News on the Go

A few years ago, the Pew research team, which produces an annual State of the News Media report, declared that people are for the most part now “news grazers” who seek out information from a variety of sources and on a range of platforms.

Now a new report from Pew suggests that we are not only moving around to find our news but also taking our news with us.

The report on the state of journalism and mobile Internet access finds that more than “half of all U.S. adults now have a mobile connection to the Web through either a smartphone or tablet.” And Pew found that when people go online with these devices, they are consuming news as often as they are using email or playing games. This in and of itself is a huge watershed moment in the shifting landscape of journalism. But it’s also particularly interesting in terms of how media policy impacts the future of news.

Pew’s finding that “a third of all U.S. adults now get news on a mobile device at least once a week” and “mobile devices are adding how much news they consume” is encouraging for journalists. However, at the same time that this shift is happening, there is a huge fight for control over how the Web works, with very real implications for news organizations.

In December 2010, the Federal Communications Commission established Net Neutrality rules that prohibit Internet service providers from messing with — blocking, slowing down or degrading — the content that flows through their pipes. Sen. Al Franken has called Net Neutrality the First Amendment of the digital age. However, the protections the FCC put in place exempted the mobile Internet, for the first time creating a two-tiered Internet in terms of people’s rights and protections.

What this means in practice is that while more and more people are getting their news and information via mobile devices, the companies that connect you to the Web — AT&T, Verizon and others — have more control than ever over what you see and where you go online.

Imagine if Verizon blocked videos on YouTube but allowed them on its own V-Cast service. Or if AT&T partnered with NBC but blocked CNN. We’re seeing the seeds of this kind of behavior already with AT&T charging users extra to use Apple’s FaceTime app over 4G but allowing Skype and any other video-chat service for free.

When mobile companies can choose winners and losers in the future of journalism that’s not the free market; it’s censorship. Pew’s new report makes it clear that we are at a tipping point when it comes to news on mobile platforms. The policies that will define our digital future are being hashed out in Washington, D.C. right now, and journalists can’t sit on the sidelines.

Original photo by Flickr user Ed Yourdon

People + Policy

= Positive Change for the Public Good

people + policy = Positive Change for the Public Good