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FCC taps Steve Waldman for important yet hard to describe job

October 29, 2009 |  3:58 pm

Call him Media Czar! Or, maybe, new media czar. Oh heck, we don't know what to call him.

WALDMAN Steve Waldman, the co-founder of News Corp.'s and a former national editor at US News & World Report, has been tapped by the Federal Communications Commission to oversee the regulatory agency's "initiative to assess the state of media in these challenging economic times and make recommendations designed to ensure a vibrant media landscape." 

In announcing the appointment, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said:

"It is important to ensure that our policies promote a vibrant media landscape that furthers long-standing goals of serving the information needs of communities. The initiative is intended to identify the best ideas for achieving those goals, while recognizing that government must be scrupulous in abiding by the First Amendment and never dictating or controlling the content of the news or other communications protected by the First Amendment.”

That all sounds kind of vague and lofty, so we checked in with Waldman to see if we could get the inside track on his role in this initiative.

Asked just that, Waldman, 47, joked, "I don't know until I get there."

Actually, he's not completely kidding. Citing the dramatic changes in the media industry, including the closing of newspapers, the shrinking of local TV news and the growth of digital media, Waldman said, "the FCC as the lead agency on communications and media matters can't just be blind to this dramatic shift that is happening."

At the same time though, Waldman knows that many of these issues are "outside the jurisdiction of the FCC and problems the government is not going to solve."

So what exactly can he do? 

"The FCC is involved in all sorts of policy, so we need to make sure the policies on the books are wise and first do no harm," he said, adding that it is important that there are no current regulations that are "exasperating the problems." 

Waldman said he is most concerned about the "evaporation of journalism and shrinking of journalistic resources and what that means for society." (Hey, so are we.) Of course, just the idea of a government agency trying to play a part in the dissemination of information might make some a little wary. Waldman isn't planning to delve into entertainment-related issues. Too bad because it would be very interesting if the commission, which used to have a much bigger say about the programming business, decided to look at how that industry has changed since Washington got rid of some of its regulations regarding program ownership.

Genachowski and Waldman have known each other for over 20 years, going back to their days at Columbia University. Genachowski also served on the board of Beliefnet.

Waldman is not just taking a leave of absence for this gig but is also severing all his ties to Beliefnet, a spiritual website and online community that News Corp. bought in 2007.

"I realized I'd have to make a clean break," he said, as he couldn't very well be working on a project that could recommend policies that would affect major media companies if he still had ties to News Corp.

But Waldman swears he's not becoming a bureaucrat. He'll commute to D.C. but is keeping his home in Brooklyn.

-- Joe Flint

Photo: Steve Waldman. Credit: Christine Austin.