People Powered Policy Making

The mission of Free Press – the organization I work for – is to educate the public about the media policy decisions that shape everything we watch, read and hear and to amplify the voice of the public in those policy debates. For too long, media policy has been made in our name, but without our consent. Policies are shaped by those who have access to the halls of power, and we are fighting every day to give the public a seat at the table so that our policy makers hear from real citizens, not just corporate lobbyists.

However, recently a number of people have questioned if the public should really have a say in media policy. The policies that govern everything from cable TV to mobile phones and radio to the Internet are extraordinarily complicated, and involve a range of engineering, law, and business problems (as well as implications for civic, democratic and justice issues of course). For shorthand we usually just say this stuff is wonky. Some have argued, that given the complicated nature of these debates what can the public add and who really should be dictating the future of our media system? Continue reading


An Architectural Framework for Public Life

I have been increasingly interested in the connection between the civic health and the information infrastructure of our communities. The intersection of these two ideas raises important questions about the role of journalists and news organizations in constructing civic discourse and civic spaces – both real and virtual.

For those interested in this line of thought, Megan Garber’s post “Energy-efficient journalism — urban planning for news” over at the Nieman Journalism Lab is a must read. She uses urban planning and architecture as a metaphor for how we might construct the future of journalism. One thing I found attractive about the vision she describes is the way in which it aspires to be comprehensive (she describes the project that inspired her approach as “An approach to civic space that is strategically comprehensive — the product not merely of collective efforts, but of collaborative ones.”).

With so much experimentation and so many emergent tools, models, and projects in the journalism space, it is often necessary – and useful – to focus in on one trend, one model, one question. To paraphrase from Garber’s post, this leaves us with a view of journalism and our communities that is full of small pieces, loosely joined. Continue reading

Slicing Up Local Media

Can any one website capture the full flow of information in a city? From covering local government to civic events, concert reviews to investigative reports? In Boulder, one website is trying to do just that. is a fitting name for a project that exists at the intersection of so many key themes and questions about the future of journalism. The site is at once a response to new news and media consumption and sharing habits, and the growing concern about how we will meet the information needs of our democracy in the digital age. It is an active collaboration between tech entrepreneurs and a journalism school, and is trying to develop a new kind of curation and aggregation that might eventual pay dividends to local creators. The confluence of these trends in one project is reason enough to take a closer look at

Steve Outing, who directs the UC Boulder Digital Media Test Kitchen and oversees, described it this way: “It’s curation, and aggregation, and intelligent semantic filtering and processing, and text mining, and personalization offered down to a micro level.” If it works, Outing believes the system can begin to help “to de-fragment the community news and information flow and conversation that continues to fragment more and more.”
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International Debates About Journalism and Public Policy

Earlier this week, Steve Coll of the New America Foundation wrote in the Columbia Journalism Review about the need to update our outdated media policy framework. As we consider his recommendations, it’s worth examining similar debates happening abroad.

Over at SaveTheNews, I have written before about many of the international debates surrounding the future of journalism. Governments around the world are looking at what role policy should take in fostering and supporting journalism and public media in the digital age. Recently, Vox Publica, a website discussing the evolution of Norwegian public media, published an in-depth look at the debates happing in Norway and some of the policy changes under investigation there.

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Escaping Silos and Talking to Strangers

Defining Journalism’s Role in Democracy

In this time of hand wringing over the future of news the notion that quality journalism is essential to a healthy democracy has become almost cliche. The platitude shows up again and again, often with little definition, defense, or explanation. Of course, journalism should inform, it should engage, it should speak truth to power. But too often, our overtures about media and democracy fall flat because we don’t make the case for how journalists can actually be agents of democracy. If we believe that journalism has a role to play in helping citizens govern, then we need to define that role more clearly and call on journalists to live up to those standards.

In the most recent edition of the Columbia Journalism Review, the editors have begun to do just that. Their piece, “Escape the Silos,” takes a look at one part of American democracy and explores “How the press can help rebuild the American conversation.” They write:

“What’s true about food is true of ideas: they get better when they’re adjacent in the pan. Ideas—particularly political ideas—are meant to be shared, to redefine themselves over the blue flame of discussion. Consumed in isolation they taste bland. Kept too long they get rancid. That’s a problem in America, where we increasingly live in separate information silos. In uncertain times the tribes gather close. People don’t talk to outsiders.” Continue reading

Rebooting Media Policy

The laws and regulations that shape journalism in America are like the 8-track cassettes of the media policy world: They still play, but they’re antiquated, inadequate and misaligned for our digital age. This is according to Steve Coll, president and CEO of the New America Foundation, who just published an extensive open letter in the Columbia Journalism Review to the head of the Federal Communication Commission’s “Future of Media” initiative.

“We badly require new policies and new thinking in Washington because the media policy regime we have inherited is out of date and inadequate for the times in which we live,” writes Coll. He continues, “Our inherited policy regime is constructed on a foundation of more than a dozen major pieces of federal legislation, as well as in the regulatory rules and state and local laws.” Continue reading

Mapping Media’s Influence on the 2010 Election

In 2009 the CBS, NBC and MyNetwork affiliates in Honolulu announced that they consolidating to form one of the “largest television news operations” in Hawaii. The three news stations now share the same address, share the same staff (70 people lost their jobs), and the same content – but they broadcast from separate channels, appearing as distinct entities to viewers. Around the same time one of Hawaii’s two daily papers also closed its doors.

This consolidation – including two of the top rated local news stations – is one of the worst in a series of local newsroom deals around the country. However, this election season it got a lot worse. The new combined broadcast newsroom announced it would partner with the one remaining newspaper for election coverage. While partnership and collaborations hold the potential of deepening and expanding the local journalism ecosystem, this deal seems as though it’ll result in one company setting the election news agenda for the entire state.

In West Virginia the most important political talk show in the state happens to be aired on a station owned by John Raese who is the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, running against current Democratic Governor Joe Manchin. The host of the talk show, Hoppy Kercheval, also happens to be a close friend of John Raese and a big donor to his campaign. Here is how Politico explained it: Continue reading