FCC’s Repeal of Newspaper-Broadcast Cross-Ownership Ban Will Strengthen Local Journalism
In our increasingly global world, local journalism continues to play a critical role in how Americans get their news. According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, Americans trust local news organizations more than other news sources, such as social networking sites. These other sources rely on local reporting to build their national and international stories. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently echoed this public sentiment by announcing plans to repeal the ban on newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership, an outdated regulation that had been threatening newspapers at an important time where the ability to compete is paramount for newspapers.
The FCC introduced the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership ban more than 40 years ago, in 1975. The rule, initially designed to promote local news coverage, prevented an entity from owning both a broadcast station and a newspaper in the same market. Back then, this served the purpose of promoting diversity of viewpoints within the local broadcast market and stoking competition among the news media. But at that time, the news media consisted only of newspapers and three networks and a few local broadcast channels.
Now, of course, the media landscape is overflowing with diverse sources, from cable and satellite television, to digital news platforms and social media, to many more broadcasters than existed 40 years ago. Over the last decade, it became clear that the rule that once served such positive ideals was instead hampering investments in newspapers so it could provide local communities with high-quality content, while still competing in the media marketplace. And yet, the rule persisted.
It is much easier to maintain a stale regulatory regime than it is to take the time and effort to examine regulations with clear eyes and determine whether they still serve the purpose for which they were implemented. The FCC is taking the more difficult path by reconsidering the cross-ownership ban, and in doing so is taking an action that will benefit our society on every level, from small communities that rely on their local paper to the country as a whole, which depends on the building blocks of local journalism for national news. We applaud the Commission for demonstrating how government agencies can change with the times and serve the people they are meant to represent.
It will be exciting to see what new journalistic projects newspapers will pursue in the wake of the repeal. Under the cross-ownership ban, newspapers are prohibited from seeking investment from broadcasters — the only media industry that was restricted by the federal government — which puts them at a severe disadvantage in a crowded media marketplace. It is no secret that newspapers face stiff competition for readers’ attention and advertisers’ funding from every side. In particular, they must compete against Internet giants such as Google and Facebook, who together receive three-quarters of all digital advertising revenue and have no constraints on their ability to invest or make acquisitions to further its dominance. Once newspapers are similarly unconstrained, they will be able to pursue partnerships with broadcasters who share their commitment to local news. They will be able to better serve their audiences with more up-to-the-minute coverage of pressing local events, perhaps in new and different formats, utilizing print, web and broadcast technology.
The great things newspapers will do without the yoke of the cross-ownership ban are all based on the important role they play in our information cycle. Local newspapers, more than any other medium, start the conversation in communities throughout our country. Although there are a growing number of aggregators, blogs and other websites that expand upon content, newspapers and broadcasters remain the primary original sources of local news. Now that local newspapers — the ones actually investing in producing original content — will be able to draw upon local investments to support this journalism, they will be able to create better, more credible content that their communities require and deserve. Better local content will improve other news outlets, from aggregators to social media to national news organizations. At this important time in our history, we look forward to a stronger news media serving the American people.