FCC report author says contributions a “more effective way” of bankrolling nonprofit media

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Steve Waldman, who spearheaded work on the FCC’s recent 365-page report, “The Information Needs of Communities,” sat down with Columbia Journalism Review to defend the project, which has been widely viewed as disappointing (even by FCC Commissioner Michael Copps) for its lack of specific, feasible recommendations. Waldman said his researchers “made a lot of effort to try to come up with some ideas that were innovative, pragmatic, and practical, and that would actually be effective and not just push people’s buttons.”

One aspect of the report Waldman feels has been overlooked by the press is the role of the nonprofit sector in future news coverage. “People tend to think that the alternative to commercial media is PBS,” he said. “Our view is that PBS and NPR are really important, but there’s this much broader world of nonprofit media now. The sources of innovation there, and the public policy implications, are different. Part of what makes this hard is that they’re different in each case; there is like eight to nine different subcultures in the nonprofit sector. They add up to a pretty significant part of the media system, at least when we’re talking about accountability reporting, but each one of them is kind of small and on their own — public access channels, low-power FM, state SPANS [satellite public affairs networks], and, probably most prevalently, this world of nonprofit websites, which is really important.”

There are currently two ways of subsidizing nonprofit media. “One is the direct grants system through CPB; the other is the charitable contributions system … They both have a role,” Waldman said. “But I think given the diversity of different players in the nonprofit sector, the charitable contribution system is arguably a more effective way of doing it.”

Here is part two of the two-part interview.

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