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At FTC, Experts Address The Troubled State Of Journalism and the Internet

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WASHINGTON, December 1, 2009 - Experts from the private sector, nonprofit groups and the government gathered Tuesday at the Federal Trade Commission for the start of a two-day workshop focused on the troubled state of the media industry and how the business models will change going forward.

“Since the beginning of our Republic, journalism has been essential to making democracy work,” FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said (PDF) in opening remarks. His point is largely agreed upon by many involved in discussions centered around the media. But there is not a consensus on how media business models will evolve down the road or on whether the government should become more involved in the industry.

“We will have additional workshops in the spring to delve into various policy proposals—whether involving special tax or antitrust treatment for news gathering organizations, changes in copyright law or cross-ownership restrictions, or government subsidies (as exist for public radio and public broadcasting)—to assess the degree to which any policy response appears appropriate," he said.

"We are also going to work closely with the Federal Communications Commission, which under Julius Genachowski has begun a major effort to look closely at the full range of issues relating to news media and an open Internet,” said Leibowitz.

Steven Brill, co-founder of Journalism Online, said “I don’t think the government should be involved much in this” except maybe in regards to privacy issues. He noted that no newspaper thus far can really sustain itself based on advertising alone. Brill questioned the logic of The New York Times charging for a good product, its paper newspaper, but not charging for its best product, the news it offers online.

Brill said he believes professional people, or journalists, doing something important in democracy need to get paid for it. But Lauren Rich Fine said the public isn’t used to paying for journalism though some publication loyalists will play for news online.

Media Access Project President Andrew Jay Schwartzman said in prepared remarks he plans to deliver Wednesday that he supports “experimentation with most of the proposed new mechanisms for supporting journalism, including content-neutral, platform-neutral subsidies and funds for public media, but I am against changes in antitrust and copyright laws to prop up incumbents.”

Schwartzman said he is calling on “Congress, federal agencies and the courts to embrace an aggressive approach towards creating and supporting new mechanisms for funding journalism, especially local journalism.”

Google Senior Business Product Manager Josh Cohen, who spoke at the event Tuesday, wrote in a blog entry on the workshop that his company believes “journalism will not only survive, but thrive on the Internet.” Cohen said the newspaper industry has been facing multiple challenges and the Internet enables entities to get content in front of more people in more ways.

Len Downie, vice president at large for The Washington Post, said at the conference that he is seeing a rapid increase in the numbers of small news Web sites across the country. He said more laid off journalists are now teaching the craft at universities and nonprofit investigate nonprofits are cropping up staffed by former journalists.

Downie is also seeing bloggers hiring news staff, more diversified news and newspaper looking to partner with investigative outfits for news content. Downie said he expects newspapers to survive but in much smaller forms. He emphasized that competition is good for news. Lem Lloyd, a vice president for Channel Sales at Yahoo!, noted that the sales force for media outlets has left much to be desired.

Winter covered technology policy issues for five-and-a-half years as a reporter for the National Journal Group. She has worked for USA Today, the Washington Times, the Magazine Group, the State Department’s International Visitor’s Program, and the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. She also taught English at a university in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

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