Last month, the Federal Communications Commission announced it was preparing to conduct a test of its protocol for a "multi-market study on critical information needs" in Columbia, South Carolina. The study proposal suggests a two-pronged approach: the first is a "media market census" which will look at broadcast, newspaper, and online news content in sample markets around the country. The second prong is a "community ecology study" in which surveys will be conducted to "measure community members’ actual and perceived critical information needs." This will be coupled with "in-depth neighborhood interviews" involving actual citizens.
With studies like these, the devil is in the details. There’s no clear definition of what "critical information needs" actually are, and while the proposal plans to focus on these needs from the perspective of "vulnerable/disadvantaged populations," these are also not clearly defined. Sample-size is also key: this particular study will look at six media markets—two large, two medium, and two small—and we still don’t know what other five markets will be involved.