing using the Twitter hashtag #fcclive. Cronkite Assistant Professor Leslie-Jean Thornton, a social media expert, archived the Twitter conversation about the hearing, which became a trending topic in the region during the event.

The hearing received considerable coverage in both local and national media. The Associated Press staffed the hearing and distributed its story nationally. In addition, Cronkite student Elvina Nawaguna-Clemente's story for Cronkite News Service was picked up by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services and appeared in newspapers such The Sacramento Bee and the Boston Herald.

Cronkite NewsWatch, the school’s nightly 30-minute student-produced newscast, and The State Press, ASU’s student newspaper, also covered the hearing.

Arizona PBS plans a one-hour version of the hearing to be broadcast in Arizona and made available to all PBS stations nationwide.