Free Press: Noncom Auction Funds Can Boost Local Journalism

Free Press is urging lawmakers to use some of the potential billions of dollars in broadcast incentive auction proceeds to seed innovative local journalism and community projects.

The idea is not to let too many of the apples in that multi-billion dollar windfall to travel too far from the public service tree of noncommercial media, which is definitely a temptation for local governments given the general strains on their budgets.

A campaign, launched Monday with the goal of creating a $250 million public fund to create, among other things, digital news sites, blogs, podcasts, YouTube channels, and apps to access public data.

The initial push will focus on New Jersey, where the licenses held by WNET are worth upwards of $2 billion, said Free Press.

According the group, it knows of at least 54 public stations that are participating in the auction, though that does not mean they will necessarily be the winning bidders.

“This auction of the public airwaves gives us a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reverse the crisis in local news and reimagine how local communities can get the information they need,” said Craig Aaron, president of Free Press and the Free Press Action Fund. “Instead of standing by as vital public outlets disappear, we should seize on this moment to reinvest in innovative community media projects and serious accountability journalism. If we act now, this could be the biggest boost for public-minded media since the creation of the public broadcasting system," he said. 

The campaign's initial focus is New Jersey, but it has numerous targets. The groups said that the 54 stations they had identified as participating in the auction were in 18 states and Washington, D.C., including KVCR-TV, KOCE-TV and KLCS-TV in Los Angeles that could be worth upwards of $1.5 billion, based on opening bid prices, though those have almost certainly gone down now that the auction is in round three.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.