Jan 31, 2009

Pubmedia inauguration project attracts 35,000 users

Inauguration Report '09, organized by NPR, American University’s School of Communication and CBS, brought in more than 35,000 user contributions via Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, iPhone, Google Phones and text messaging. One of its creators, David Johnson, a professor at American University’s School of Communication, reviews the project, and its implications for the future of public media.

Grants make for 'best year in a long time' at WGBH

Here's a bit of positive news during this ominous economic time. A huge increase in grant support enabled WGBH to have a very strong '08. Grant commitments grew year-to-year a hefty 70 percent to $121.8 million, from $71.7 million, as of Aug. 31, 2008. Many were PBS grants; its commitments to WGBH jumped to $83.8 million in 2008, from $28.3 million in '07. “We had our best year in a long time last year,” Ben Godley, WGBH executive v.p., told The Boston Business Journal.

Jan 30, 2009

Scott Jagow leaves air for blog

Marketplace Morning Report host Scott Jagow is departing as on-air host to become lead blogger for the APM show's website. He'll also be host of its weekly podcast, After the Bell.

Host reflects on Weekend America

"When you reach the end of an experience, it is right to ask, 'What have I learned?' " mulls Weekend America host John Moe. "And after five years of shows, fair question. What I've learned is patriotism." Read the rest of his comments bidding farewell to the APR show and its listeners.

Schiller took unconventional route to the top at NPR

Vivian Schiller, NPR’s new c.e.o., tells the American Journalism Review in a profile that her career as a tour guide in the Soviet Union prepared her for managing at media companies. “I think when I retire I’m going to write a book called Everything I Know I Learned as a Tour Guide, including how to lead the conga line.” On the subject of NPR’s future, she says: “I’ve been proselytizing a little bit about the incredible opportunity that NPR has that no other media organization has, to create a constellation of hyperlocal sites that provide inhabitants of communities with national news, local news and information tools for their communities. This has been sort of the Holy Grail for many media companies … and I think NPR’s the only organization that’s positioned to do it.”

Incoming temp FCC chair addresses staff

In a speech to FCC staff (PDF) this week, Acting Chairman Michael Copps stressed cooperation within the agency and transparency for the public. "The spectrum is theirs and the rest of us are stewards," he said. In the weeks ahead, he later added, "our three most important priorities will be, as you have heard me say already, DTV, DTV and DTV." However, he also said, "At this point, we will not have -- we cannot have -- a seamless DTV transition," due to "a patchwork of disjointed efforts."

Juan Williams: "a David Broder in black face"

NPR’s Juan Williams is “America’s most two-faced senior black correspondent,” writes Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Tony Norman. (The “senior black correspondent” bit is a borrowed Daily Show joke.) Norman notes that on Fox News, Williams has joined the chorus of alarmist voices criticizing Michelle Obama. “Ironically, Williams probably considers his slander a form of racial tough love,” Norman writes. “I wonder if he secretly believes that knocking the first lady will earn him an invitation to the next soiree the president has with conservative commentators.”

Senator optimistic over date-delay passage

At least one senator is fairly certain the DTV delay House bill will pass next week. Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar is a supporter of the date change from Feb. 17 to June 12. "This is more than just about just watching TV for fun," she told C-SPAN's Communicators series on Jan. 30.

Online chat on special fund-raising events

The Chronicle of Philanthropy is hosting an online discussion, Planning Special Events During a Recession, at noon on Feb. 3. Possible topics: How can you make your event seem worthwhile in the current economy? What steps can you take to promote your event? What can you do to ensure that an event's participants will become active donors and volunteers? Stop by to post your questions, a transcript will be available after the discussion.

Nominate an outstanding pubradio engineer

Do you know a terrific public radio engineer? Nominate him or her for the annual Engineering Achievement Award, presented by the Association of Professional Radio Engineers. Former honorees include the late Wayne Hetrich, one of NPR’s 30 original employees. The honor will be presented at the annual NPR Labs/APRE Engineering Dinner in Las Vegas later this year. Deadline for nominations is March 1.

New play inspired by "Buster-gate"

Dusty and the Big Bad World, a play by Cusi Cram, writer for the PBS Kids series Arthur, opened last night in Denver. The satire, billed as "a wildly humorous story about bigotry and the censorship of 'Dusty,' a public television children's series about a dust ball," was inspired by Cram's experience with "Buster-gate," the national controversy about a segment of the Arthur spinoff Postcards from Buster that featured a girl in Vermont with two gay moms. PBS dropped the episode but many stations still aired it. In the play, the magic dust ball is caught between liberal and conservative forces and his pubTV producer has to choose between sacrificing her principles and keeping the show on the air.

Jan 29, 2009

Former WGBH accountant charged with embezzling from station

The former accounting manager at WGBH-TV in Boston is facing charges of embezzling nearly $500,000 from the station. Philip McCabe, who worked at the station from 1987 to 2007, allegedly used the station's money to pay personal bills over a nine-year period. He is charged with two counts of making false entries in corporate books and two counts of larceny over $250, according to the state attorney general's office.

CPB Inspector General's office warns KMBH of violations

RGV Educational Broadcasting Inc., in Harlingen, Texas, may lose the $700,000 annual grant it receives to run KMBH-TV and KMBH/KHID-FM. William Gillette of the CPB Inspector General's office told the board of directors on Jan. 26 that in more than 20 years in operation, it hasn't formed community advisory groups, a federal requirement for PBS and NPR stations. The IG's office also said that Monsignor Pedro BriseƱo, KMBH's president, CEO and g.m., had been signing documents for years stating that the stations were complying with federal laws. For background, see Current's May 2008 story.

