Editor’s Note: College of Communication Dean Roderick P. Hart, along with colleagues from Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, the University of Maryland journalism school, Columbia Journalism School, Northwestern journalism school, the University of Missouri journalism school, the Syracuse School of Public Communications and the University of Southern California School of Communication, wrote an op-ed which was published in the Dec. 22 edition of “The New York Times.” The op-ed, “A License for Local Reporting,” discusses the Federal Communication Commission’s regulation of broadcasting, its impact on news gathering and ultimately the American system of democracy.
Journalists are instinctively libertarian, at least when it comes to journalism. We like the conversation about journalism and the federal government to begin and end with a robust defense of the First Amendment. That’s why journalists have not been leading participants in the debate over the Federal Communications Commission’s regulation of broadcasting, even though the future of our profession and its public mission is at stake. But our profession needs to cast its reluctance to discuss broadcast regulation aside, and to let its voice be heard, loud and clear on behalf of local reporting. The outcome of F.C.C. policy that matters most to us is not who owns what, but how much news gathering goes on. On Tuesday, the F.C.C., in a close vote, decided to relax its rule against one company owning both broadcast and newspaper properties in a single market. Kevin J. Martin, the F.C.C. chairman, has offered a journalistic justification for this move: broadcast profits would help pay for the substantial news-gathering staffs at newspapers. But local television and radio stations should be doing their own news gathering, rather than merely serving as support systems for news gathering by newspapers. Besides, if Mr. Martin were really so passionate about news gathering, he wouldn’t have restricted the F.C.C.’s action to media properties in big cities. Don’t small-town news organizations need help, too? For a quarter-century, the F.C.C. has steadily moved toward the deregulation of broadcasting. This seems to have had the effect of reducing the resources available for original broadcast reporting, especially about public affairs. There have been salutary countervailing trends the Internet is great for opinion journalism and for broadening public access to information, though not very good yet as an economic support system for news gathering but television and radio stations generally have smaller news staffs today than they did in the era before deregulation. That represents a real loss for American democracy.
The New York Times
A License for Local Reporting