Thinking Across the Issues, Part One

A Report Out From the Free Press Summit: Changing Media (www.freepress.net/summit)

If there was any overarching theme from the morning’s keynote speeches at the Free Press Summit on May 14th it is that we cannot think about the future of any one media policy in isolation.

For too long, our media system has been shaped by policies – for media ownership, broadband deployment, public media funding – that were made in silos, cordoned off from one another. The different agencies, different laws, and different priorities that have guided these discussions have left us with a media system that is disjointed and in crisis.

But at the Summit we heard from Michael J. Copps, acting FCC chairman, and Susan Crawford of President Barack Obama’s National Economic Council that we are at a unique moment — a turning point for media.

Even as we fall behind in Internet access and affordability, even as journalism as a critical democratic institution is struggling, and even at a time when we still starve our public media system with inadequate funding, there is still hope, and a lot of it.

That hope comes from the incredible movement developing around the country where people are fighting to create better media policies. That hope comes from a new way of thinking about our media that recognizes that the health of our democracy depends on the strong and smart public interest policies we help shape today.

When Acting FCC Chairman Michael J. Copps took the stage, he called this new intersection of these media issues “the new communications environment.” He reminded us that, “Reform is never on autopilot, there is no GPS unit that can guide us to a new progressive land.” However, he asserted that, “Change is different this time” because “it is riding on a wave of technological transformation like we have never seen before.” It is up to all of us, Copps noted, to seize this moment because we don’t know how long it will last.

Susan Crawford of President Obama’s National Economic Council noted the way that information – which used to be centralized – is now radically dispersed. “Information is everywhere,” she said. Crawford argued that as people access news and information in new ways, the rapid increase in adoption of Twitter and Facebook are bright spots for new forms of journalism.

But, she warned, we can’t be optimistic about that news if we don’t address who is being left offline in America. “The future of the Internet and newspapers are interwoven, and I think there is light at the end of the tunnel. This is vital work and I assure you that the administration takes notice,” Crawford said.

We are in a time of convergence. As more of our media move online, we have a key choice to make. Will our new media system be a resource for all Americans, an engine for economic growth, and a platform for new forms of art, entertainment, education and information? Or will we let the digital divide grow, expanding the information gap and cutting more people off from the benefits of the Web?

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