Jesse Walker
February 20, 2014

For the last 10 days, FCC-watchers have been abuzz about the commission’s upcoming attempt to “identify and understand the critical information needs of the American public.” Anxieties about the study have been afoot for a while, but the recent furor began on February 10, when Ajit Pai, a Republican commissioner at the agency, published an op-ed attacking the idea in The Wall Street Journal. Warning that the effort was the “first step down” the “dangerous path” of “newsroom policing,” Pai made his case against the study:

Let’s see…can I use the UNITED STATES OF PARANOIA cover for this one? No? Hmm…OK, let me pull out this older one.With its “Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs,” or CIN, the agency plans to send researchers to grill reporters, editors and station owners about how they decide which stories to run. A field test in Columbia, S.C., is scheduled to begin this spring.

The purpose of the CIN, according to the FCC, is to ferret out information from television and radio broadcasters about “the process by which stories are selected” and how often stations cover “critical information needs,” along with “perceived station bias” and “perceived responsiveness to underserved populations.”

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