Thursday, June 09, 2011

Not enough local journalism to hold government and business accountable, study concludes

“The independent watchdog function that the Founding Fathers envisioned for journalism — going so far as to call it crucial to a healthy democracy — is in some cases at risk at the local level,” says a report for the Federal Communications Commssion, "The Information Needs of Communities: The changing media landscape in a broadband age." Though the report is for the FCC, it deals with all forms of local news media and was prompted partly by concern about daily newspapers.

“In many communities, we now face a shortage of local, professional, accountability reporting,” says the 478-page report, written primarily by veteran Washington journalist Steven Waldman. It recommends "making actual in-the-field reporting a part of the curriculum at journalism schools, steering more government advertising money toward local instead of national media, and changing the tax code to encourage donations to nonprofit media organizations," The New York Times reports.

The major philanthropic funder of journalism, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, endorsed the recommendations and pointed to recommendations its own Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities. For the Knight press release, click here.

The findings of the FCC report "painted a dim portrait of local media," Times reporters Jeremy Peters and Brian Stelter write, choosing this as the study conclusion to highlight: "Coverage of state governments and municipalities has receded at such an alarming pace that it has left government with more power than ever to set the agenda and have assertions unchallenged." (Read more)

Americans have "more news choices than ever," but "non-profit websites and other media ventures . . .  are still not filling the journalism gap left by the contraction of newspapers, said Waldman, co-founder of the religion website," Associated Press technology writer Joelle Tessler reports.

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