Jan 28, 2009

Stimulus bill, with broadband funds, passes House

President Barack Obama's $800 billion-plus economic stimulus package has passed the House. The bill includes around $6 billion funding for broadband improvement and building-out projects. Senate passage could come as early as next week.

House rejects DTV delay

The House has voted down a bill that would have delayed the DTV transition date until June 12, The Associated Press reports. The vote, 258-168, fell short of the two-thirds threshold needed for passage. GOP legislators contend a delay would confuse consumers as well as trouble wireless companies and public safety agencies waiting to use their incoming spectrum. The Senate unanimously approved the bill on Jan. 26.

CPB cancels in-person Leaders Meeting but plans virtual meeting of minds

CPB has canceled its annual National Leaders Meeting after hearing that many of the invited professional and lay leaders would not be able to attend in March because of fiscal problems. “Clearly, it is not the time for ‘business as usual,’" CPB President Pat Harrison wrote to invitees. CPB will go online to achieve some of the meeting’s objectives, she said. Participants in a two-hour online “dynamic inquiry” will discuss how public service media can most effectively serve the public. The meeting had been scheduled for March 18-20 in Washington, D.C.

PBS buys stake in National Public Media

PBS has purchased a 10 percent equity share in National Public Media, the national on-air and online corporate sponsorship rep whose clients include NPR, and public radio and TV stations across the country. Formerly known as National Public Broadcasting, NPM was established in 2007 when WGBH and NPR bought NPB. NPR owns 80 percent of the company,  and WGBH owns the rest. As part of the new agreement, PBS President Paula Kerger will be seated on the board along with Vivian Schiller, president of NPR, and Jonathan Abbott, president of WGBH. 

CPR revises plan to expand local news show

Colorado Public Radio has scaled back its plans for Colorado Matters, a 30-minute weekday news show that was slated to expand to one-hour and be paired with a local call-in. Since purchasing an FM channel to serve as the broadcast home of KFCR, an NPR News outlet serving Denver, CPR has been unable to sell 1370 AM, the outlet that until last year was the primary CPR news service in the market, according to the Denver Westword blog. In addition, CPR's listener-sensitive revenues are starting to soften. Programming veep Sean Neathery says CPR now plans to expand Colorado Matters to a one-hour show that airs four days a week, with the call-in airing in the same timeslot on Fridays. CPR is recruiting a senior producer, a producer and one part-time production assistant to help with the expansion.

Jan 27, 2009

Lesson from WMUB: more stations must "back away" from subsidies

Too many public radio stations rely on subsidies from government and/or their university licensees, writes pubradio marketing consultant John Sutton, offering WMUB-FM in Oxford, Ohio, as a case in point. Miami University can no longer afford to operate WMUB as an independent station and on Jan. 22 announced a pending agreement to convert the outlet into a repeater of Cincinnati Public Radio's NPR News service. "Maybe this is the future of public radio," Sutton writes on his blog. "The consolidation of costs by having fewer independent operations is an option." If localism is as important to the future of public radio as many say it is, then more stations need to "back away from the subsidy trough" and take steps toward financial "self-sufficiency," Sutton writes. He calls on CPB to help lead the way.

Top donor advises nonprofits on funding

Lorry Lokey, consistently one of America's top donors, answered questions from nonprofits in a Chronicle of Philanthropy online chat Jan. 27. Lokey, who committed $45.7 million to nonprofits in 2008 alone, answered questions such as: How can a nonprofit best prove it is most worthy of a corporate donation? And, what is the biggest mistake development officers make when first meeting a new prospect?

P.O.V. film wins award at Sundance

Natalia Almada, director of the upcoming P.O.V. film El General, won the directing award for U.S. documentary at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. Her film--a co-production with Altamura Films and ITVS in association with Latino Public Broadcasting--looks at the legacy of Almada's great-grandfather, former Mexican President Plutarco Elias Calles. Almada's film El Otro Lado, about drug traffickers and musicians on the U. S./Mexico border, aired on P.O.V. in 2006.

Live again in theaters: This American Life

This American Life will again stage a national video telecast to hundreds of specially equipped theaters this spring. Tickets to the April 23 event (8 p.m. Eastern time plus a delayed feed at 8 Pacific time) were offered at a discounted price to stations, PRI announced. Tickets go on sale to the public March 6. The net said that more than 35,000 fans turned out for the show's first live-to-theaters telecast last May 1.

APTS announces president

Attorney Lawrence Sidman, a longtime telecom advocate, is the new APTS president. Sidman has been involved in the industry for decades, serving in the late 1980s as chief council of the Telecommunications and Finance Subcommittee of House Commerce and Energy under longtime pubcasting advocate Edward Markey (D-Mass.). Most recently, Sidman has been chairman of the government affairs group of the law firm Paul, Hastings, Janofsky and Walker's DC office. In 2003 he was named one of the 10 top telecom lobbyists by Telecommunications Reports. Sidman replaces John Lawson, who departed for Ion Media Networks in March 2008. Sidman takes over Feb. 1, in time for the group's annual Capitol Hill Day, Feb. 8-11.

Jan 26, 2009

Senate OKs DTV delay

The Senate -- on a voice vote -- has approved moving the DTV transition date from Feb. 17 to June 12. The House bill is up for consideration Jan. 26.

Delay may cost PBS $22 million

Putting off the DTV transition from Feb. 17 to June 12 could cost pubcasters $22 million, PBS head Paula Kerger estimates. The White House is seeking the delay because the fed program providing money for converter box coupons is out of money. Kerger said she announced the figure so lawmakers might keep in mind the financial hardship for stations. She added that PBS is not aligned with either side in the ongoing debate over the date.

One day only! Get your wedding dress at Milwaukee Public TV

Here's a new fundraising idea: Milwaukee Public TV is selling some 400 wedding gowns and other formal dresses at its studio and warehouse on Feb. 7. An area bridal shop closed and donated its leftover inventory to the station, which is pricing the dresses at $10 to $40. 

Denver PBS analog signal down for up to four weeks

KBDI in Denver is coping with the aftermath of 100 mph winds that knocked its analog signal off the air. Its antenna and transmission line were extensively damaged and repairs could take up to a month. Viwers are being urged to convert to digital reception immediately. This comes in the wake of KRMJ-TV's analog transmitter in Grand Junction failing on Dec. 31; that may not be repaired.

Jan 25, 2009

McCain opposes broadband stimulus

Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, a lead sponsor of the 2005 Community Broadband Act, has reversed his stance. On Jan. 25's Fox News Sunday, the former presidential candidate said: "Some of the stimulus in this package is excellent; some of it, frankly, has nothing to do — some of the projects and others that you just mentioned, $6 billion for broadband and Internet access. That will take years." Broadband stimulus is one part of President Barack Obama's economic proposal. His broadband plan is to create jobs by building out greater access to the Internet, and improve America's technological competitive edge in the world by making the Internet faster.

Report forecasts economy 2009-19

The Congressional Budget Office has issued its economic and budget predictions for FY2009 through FY2019 early to "aid the new Congress in its deliberations," according to the CBO director's blog. Outlook details: "A marked contraction in the U.S. economy in calendar year 2009" followed by a "slow recovery" in 2010. It also says America "is in a recession that will probably be the longest and the deepest since World War II."

WFYI state funding may disappear

Indiana PubTV's WFYI is facing a total elimination of state funding under Gov. Mitch Daniels' budget proposals. Due to reductions in private donations, the station last week laid off five staffers and ended production of several programs. Now Daniels wants to strip all state funding, $517,000, or less than 5 percent of the station budget. However, WFYI management said each state dollar helps raise some $8 in funding from foundations, corporations and individuals.

Jan 23, 2009

Please, neighbor, save Mister Rogers

A quiet move to "save" that quiet pubTV legendary show, "Mister Rogers Neighborhood," has sprung up on the Internet. Save the Mister Rogers Neighborhood Campaign, according to the website, was organized by Brian Linder, a father of twin toddlers from Columbia, S.C., who wanted his children to be able to see a show he grew up watching daily. The show hasn't been discontinued; last September its distribution changed. PBS now offers the show weekly to allow room for more PBS KIDS' new series on its daily feed, according to PBS Engage. A Facebook page linked to Linder's efforts is up to nearly 7,000 members.

ITVS film gets Oscar nod

"Waltz with Bashir" continues its run of prizes and nominations with a nod in the Best Foreign Language Film category of the Academy Awards. It's the 10th Oscar nomination for ITVS, and the first for its ITVS International initiative. The presitgious awards show airs Feb. 22 from the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood.

Congress moves on DTV date, broadband stimulus

The Senate has approved a bill that would delay the DTV transition date from Feb. 17 to June 12; it will vote on that next week. Also on Jan. 23, the House OK'd rules governing $2.8 billion for high-speed broadband access, one chunk of the proposed $6 billion broadband update funds that are part of the $825 billion economic stimulus bill.

Upcoming P.O.V. doc gets Oscar nomination

The Betrayal, a documentary that will air during P.O.V.'s 2009 season, was nominated for an Academy Award. Produced and directed by Ellen Kuras and Thavisouk Phrasavath, the film--23 years in the making--follows the experiences of Phrasavath, a Laotian immigrant, and his family after they come to America. The doc also recently received two nominations for the Cinema Eye Honors for Nonfiction Filmmaking.

MacArthur grantmaker Woody Wickham dies

Woody Wickham, 66, a key grantmaker to public broadcasting at the MacArthur Foundation, died of cancer on Sunday at his Chicago home, the Chicago Tribune reported. In more than a dozen years at MacArthur, he helped support such projects as the breakthrough film Hoop Dreams and projects of independent radio producer Dave Isay, including the massive oral history project StoryCorps.

Cincinnati Public Radio to operate WMUB in Oxford

Miami University of Ohio plans to turn over operations of WMUB, an NPR affiliate that has broadcast from its campus for 58 years, to Cincinnati Public Radio. The management agreement is being facilitated by Public Radio Capital and comes less than two years after a university study committee "strongly" recommended that the station pursue partnerships with other news organizations or public stations in Dayton. The university annually contributes $500,000 of the WMUB's operating budget and provides another $300,000 in indirect subsidies. "[T]he financial obligation of WMUB can no longer be borne by the university with the economic challenges we face," said Miami President David Hodge. The Dayton Business Journal reports that the university faces a $22 million budget shortfall and has already cut $16 million from its 2010 budget. WMUB's staff of seven full-time and three part-time employees will lose their jobs.

Jan 22, 2009

WNET to cuts jobs, budget

New York's WNET-Thirteen will cut 8 percent of its upcoming budget through cost reductions and job eliminations. Also affected will be parent organization and sister station WLIW-21.'s President and CEO Neal Shapiro told The Observer that of roughly 500 staffers, some 85 positions are targeted. According to Shapiro, individual and corporate as well as government funding for WNET and WLIW all have declined significantly in recent months. Also, N.Y. Gov. David Paterson's new budget includes a 50 percent reduction in the overall funding for pubTV, which would mean about a $4.5 million cut for "If that happens, we'll have to take more actions," Shapiro told the paper.

Obama selects acting FCC chair

President Barack Obama has named FCC Commissioner Michael Copps temporary head of the regulatory agency. Copps has been one of the five-member commission since 2001. Tech exec Julius Genachowski is the new president's reported choice to head the FCC, but that appointment may take weeks or perhaps months.

Ifill's new book about politics and race on the shelf

NewsHour correspondent Gwen Ifill's new book, The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama, was published on Inauguration Day. Ifill, who moderated the vice presidential debate last fall, drew criticism from John McCain supporters when news of her book contract hit the press. Critics assumed she would favor Obama's camp, but The Breakthrough is "less about Barack Obama's victory than a generational shift among black politicians and voters, black and white," says Bob Minzesheimer of USA Today. "Her book is a serious but readable assessment, not a celebration," he writes. Ifill mentions the debate flap briefly: "I was a hard target to resist -- an African-American journalist writing about race could not possibly be capable of thinking bigger thoughts, could she?" An excerpt of the book is available here, from The New York Times.

Detroit pubTV lays off 11

Detroit Public Television laid off 11 employees yesterday--about 16 percent of the station's staff. Sister radio station WRCJ-FM laid off one employee. The TV station made cuts to the reception desk, accounting and promotions departments, and all who were laid off received a severance package, according to David Devereaux, v.p. of communications. 

Ombudsmen respond to complaints of biased coverage of Gaza conflict

Pubcasting ombudsmen Alicia Shepard of NPR and Michael Getler of PBS have received hundreds of complaints about biased coverage of the Israeli incursion into Gaza, and their latest columns analyze to what extent the criticisms are justified. Some listeners say public radio coverage is so biased that NPR is actually "National Palestinian Radio," Shepard writes, but the biggest issue appears to be a lack of historical or political context in NPR's reporting. "Context is critical but there are certain time constraints that simply won't allow the kind of detail some listeners want in every four-minute piece," she writes. At PBS, Getler agrees with viewers that a Bill Moyers commentary on the Israeli-Hamas conflict was "not only inflammatory but wrong." The commentary, which aired Jan. 9, also prompted this rebuke from Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League.

Jan 21, 2009

Journalists! Free lunch today, thanks to Google, Yahoo and the Web

If you thought that media can adopt Web 2.0 commercialism without content- and news-distorting consequences parallel with those that operate so effectively on commercial TV and cable, check out the critique coming from Oxford's Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, as reported in Britain's Guardian and on "Publishers are in danger of being reduced to the digital equivalent of a windsock, shaped by the short-term whims of the news consumer," says Oxford economic geographer Andrew Currah in a release. If they follow the revenue lure of online traffic, journalists will feel steady pressure to reconsider content decisions, homogenize their subject matter, bend their values and favor star journalists, celebrities and opinion over hard news. The report debuts Thursday at the Oxford Media Convention, organized by Oxford's Said Business School. Currah earlier looked at how Hollywood is trying to subdue the forces of the Internet.

Jan 20, 2009

Qualcomm vs. PBS

Qualcomm, looking to use analog channels for its MediaFLO mobile TV service after the digital transition, sent letters Jan. 19 to legislators asking stations in Boston, Miami, San Francisco and Houston to drop their signals on the original Feb. 17 date. But Northern California Public Broadcasting, with one of the analog channels Qualcomm wants, says it wants to keep that analog signal on until Congress orders otherwise. Stay tuned.

Jan 19, 2009

A Libertarian's view of CPB's stimulus request

If the service pubcasting provided "was indeed so valuable that we, the American people, could not do without it," writes libertarian blogger J.J. Jackson, "they would not need to beg their government benefactors for a single dime. " Instead of a bailout, Jackson adds, "What they need is programming that people will tune in to hear!"

A reply: Upstate New York pubradio engineer Aaron Read replies to Jackson: Why are so many liberatarians hypocrites when it comes to NPR?

Jan 17, 2009

Torture doc starts airing

The doc Torturing Democracy is bubbling into the news again. AU media associate prof Rick Rockwell, writing on the blog iVory Towerz, says Maryland's MPT has run the documentary, "but only a few weeks before the new Obama administration takes office." By showing the doc, which deals with torture in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, "this late in the Bush years also gives the program more the ring of history rather than a documentary about a current topic." Dozens of stations aired the show last year before this week's scheduled PBS airing.

Jan 16, 2009

Rocky Mountain PBS hires new president

Rocky Mountain PBS in Pueblo, Colo., recently named Doug Price president, reports the Pueblo Chieftain. Price formerly served as president of FirstBank of Colorado and co-founded Educare Colorado, a nonprofit focused on child care. At Rocky Mountain, he replaces James Morgese, who left the station in October after 15 years as president.

Jan 15, 2009

June 12 may be the new Feb. 17

It's been a week of uncertainty and lots of talk regarding the Feb. 17 DTV date, but now comes action. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), incoming Commerce chair, on Jan. 15 introduced a bill that would move the conversion date to June 12. "I firmly believe that our nation is not yet ready to make this transition,” Rockefeller said in a statement. A House version is expected soon.

Al Jazeera partners with Worldfocus

The Al Jazeera Network, which broadcasts news in Arabic and English, has signed on to provide daily content to WLIW's Worldfocus. All Al Jazeera content will run with its logo on the screen.

Writers Guild backs pubcasting stimulus funds

Layoffs and budget woes in the pubcasting system have "negatively impacted the quality of news and public discourse in the country," the Writers Guild of America, East, told President-elect Obama's transition team in a meeting last week. Its members write and produce for such shows as Frontline, Nova, Nature, Great Performances, American Masters, American Experience, Sesame Street and The Electric Company.

Stimulus package: $650 million DTV, $6 billion broadband

A summary from the House Appropriations Committee of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Bill of 2009, a.k.a. the stimulus package, proposes $650 million in additional funds for the DTV converter box program and $6 billion in broadband and wireless grants to reach underserved areas. Broadcasting & Cable has the details.

What you're NOT missing at NETA

Hundreds of pubcasters at the NETA conference plus two elevator outages equals close quarters. With half of the four hotel lifts temporarily shut on Jan. 15, many attendees are finding themselves, well, getting to know each other very well. As one pubcaster quipped in a stuffed 'vator, "This is the typical office layout of a public television station." Judging from the hearty guffaws, fellow riders were in agreeance.

CPB reaches SoundExchange pact

SoundExchange and CPB finally have an agreement on Internet performance royalties to be paid to artists and copyright holders. The agreement sets royalties to be paid by CPB for the noncomm pubradio system for streaming music on their websites from Jan. 1, 2005, through Dec. 31, 2010. The pact covers some 450 pubradio webcasters, including CPB-supported stations, NPR, NPR members, NFCBroadcasters members, APM, Public Radio Exchange and PRI. Details on the Broadcast Law Blog.

FCC OKs analog nightlight

The FCC on Jan. 15 approved the analog nightlight program, which allows stations time after the DTV transition to keep analog signals for DTV educational and community emergency messages. The rule applies to 310 of the 1,749 stations making the DTV transition; they must prove the nightlight won't cause more than 0.1 percent of interference to digital stations. Stations can still apply to be included.

Pubcasting awards

Forget station budget woes and towers falling over and that pesky, moving-target DTV transition. Let's talk awards. On Jan. 15 at the NETA conference, 23 pubcasters received 39 trophies for 2008 program production, promotion, outreach, and instructional media. Special recognition -- "The Best of the Best" -- went to two stations, OETA in Oklahoma City for its Gallery: The People’s Art (program production) and WETA in Arlington, Va., for The War (outreach).

Your NETA, CPB, PBS, APTS update

Leaders of CPB, PBS and APTS related both pubcasting challenges and victories Jan. 15 to a crowded ballroom at the NETA conference, ongoing in Tampa. First, the good news: PBS head Paula Kerger said some 44 percent of pubTV website traffic now consists of visitors 35 or younger. After years of talking about how to lure the younger audience, "we've got them. Now we need to figure out how to draw them in, get them even more involved," she said. In Capitol Hill news, APTS will be visiting lawmakers in the next week or two to lobby for pubcasting's economic stimulus requests. DC insiders are also hearing rumors there may be one or two commissioners departing the FCC in the next weeks or months. An upcoming nationwide challenge: Analog trash. What will stations do with all that old equipment after the DTV conversion (whenever that comes)? How will it be removed and recycled? The recycling aspect is key, as Don Lockett of CPB said. "We don't want to see the headline, 'Old CPB Equipment Being Used by the Taliban.'" NETA's annual conference ends tomorrow.

Jan 14, 2009

New FCC may be more Internet-tech oriented

A Washington Post analysis piece on the probable next FCC head Julius Genachowski says that President-elect Barack Obama's choice may signal increased focus on new Internet technologies for the regulatory agency.

A new underwriting avenue?

Penn State Public Broadcasting is exploring taking underwriting into an additional and creative direction: Multiplatform opportunities. In a Jan. 14 session at the ongoing NETA conference in Tampa, Greg Petersen, WPSU director of programming services, said there may be room for underwriting spots on, say, streaming video or archived clips on the Internet. One attractive aspect is that Internet content doesn't have noncomm restrictions, so the spots can actually suggest that viewers visit underwriters -- more of a true ad. Petersen envisions, for instance, a spot before a video clip saying it's sponsored by an underwriter. When pubcasters ponder multicasting, Petersen added, it takes "not thinking outside the box but thinking completely differently." WPSU was also an early adapter of YouTube, with its own channel.

Creative ways to meet DTV challenge

Pubcasters brought many questions and nearly as many suggestions for handling the DTV transition to NETA's Jan. 14 session on the topic. Stations are struggling with the possible date shift and wondering, will they be required to remain in analog until that later date? An NTIA rep said legislation is still pending so it's impossible to know. What if the station advises a viewer to purchase equipment that ultimately doesn't work, is there a liability issue? Hard to say. More liability issues include station staff entering viewers' home to fix reception problems. WKNO in Memphis is partnering with a local senior volunteer organization that has the necessary insurance; those volunteers are being trained to do the fixes. Also of service to viewers at WPSU in Pennsylvania: A Google map showing its coverage area for viewers to type in an address and see if they'll still receive a signal or will have problems. In general, reps from several stations that have already converted advise that viewer rescans of receivers are helpful. The NETA conference runs through Friday in Tampa.

Downsizing plan in the works at KQED

A spokesman for San Francisco's KQED-TV/FM confirmed the gist of a Jan. 10 blog report about imminent lay-offs at the station but denied that they would be the largest in station history, as reported by BNET media analyst and former KQED exec David Weir. KQED is "seeing declines and looking to the future of how do we preserve what we have with integrity and all of that, but no decisions have been made," said Scott Walton, communications director. Layoffs are "not necessarily coming from radio or tv production," but will probably "a few here and around the building," he said.

Jan 13, 2009

Stations must be involved in broadband future, Liroff says

"If we were starting out today as public service media," said David Liroff, "universal broadband would be our distribution method of choice." Liroff, former CPB sr. v.p. and longtime pubmedia analyst, opened this week's NETA conference Jan. 13 in Tampa with his keynote speech. He discussed how universal broadband will affect pubmedia for better and worse, and what role the industry should play during development of the nationwide high-speed network. It's absolutely necessary for stations to get involved at the state level during planning for increased broadband access, he contends, because pubmedia "needs to ensure that the public interest is served" in broadband decisions. "There are elephants on the field; the telecom companies are driving innovation." An archive of several of Liroff's previous speeches may be found here.

Jim Lehrer to quiz Cheney tomorrow night

Jim Lehrer will conduct an extended interview with outgoing Vice President Dick Cheney about his past eight years in office tomorrow night on The NewsHour. Anne Bell, public relations manager, says producers expect the interview to be at least 20 minutes long. 

Fire at WNIT-TV in Elkhart, Ind.

A fire destroyed the programming, business and development offices of WNIT-TV on Sunday, but the broadcast facilities in a separate building were not affected. No staff members were injured and the station remains on the air. See a photo and updates on the station's website. The cause of the fire remains undetermined. 

Worldfocus Radio debuts tonight

Worldfocus, the international news program from WNET.ORG (WNET/WLIW), is launching Worldfocus Radio on the online radio network BlogTalkRadio. The 30 minute interview and call-in show, hosted by anchor Martin Savidge, will air Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m. (ET). Listeners can call in or join a live online chat. Podcasts will also be available via iTunes. Tonight's show will bring in experts to talk about the history of the conflict in Gaza.

ITVS film wins Golden Globe

"Waltz with Bashir," an ITVS International animated doc, won the Best Foreign Language Film at the 66th annual Golden Globe Awards Jan. 11. It's the latest in a long line of honors for the Israeli film, including recent prizes from the Critic's Choice Awards, National Society of Film Critics and, on Jan. 12, the LA Film Critics Association.

Obama names choice for FCC chief

President-elect Barack Obama has selected his former Harvard classmate Julius Genachowski to head up the FCC. Genachowski, 46, was chief counsel for former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt. He also is credited for directing Obama's impressive online campaign strategy.

Former KQEDer on pubmedia's challenges

Media analyst and blogger David Weir, a former v.p. at KQED, mulls "What's at Stake With Public Broadcasting." He says although he usually writes on private-sector media, "Every time I mention NPR ... my in-box explodes with reader reaction."

Jan 12, 2009

APM receives $2.95 million grant

American Public Media has been granted $2.95 million for three years by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation for the network's citizen journalist project. "Public Insight Journalism" encourages the MPR audience to become involved in the news-gathering process. More than 70,000 radio listeners and website users are signed up to participate.

Six Silver Batons for pubcasters

NPR News won three of the 13 duPont-Columbia awards announced today by Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. Silver Batons recognizing excellence in broadcast journalism went to: All Things Considered for its coverage of the earthquake that devastated China's Sichuan Province in May 2008; "Sexual Abuse of Native American Women" by Laura Sullivan, a two-part report that aired on ATC in July 2007; and "Giant Pool of Money," a one-hour documentary on the subprime mortgage crisis that This American Life produced in collaboration with NPR News. PBS's duPont winners are "Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story", a documentary presented on Independent Lens, and "Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick?," a four-hour series on racial and economic disparities in health care by California Newsreel and Vital Pictures. In addition, Oregon Public Broadcasting won for The Silent Invasion, a local documentary on environmental threats posed by invasive plants and insects.

ITVS launches new blog

ITVS has launched the blog "Beyond the Box," an extension of its monthly newsletter by the same name. The blog/website will serve as the central location for ITVS news and updates about funding, docs and events and "create more and better opportunities to showcase ITVS-funded projects with filmmaker profiles, production and broadcast updates, video clips and more," according to an introductory post by Sally Jo Fifer, president. 

DTV history analysis

Analysis of the DTV transition problems continues. Here's a good piece from Congressional Quarterly reminding readers that the transition has been contemplated in Washington for more than two decades and, as one telecom expert says, "... The single biggest problem with the digital TV transition: It’s nobody’s baby."

Muppets go green for Earth Day

Sesame Workshop is releasing an environmental-theme DVD, "Sesame Street: Being Green," on Earth Day, April 7. On that link, don't miss the photos of actor Paul Rudd enjoying himself in a rotund Earth costume.

New Obama bio from Frontline

On January 20, inauguration day, Frontline will broadcast Dreams of Obama, a new personal and political biography from producer Michael Kirk that begins with Obama's days at Harvard Law School and traces his path to the office of President. The full program is already available online on Frontline's website. 

Jan 11, 2009

Feb. 17: What the heck just happened?

Since 2005, a whole slew of us -- consumers, manufacturers, public officials -- have been learning about or working toward digital TV transition on Feb. 17. So why, with just a month to go, might that date be pushed back? John Eggerton of Broadcasting & Cable mulls how Feb. 17 went "from set in stone to writ in sand" in a mere week.

Digital radio spreading worldwide

A panel of experts in Britain recommended last month that the country begin switching off the analog radio airwaves around 2017 and transition to digital radio. Digital radio is slowly gaining interest internationally: Australia will roll out in May, and Germany will announce plans soon.

Jan 10, 2009

It's FCCer vs. FCCer on DTV date

For those of you keeping score at home, please mark one more for, one more against moving the DTV transition date. Add the FCC chair to the "nay" list, those opposing the delay. FCC head Kevin Martin says pushing back the long-planned Feb. 17 date would be "confusing" for consumers. Meanwhile, on the "yay" side, FCC commish Jonathan Adelstein says it's "just as well" the date changes because consumers can't get through to the help lines anyway. Both made their comments at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Public safety officials oppose DTV delay

Add police and fire chiefs to the growing list of folks weighing in on a possible delay of the DTV transition date, due to problems with the converter coupon program. The Association of Public Safety Communications Officials says if there is indeed a delay, it needs to exclude channels on spectrum to be used for public safety communications.

Jan 9, 2009

MPR asks St. Paul for assurance regarding light-rail plans

Minnesota Public Radio is locked in a dispute with city planners in its hometown of St. Paul over a proposed light-rail line that will run by the network’s headquarters. MPR says on its website that it fears the line “will cause irreparable harm” to its headquarters with excessive noise and vibrations near recording studios. If the city can’t provide a mitigation plan by March 1 that convinces MPR, the network said this week, the line should be moved. The city’s Metropolitan Council argues back on its website: “MPR should get on board with the Metropolitan Council, St. Paul, Minneapolis, Ramsey County and Hennepin County to help make this transit line a reality — not jeopardize its chances of winning federal funding that is essential for construction,” said planners. More coverage in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Past FCCers join call for DTV date push-back

Former FCCers William Kennard and Michael Powell support delaying the Feb. 17 DTV transition. In an op-ed piece in the New York Times, the two say: "There is no reason to rush toward a fiasco when we can just as well take the time to make sure the change happens smoothly."

Secretary of Culture idea gets grassroots support

Former National Endowment for the Humanities Chairman William R. Ferris' idea for a Cabinet-level position to oversee the arts and humanities -- including CPB, NPR and PBS -- is generating excitement. An online petition now has more than 23,000 signatures. Music legend Quincy Jones is hot on the concept, and says he's going to be speaking directly with President-elect Obama about it.

Alabama net axes show, plans layoffs

Alabama Public Television will cancel a long-running public affairs show and lay off other staffers as it aims to offset state budget cuts, reports the Huntsville Times. For the Record will go off the air next month after a 25-year run, and anchor Tim Lennox will be let go. Other layoffs were expected to be announced today. The state has reduced its contribution to APT’s budget by more than $3 million since fiscal year 2008, when it gave $11 million in support to the network.

KPCC to open D.C. bureau

KPCC in Pasadena, Calif., will open a news bureau in Washington, D.C., making it the first public radio station in the country to have a satellite office in the nation’s capital. The bureau will be staffed by KPCC’s Kitty Felde. Details at LA Observed. KPCC is owned by American Public Media Group, the parent company of American Public Media and Minnesota Public Radio. In 2007, APMG sought to launch a news station in D.C.

Cooney Center calls for mobile learning strategy

The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop has released a report, Pockets of Potential: Using Mobile Technologies to Promote Children’s Learning, detailing the "untapped potential" of education through devices such as iPods and cell phones. The report calls for new investments in R&D, establishing a digital teachers corps, creating a White House initiative on digital learning, and modifying classroom access. The report will be finalized next week.

Jan 8, 2009

NTIA opposes DTV date move

Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration insists the digital transition can and should occur Feb. 17 as planned. Its Jan. 8 statement quoting Meredith Attwell Baker, acting NTIA head, appears to place at least some of the blame for the coupon shortage on consumers and Congress: "Since the program began in January 2008, NTIA has urged households to apply for coupons as soon as possible, so they can be fully prepared by February 17, 2009. We have been communicating with Congress throughout the Program and advised as early as November 6 that coupon demand may hit the $1.34 billion obligation limit by mid-January.”

Obama team, Rockefeller back DTV delay

John Podesta, transition team co-chair for President-elect Barack Obama, has delivered a letter to Congress advising the DTV transition be put off. Congress had set Feb. 17, so another law would need to pass to change the date. In his letter, Podesta calls government funding for the DTV converter box coupon program as well as educational efforts for consumers "woefully inadequate." Transition officials estimate more than 5 million "unhonored requests" for the coupons by February. Podesta adds that Obama will include resources for assistance to viewers in the economic recovery package. In a statement Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller, who chairs the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, says he supports "delaying the current date ... until we can do it right."

Pubcasting fan Markey shifts posts

Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Edward Markey, a longtime supporter of pubcasting, is shifting between subcommittees of the powerful House Energy and Commerce committee. He's vacating his chair of Communications, Technology and the Internet to head up Energy and Environment. Replacing him will be Virgina Rep. Rick Boucher, an advocate for President-elect Barack Obama's government funding for rural broadband. Boucher is currently sponsoring a bill to provide government subsidies for rooftop antennas to help viewers through the DTV transition.

PBS unveils new shows, will not unveil Lear's "full monty"

PBS announced three new shows at the Television Critics Association press tour yesterday. Ken Burns' film The Tenth Inning picks up where his 1994 Baseball left off and will air in Spring 2010. The producers of Carrier will bring another behind-the-scenes reality series to pubTV next year: Circus, which follows the Big Apple Circus around the country. Dinosaur Train, a new science show for preschoolers from The Jim Henson Company, follows the adventures of Buddy, a preschool-aged Tyrannosaurus Rex, and his family of Pteranodons. In other news, PBS said it will alter its filmed production of Ian McKellan's King Lear on Great Performances so the King's manhood is hidden from view. How PBS would handle the nudity was one of the critics' favorite topics at last year's summer press tour. 

Jan 7, 2009

Is Feb. 17 the big switch? Perhaps not ...

The long-anticipated analog-to-digital signal switch may end up delayed. A spokesman for Massachusetts Dem. Rep. Ed Markey, chair of the House Telecommunications & Internet Subcommittee, says that delaying the switch "certainly warrants further discussion and may be a wise choice" in the wake of problems with the converter coupon program. The Consumers Union requested the delay "until a plan is in place to minimize the number of consumers who will lose TV signals ... " According to Broadcasting & Cable, the Obama transition team may be open to the delay.

