Beliefnet co-founder to head media initiative

Steven Waldman, former journo and co-founder of Beliefnet, has been tapped by the FCC to lead an initiative designed to assess “the state of media in these challenging economic times.”

Waldman will serve as a special advisor to FCC commish Julius Genachowski. Genachowski launched the initiative in response to several recent studies by nonprofit and academic orgs, including the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, calling for the feds to probe the problems facing newspapers and other news media.

The FCC will be asked to make recommendations to ensure that the public’s news and information needs are being met and to “ensure a vibrant media landscape,” the org said in announcing Waldman’s appointment.

The process is sure to raise some eyebrows about a government agency making recommendations on the practices of private businesses. Genachowski cited the extraordinary circumstances at a time when the growth of digital media is threatening the financial underpinnings of traditional newsgathering orgs.

“A strong consensus has developed that we’re at a pivotal moment in the history of the media and communications, because of game-changing new technologies as well as the economic downturn,” Genachowski said. “It is important to ensure that our polities promote a vibrant media landscape that furthers long-standing goals of serving the information needs of communities.”

Genachowski added that the FCC recognizes that “government must be scrupulous in abiding by the First Amendment and never dictating or controlling the content of the news.”

Waldman has penned a weekly column and blog for the Wall Street Journal online since News Corp. acquired Beliefnet, a web community devoted to religion and spirituality, in 2007. He previously served as national editor of U.S. News and World Report and national correspondent for Newsweek.

Genachowski said Waldman was “uniquely qualified to look at this shifting terrain and make sure we meet this moment wisely.”

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