I have been talking to a number of journalists about the future of journalism on the web and how that relates to policy issues currently being hashed out in Washington, DC, like the FCC’s development of a national broadband strategy and their push (along with Congress) to establish net neutrality as the law of the land. Journalists get why this stuff is important, but they are not always ready to jump into the fray and be advocates for these important policy issues.
Let me begin by quoting Kim Huphrey’s, the person behind the Denver journalism and media advocacy group IWantMyRocky.com. In a blog post on SaveTheNews.org she wrote, “journalists cannot be objective about our right to exist… if we believe so strongly in the principles of our profession, we must be willing to defend them when they come under assault, as they are today.”
Most journalists I talk to describe a fierce commitment to the idea of a free press. The internet is this age’s free press. Over the past three decades as Congress and the FCC have slowly watered down media ownership rules, and opened the door to greater consolidation, journalists saw the impact of those changes first hand. As media companies sought ever greater profits and put entertainment and sensationalism above news and community service, journalists watched their newsrooms get gutted, their foreign bureaus get closed, their friends get laid off.
I can understand how hard it would have been to take a stand at that time. You value objectivity, you’re committed to your work, you don’t want to rock the boat. But as the self inflicted wounds of Big Media bleed the life out of journalism, I have seen an increased interest from journalists in advocating for their careers and the policies that will support the future of news.
Net neutrality is a good place to start. While we are still exploring what journalism-specific policies could help address the state of the news, there are key pieces of legislation moving right now that could have a profound impact on journalists’ work.
As more an more news and information moves online, we need to ensure that the flow of information on Internet is free and unencumbered. With net neutrality we can support newspapers transition to the web at the same time that we foster a new cadre of voices online. Net Neutrality ensures that WestSeattleBlog and Gotham Gazette can be accessed just as easily as the Seattle Times website or the New York Times. Net neutrality is about creating a level playing field for all voices.
Just as we are seeing incredible innovation and experimentation with new independent national, local, and hyper-local news websites, big phone and cable companies are trying to defeat the idea of net neutrality in Washington DC. Just as Big Media execs and lobbyists worked the halls of Congress in earlier decades to push through further media consolidation, these Internet companies are not shy about lobbying, and journalists shouldn’t be either.
We have a chance at winning the net neutrality debate. This would be a clear victory for the future of news. But journalists can’t sit this one out. We need your voices as part of the fight for all voices to be heard.