Chairman Rockefeller's Opening Statement on Future of Journalism Hearing

May 6, 2009

For centuries, journalism has been a pillar of our democracy and a watchdog the public relies on.  Newspapers and broadcasters have been a check on the excesses of government, business and individuals.  When investigatory journalists have uncovered truths and scandals, their work has often brought people together, motivated the public to be guided by our better angels, and push for change.  But more than that, on a daily basis, dedicated reporters work around the clock to filter the news gems from the dross, and provide us with the knowledge we need to conduct our lives as well-informed citizens.  Put simply, good journalism is vital to our democracy.

But what happens when our watchdog grows mute and can no longer bark?  When newspapers, slice their staff and slash their news operations?  What happens is that we all suffer. 

The numbers alone tell a chilling story.  During roughly the last six months, daily newspaper circulation has declined 7 percent.  During roughly the past year, media companies have cut a heartbreaking 41,000 jobs.  The inevitable result is less reporting, less news, and less coverage of our communities and interests at home and abroad.

From these facts we can infer that the newsgathering model that served us so well in the past is now in trouble.  The future of journalism is digital.  We are fast migrating from a world where news is cranked out daily over a regional printing press to one where news is distributed digitally over the infinite networks of the Internet.  There is much to celebrate and explore in this change—access to an endless array of ideas and opinion and minute-by-minute updates on newsworthy events—but there is also is cause for concern. 

In this new evolving world, trusted sources, adhering to the fact-checking mores of traditional journalism, are often too few and far between.  The important and time-consuming work of investigative reporting may lack the institutional support it needs to thrive.  Uneven access in to the Internet in some communities is a trouble that needs to be addressed.  And then there are the unquantifiable losses.  The daily promise of unfolding a newspaper, rustling its pages, and letting your eye dance across the page and survey its offerings is a pleasure, I fear, our next generation will not know. 

In the near term, we must seek ways to make sure that our existing news entities find a firmer financial footing.  In the long term, however, we face more fundamental concerns.  From the very beginning our approach to media policy has been informed by a set of core values—encouraging competition, ensuring a diversity of voices, and fostering localism.  Despite the changes all around us, I believe we should strive to make sure that these values continue to inspire our media policy in the digital age.

The dialogue only begins with today’s hearing.  We are undoubtedly in a transformational period for the newsgathering business.  Though the challenges before us are many, sustaining quality journalism is a cause that is worth the fight.  By working together we can bring focus to the difficulties news entities are facing and identify ways to make sure that the future of good journalism is as bright as its past.