FCC Kinda, Sorta Backs Down From "Study" Of Newsrooms

The study is going forward, but it has been “amended” to remove questions about news philosophy and editorial judgment:

Faced with an outcry, the Federal Communications Commission’s chairman said Thursday that he would amend the effort — intended to assess whether the news media were meeting the public’s “critical information needs” — by removing questions that critics had deemed invasive. …

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler responded to the growing furor Thursday by ordering the removal of questions about news philosophy and editorial judgment.

Last week, in a letter about the study to Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the House committee that oversees the FCC, Wheeler said that the commission had “no intention of regulating political or other speech.”

You can read the not-yet-amended study here, and it states explicitly that the point was of this exercise was “to identify and understand the critical information needs (CINs) of the American public (with special emphasis onvulnerable/disadvantaged populations).” So they’re still going ahead with the study with that goal in mind, but they’re going to accomplish it without asking questions about editorial decisions and news philosophy?

Below is a list of the questions that would have been asked. I wonder, which of these questions are they going to remove?

Owners/operators:

• What is the news philosophy of the station?
• Who is your target audience?
• How do you define critical information that the community needs?
• How do you ensure the community gets this critical information?
• How much does community input influence news coverage decisions?
• What are the demographics of the news management staff (HR)?
• What are the demographics of the on air staff (HR)?
• What are the demographics of the news production staff (HR)?

Editors and mid-level managers:

• What is the news philosophy of the station?
• Who else in your market provides news?
• Who are your main competitors?
• How much news does your station (stations) air every day?
• Is the news produced in-house or is it provided by an outside source?
• Do you employ news people?
• How many reporters and editors do you employ?
• Do you have any reporters or editors assigned to topic “beats”? If so how many and what
are the beats?
• Who decides which stories are covered?
• How much influence do reporters and anchors have in deciding which stories to cover?
• How much does community input influence news coverage decisions?
• How do you define critical information that the community needs?
• How do you ensure the community gets this critical information?

The issue with this study isn’t necessarily the questions asked, but the fact that it exists at all. While we all have opinions about the news media outlets chooses to cover (or not cover), and how that coverage happens, how and why those decisions are made is no business of the government.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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