FCC testimony on media ownership: Doug Underwood

Hello, my name is Doug Underwood. I am an associate professor in the University of Washington’s Department of Communication, a former Seattle Times reporter for six and a half years, and I also started my career working for […], the largest newspaper-chain owner.

I want to just talk about a couple things. I have been in the Seattle area either working as a faculty member teaching journalism or as a reporter since 1981. One of the things I did at the University of Washington for fifteen years was run their internship program in Olympia, where students went down to cover government news for newspapers in the state. When I was first in Olympia myself as a reporter in 1981, there were four full-time news bureaus from the Seattle television stations and there were 12 to 15 full-time radio reporters, as well as 12 to 15 journalists covering the State of Washington (with its more than 100 agencies and governor and legislature). Today, there are no television journalists permanently stationed in Olympia and there is one radio reporter in Olympia; there are about 30% fewer newspaper reporters than there used to be. That is to cover the entire complex of state government.

As we know, the model for news in broadcast is to simply -- and has been for probably the last fifteen years -- to eliminate coverage of public affairs. It is one reason why there are no cameras here, of course. With cross-ownership, my fear is that the news-coverage model of broadcast can and likely will push what has been the model for newspaper coverage.

Right now, the information pyramid in this region depends on newspapers. Seven Pulitzer Prizes have been won by the Seattle Times and the P-I in the last 20 years. Coverage of Boeing safety issues and the 737, Alaska Air safety air issues, a US senator that had to leave office, and coverage of other important issues… the broadcast news industry does not do this. If, in fact, the model continues to work the way it will, if there is consolidation… what people I don’t think often realize is that it is very likely that it will be what has led to the elimination of news coverage in our state capitol that will begin to dominate all media industry in this region, and I think it could be really severe. This is very important what you folks are doing, and I hope you stay with it. Thank you.

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The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey