On Monday night the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) senior advisor to the chairman Steve Waldman tried out the agency’s “Reboot” message on a tough crowd: regulation averse digerati from Silicon Alley. The small group of entrepreneurs and very vocal journalist/bloggers including CUNY prof and BuzzMachine blogger Jeff Jarvis and Wired’s Spencer Reiss got together at the offices of PR firm Morris + King to hash out what Waldman is supposed to be doing.
Waldman, founder of BeliefNet (a longtime M+K client) and former Newsweek journalist, was tapped by his old friend, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski to deliver a non-binding “Future of the Media” report by the end of this year. Genachowski brought in Waldman last Fall to sift through everything related to the state of news media today–existing research from places like Pew and Poynter Institutes, policies and pending initiatives such as the stance on Net Neutrality and the possible relaxation of cross-ownership rules between media companies.
“It’s an exercise in restraint. I can’t always mouth off with my point of view,” said Waldman. His job isn’t to figure out how to save the mainstream media from itself or fix business models, but to understand the various forces that pose a threat to the essential role of the news in holding commercial interests accountable.
Upon reading my pile of notes trying to find the one hook that would make my coverage a juicy blog post, it occurred to me that Waldman embodies an emerging trend in PR: he’s the embedded journalist attempting to understand the “bureaucratic monolith” (as moderator Anil Dash called the agency), and also the PR man sent out to test and collect potential messaging with various publics.
Waldman began by explaining that when you take apart a daily news paper and sort it between “stuff new media does better” and “stuff old media does better,” the former pile is bigger. But why?
This crowd is as concerned as any, though leaned toward leaving the government out of it. One area that came up as a possibility is the expansion of public media: radio, TV, and otherwise. Could Waldman be hinting at a government subsidized, local market version of ProPublica to fill in the gap? He’s testing the message.
Points were argued and patches of tall weeds explored among the audience of media savvy chatty Kathys. Other faces in the crowd of about 50 included Brian Stelter, New York Times, Greg Galant, Sawhorse Media, David Berkowitz, 360i, Peter Ha, Time.com’s Techland, and dot-com era legend and progenitor of oversharing Josh Harris (Pseudo.com and subject of “We Live in Public“)
Moderator Anil Dash got in several plugs for Expert Labs, his new project that is helping the Government facilitate two-way communication and crowdsourcing with the public. He was previously at blog software company Six Apart, seemingly for ages. Dash noted how amazing it is the FCC is so willing to listen to the public, and we’d have to agree.
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