After a few days of public outrage over its study on editorial choice in newsrooms, the FCC will “amend” the research project — but still plans to conduct it. FCC chair Tom Wheeler will remove the questions in the study relating to news philosophy and editorial judgment, the commission announced, which leaves the question of what exactly the FCC will end up studying:

Faced with an outcry, the Federal Communications Commission’s chairman said Thursday that he would amend the effort — intended to assess whether the news media were meeting the public’s “critical information needs” — by removing questions that critics had deemed invasive. …

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler responded to the growing furor Thursday by ordering the removal of questions about news philosophy and editorial judgment.

Last week, in a letter about the study to Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the House committee that oversees the FCC, Wheeler said that the commission had “no intention of regulating political or other speech.”

If you read the study, though, it’s difficult to see what value it has. The entire point was “to identify and understand the critical information needs (CINs) of the American public (with special emphasis onvulnerable/disadvantaged populations).” That goes directly to news philosophy and editorial judgment, and without those questions, the study itself is pointless. That leads me to believe that the study will only remove the questions that explicitly mention those terms, and let the FCC just make assumptions based on the rest of the data.

Here are the questions asked in the study of owners/operators and editors. Try to figure out which questions will get removed.

Owners/operators:

• What is the news philosophy of the station?
• Who is your target audience?
• How do you define critical information that the community needs?
• How do you ensure the community gets this critical information?
• How much does community input influence news coverage decisions?
• What are the demographics of the news management staff (HR)?
• What are the demographics of the on air staff (HR)?
• What are the demographics of the news production staff (HR)?

Editors and mid-level managers:

• What is the news philosophy of the station?
• Who else in your market provides news?
• Who are your main competitors?
• How much news does your station (stations) air every day?
• Is the news produced in-house or is it provided by an outside source?
• Do you employ news people?
• How many reporters and editors do you employ?
• Do you have any reporters or editors assigned to topic “beats”? If so how many and what
are the beats?
• Who decides which stories are covered?
• How much influence do reporters and anchors have in deciding which stories to cover?
• How much does community input influence news coverage decisions?
• How do you define critical information that the community needs?
• How do you ensure the community gets this critical information?

The problem with this FCC study wasn’t just one or two questions. It’s that the FCC has no business involving itself in editorial judgment and news choices in the first place — especially at newspapers and Internet outlets. It’s an arrogation of jurisdiction, which would surely be followed by an arrogation of authority and power to address whatever “crises” in news reporting the study produces.

The only solution to this is ending it, not amending it.