FCC’s 'Information Needs of Communities' report offers new hope for Knight Commission recommendations

Practical ideas for new policies follow up on bipartisan Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities

(Miami, Fla.) June 9, 2011 – Today the Federal Communications Commission released its Information Needs of Communities report, the most comprehensive national look at media policy in a generation, offering new hope that the recommendations of the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities will move from the debate stage into action.

The FCC’s report focuses on practical ways that public policy can improve the environment for local accountability journalism, which has suffered significant cutbacks in recent years as traditional media struggle to make the transition to a new digital age of communication. The comprehensive report does not call for direct government intervention in journalism, but suggests a series of concrete recommendations for improving community news and information flows.

Among those recommendations is that philanthropy take on a greater role in meeting community information needs. Knight Foundation, which is dedicated to “informed and engaged communities,” strongly supports this idea. Through its Knight Community Information Challenge, the foundation has matched the journalism and media grant-making of dozens of community and place-based foundations. In addition, many other national foundations, such as Gates, Ford, Carnegie, Macarthur, McCormick and Ethics and Excellence in Journalism have made significant new investments in nonprofit media, public media, journalism education and technology that help engage citizens.

The report also calls for journalism schools to expand the way they “add meaningfully” to accountability journalism as community content providers. Leading journalism and communication schools, such as Columbia, Northwestern, Missouri, North Carolina, Arizona State, Southern California, Berkeley, Nebraska, Maryland, Syracuse and Texas – all participants in the Knight-funded News21 investigative journalism program – have shown that student journalism can perform at the highest levels of excellence. In addition, schools such as CUNY have established programs in entrepreneurial journalism.

The FCC report also recommends more innovation in public media, citing Knight grants such as the NPR Argo project, aimed at increasing local reporting at public radio outlets. It congratulates new web-based nonprofit news models such as the Texas Tribune and Voice of San Diego, and urges increased collaboration between those outlets and commercial news organizations.

The FCC report was inspired by the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities, which said in 2009 that the nation needed “new thinking and aggressive action” to promote informed, healthy communities into the future. The Knight Commission was a bipartisan project: it included politically diverse members such as former FCC chairmen Reed Hundt and Michael Powell. Unlike previous industry-centric studies of media, the Knight Commission focused on community information needs as its starting point.

"Of the areas considered by the Knight Commission, our nation has made real progress on only one: universal broadband access,” said Alberto Ibargüen, president of Knight Foundation. “As satisfying as that is, it is also completely unacceptable – and unAmerican -- that a significant number of people are still 'second-class citizens,' without the broadband access needed to participate in digital life and commerce."

The Knight Commission noted that the poor, the elderly and rural residents are those more likely to be on the wrong side of the digital divide. The FCC report agreed that universal broadband and an open Internet are essential prerequisites for ensuring that the new media landscape serves communities well.

Ibargüen noted that the FCC report and Knight Commission also agreed that government transparency, digital and media literacy, public media innovation and the revitalization of public libraries all need improving to create a better environment for local news and information.

“Government has been slow to move on those issues,” he said. “ We're hopeful that the FCC's Information Needs of Communities report will move us from debate to action.”

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski said the Knight Commission’s bipartisan report contained “a strong and hopeful throughline: there has never been a more exciting time than this broadband age to achieve our Founding Fathers' vision of a free democracy comprised of enlightened and empowered citizens.”

In its report, the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy offered 15 recommendations to help Americans meet their local information needs. Those can be found at www.kflinks.com/knightcommissionreport.

The FCC’s report says that the Knight Commission’s findings, as well as those of other blue-ribbon reports, “posed a challenge to the FCC, whose policies often affect the information health of communities. The chairman responded in December 2009 by initiating an effort at the FCC to answer two questions: 1) are citizens and communities getting the news, information, and reporting they want and need? and 2) is public policy in sync with the nature of modern media markets, especially when it comes to encouraging innovation and advancing local public interest.”

The FCC report quotes Ibargüen saying: “The flow of local news is as important as the flow of jobs, or the flow of traffic, or electricity.”

The FCC report is online at www.fcc.gov/infoneedsreport

Media Contact: Marc Fest, vice president/communications, Knight Foundation, 305-908-2677; fest@knightfoundation.org

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.