Steven Waldman was Senior Advisor to the Chairman of the FCC and the lead author of the report "Information Needs of Communities: The Changing Media Landscape in a Broadband Age." He is now Visiting Senior Media Policy Scholar at the Columbia Journalism School. The following is crossposted.
During the FCC’s consideration of the Comcast-NBC merger, Comcast had suggested showing their commitment to communities by increasing the hours of local news at the stations. At the time, I was running the FCC “future of media” project (which later produced the Information Needs of Communities report---fcc.gov/infoneedsreport) , so our team was called in to study this merger condition. I was suspicious of the original proposal since most stations were increasing their hours already – but doing by adding 4 a.m. newscasts, with little additional reporting.
But we mentioned to the Comcast folks that NBC already had within its own midst a much better model for improving provision of news on the local level – the collaboration between the NBC station and Voice of San Diego. The station gets more in-depth content; the nonprofit group gets exposure and, in the case of VOSD, some cold hard cash. If this model could expand, it might help improve the quality of local TV news while giving a shot in the arm to the growing movement of nonprofit media.
The Comcast and NBC execs looked into it and concluded that it could indeed work well as a model for other cities. They proposed that, as a merger condition, they do a similar model in four other cities.
We were careful to explain in the agreement that it need not be limited to only websites so I was pleased to see they have struck up some new partnerships with public radio as well. They've created partnerships in Chicago, LA, Philadelphia and one with ProPublica that will apparently relate to several stations.
Of course now comes the hard part of making these work. It’s important that NBC give the nonprofits real value too, whether through money or exposure. If they do, this could prove to be a positive development for the evolution of local nonprofit media.
Now: how about the other stations try to try the same thing in other cities?