A new report from the Federal Communications Commission warned that the "independent watchdog function that the founding fathers envisioned for journalism" is at risk in local communities across the country.
In a 475-page report released this week titled "The Information Needs of Communities: The Changing Media Landscape in a Broadband Age," the government regulatory agency — which watches over television, radio and certain aspects of the Internet — said there was a "shortage of local, professional, accountability reporting" that could lead to "more government waste, more local corruption," "less effective schools" and other problems.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a statement released with the report, "The less quality reporting we have, the less likely we are to learn about government misdeeds."
A topic of discussion in the report is the Los Angeles Times' coverage of the abuses by the city administration in Bell. Although the Pulitzer Prize-winning efforts of The Times exposed the corruption, it went on for years before getting noticed.
"A lot of residents tried to get the media's attention, but it was impossible," community activist and teacher Christina Garcia told the FCC. "The city of Bell doesn't even have a local paper; no local media of any sort."
The FCC noted that The Times covers almost 100 municipalities and 10 million residents. David Lauter, former Metro editor of The Times and now head of the paper's Washington, D.C., bureau, is quoted as saying that his staff is "spread thinner and there are fewer people on any given area.... We're not there every day, or even every week or every month. Unfortunately, nobody else is either."
Local TV is singled out in the report for not covering important issues enough. Although the number of hours of local news has increased over the last few years, too few stations "are investing in more reporting on critical local issues," the report said. Furthermore, the report said that although stations may be adding newscasts, they are doing it with fewer reporters.
Even with the additional newscasts, the stories often focus on crime. The reason for that has more to do with how cheap it is to cover crime stories than it does viewer demand.
The report, which originally was to be titled "The Future of Media," said that although there has been an explosion of media outlets because of the growth of digital platforms, there also has been a decline in quality as a result of the same technology boom.
"As technology offered consumers new choices, it upended traditional news industry business models, resulting in massive job losses," the FCC said.
The result has been "gaps in coverage that even the fast-growing digital world has yet to fill," the report said. Although the digital media someday may be able to fill the void left by diminishing traditional media, "at this moment the media deficits in many communities are consequential."