So far, 2010 has been a banner year for analysts and policymakers concerned with the role of media in democracy. But now, we're in a bit of a holding pattern, waiting on two major reports from the FCC and the FTC. Will the agencies seize the opportunity to help construct a more innovative, participatory media system, or will they hang back? Over at the New America Foundation's site, I explore the options:
Releasing yet another analysis of the problems at hand would be a missed opportunity. Like the Federal Communications Commission, which mounted its own wide-ranging Future of Media inquiry this spring, the FTC is facing an unprecedented creative challenge: to devise interlocking policy recommendations that will not only support new business models for commercial media producers, but offer incentives to the myriad civic entrepreneurs building digital media tools to help Americans participate in public life. Crafting such policies is not a job for just one agency, or even one administration. But, over time, multiple decisions at national, state and local levels have the potential to cumulatively reshape the country's media system for a networked age.
Creative policymaking involves taking a wider view by considering the interdependent evolution of complex systems rather than affirming the assumptions of entrenched incumbents. For example, while much of the “save the news” conversation has focused on ways to subsidize reporting—especially at the local level—this is only part of the picture. The 2009 Knight Commission report, Informing Communities: Sustaining Democracy in the Digital Age, provides a useful rubric of three linked functions that media policymakers should consider: making relevant and credible information available to all Americans; strengthening their capacity to acquire and share that information; and promoting engagement with information for civic purposes. Together, these offer a framework for building a new national media ecology.
Such a system would offer new prospects for supporting innovative individuals, noncommercial outlets, nonprofit organizations, and companies that value civic dividends as much or more than stock returns. Often these operate right at the cusp of commercial media’s “market failure”—cobbling together inventive collaborations and relying on government, foundation and individual support to provide information, tools and spaces for dialogue to users too poor, too remote, or too fractious to constitute a viable target for ad-driven journalism.