From Town Criers to Bloggers: How Will Journalism Survive the Internet Age?
I recently was directed to a Federal Trade Commission discussion draft entitled "POTENTIAL POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS TO SUPPORT THE REINVENTION OF JOURNALISM." Before reading any more than the title, it was clear to me that the document would be misguided. Journalism does not need to be reinvented. Journalism is defined as "the occupation of reporting, writing, editing, photographing, or broadcasting news." In the referenced document, the FTC automatically -- either intentionally, or not -- links journalism to the business of running a news organization. The two are not the same, though the business side does financially support the work of journalism. Thus journalism does not need to be redefined, reinvented nor retooled. The roots of the profession as defined above have not changed. They remain the same, whether the work is distributed via newsprint, radio, television, websites, blogs, podcasts, or any other means. Is this being someone trite. Some would argue it is. But the distinction is clear at the base of the argument. What does need examination is the business aspects of the distribution of journalism. In particular, so-called 'legacy' media has shown its vulnerability to the onslaught of the internet at its iterations (blogs, websites, podcasts, etc.). That vulnerability is due largely to the refusal of legacy media, beginning in the early 1990s, to recognize and harness the power of the internet. Companies gave cursory nods to the rapidly developing technology, but failed to make meaningful investment into R&D projects. Instead, they allowed others to make those leaps that eventually lead to the crumbling of legacy media. Today there are companies that are stepping up and showing true entrepreneurial spirit. They are innovating and investing time, money and people in turning the corner and morphing legacy media companies into entities that can and will survive in the years to come. And they will -- and should -- do it without the intervention of the FTC or other government organizations. There's little to argue with in the opening 18 points of the document that point to problems in the industry. These are all old news to those of us who have lived and breathed this business for so many years. The industry will work out copyright and fair use doctrines with its partners in internet media. Compromises and contracts will be the norm, and there certainly may be litigation involved. But please, allow the court system to do its job. If, and only if, the courts seek comment from the FTC should the agency get involved. As Representative Waxman noted at the FTC’s December 2, 2009 workshop, the elimination of some antitrust laws could also benefit the industry. But again, the FTC's involvement should be on the basis of offering opinion only to Congress. This move should be a legislative action to remove obstacles that inhibit the growth and threaten the survival of an industry. Finally, on the subject of government support of the media, I must wholly object to such interference. I understand that the FTC, FCC and other federal agencies would not view financial support as interference, but such support does not come without strings. Strings mean influence. Our media cannot and should not do its best work -- including and most importantly its watchdog role -- under the eye of the government. And as much as anyone would deny that possibility, it is actually more a probability than a possibility. It is reality, and one the American public cannot afford, either through taxation or through government-influenced (either blatantly or covertly) news coverage. I thank you for the opportunity to comment. Eric Thomason