PBS' Kerger laments DTV coupon shortage

PBS head Paula Kerger says she is "disheartened" that the feds have come up short on money for DTV converter box coupons ahead of the Feb. 17 transition. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, handling the coupon program for the Commerce Department, created a waiting list for incoming requests as of Jan. 4 after hitting the $1.34 billion limit set by Congress. The NAB has also asked the FCC and Congress to assist with the coupon backlog.

Maine pubcasting delays shutdowns

Ongoing talks with state and local officials and station members have prompted the Maine Public Broadcasting Network to delay the shutdown of two of its transmitters, set for Jan. 15, until Feb. 28. President Jim Dowe says the transmitters will continue operation as talks progress. The network has made staff cuts, salary reductions and other cutbacks in the wake of cuts in funding, including loss of a $400,000 federal rural development grant it has used for 14 years.

Vogelzang to exit VPR

Robin Turnau will succeed Mark Vogelzang as president and c.e.o. of Vermont Public Radio, the network announced yesterday. Vogelzang received a "really terrific offer" to lead a national fundraising effort for public radio stations, he said yesterday during an interview on VPR's Vermont Edition. Vogelzang, top executive since 1993, led VPR through a major service expansion. Turnau, v.p. of development since 2004, has been with VPR for 20 years.

Jan 6, 2009

FCC allocates DTV funding

Grassroots organizations targeting seniors, minority communities and persons with disabilities are receiving $8.4 million from the FCC (pdf) to assist those viewers with their DTV transition needs. The groups will sponsor seminars, help with the purchase and installation of converter boxes and staff call centers. Pubcasters receiving funds include WXXI Public Broadcasting in Rochester, N.Y. ($202,498) and Iowa Public Broadcasting Board ($223,516). The money is part of Congress' $20 million appropriation last year for DTV conversion outreach.

Experts weigh in on '09 funding

The Chronicle of Philanthropy hosted an online discussion on Jan. 6 focusing on the outlook for nonprofit fund raising, grants and budgets. Participating were experts from New York University's Heyman Center for Philanthropy and Fundraising and the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. One trend: Some foundations are making gifts only to pre-existing partner organizations. And a prediction: Online fund raising will see a huge increase in 2009.

DTV coupon requests go to waiting list

NTIA has reached its $1.34 billion limit for its digital converter box coupons, so new requests are being put on a waiting list, according to Meredith Baker, acting head of the National Telecommunications & Information Administration. There are currently more than 100,000 on the list, with thousands more each day. Those on the list probably won't get the $40 coupons until after the Feb. 17 transition.

Congress may eye antenna subsidy

Democratic Virginia Rep. Rick Boucher is expected to introduce in the new Congress this week a DTV antenna subsidy bill. The legislation would subsidize rooftop anntennas for over-the-air viewers to receive digital reception after the transition in February. Boucher's district includes rural viewers without cable access.

Broadcasters ask FCC for more nightlight stations

The National Association of Broadcasters and the Association for Multiple Service Television have asked the FCC to make more stations eligible to run an "analog nightlight" signal for 30 days past the Feb. 17 DTV transition. The nightlight enables stations to run public service programming about DTV, as well as emergency messages. The groups also suggests the commission allow underwriting for the nightlight similar to pubTV. The FCC must vote on implementation requirements for the nightlight service by Jan. 15.

Jan 5, 2009

Survey finds that iPods, online streams are changing pubradio listeners' habits

iPod usage and the ubiquity of podcasts present both opportunities and threats to public radio, according to this overview of findings from the first annual Public Radio Technology Survey. More than 30,000 respondents nationwide participated in the study, making it the largest-ever survey of public radio listeners. Public Radio Program Directors, one of three pubcasting organizations to collaborate with Jacobs Media on the study, also posted this list of key findings.

Jan 2, 2009

Cooney No. 2 of 2008's top donors

Pubcasting pioneer Joan Ganz Cooney and her husband are the second largest donors of 2008 on The Chronicle of Philanthropy's annual list. Cooney and her financier husband pledged $1 billion to his Peter G. Peterson Foundation in New York, which focuses on issues including budget deficits, national and personal savings and the national debt.

Quirky KZMU a true volunteer station

Radio Moab, a Utah pubradio station powered by solar panels, boasts a somewhat rare title: A station run by volunteers. KZMU operates on about $100,000 annually with a few part-timers, none of which receive benefits. The s.m. once arrived at the station in a bath towel to cope with glitches in its 500-watt signal; the p.d. calls herself a "communitarian"; the music director is barefoot year-round and boasts several toe rings. A story in The Salt Lake Tribune captures the station's distinctive charms.

Center for Social Media eyes pubmedia agenda

The Center for Social Media has made suggestions to President-elect Barack Obama's transition team for advancing the "public media 2.0" agenda. In addition to working to increase broadband capacity, the center, part of American University's School of Communication, advises that CPB be awarded stimulus funds "for digitally-savvy staffers to build social networks at local pubcasting stations." Actions should be taken immediately, the center adds.

Coalition protesting DTV patent license fees

CUTFATT, the Coalition United to Terminate Financial Abuses of the Television Transition, is petitioning the FCC to change rules on digital TV patent licenses. The consumer advocacy group contends that manufacturers are overcharged for the technology, which raises the price on digital sets. CUTFATT wants the FCC to use a "patent-pool" system in which TV manufacturers would pay a flat rate of about $1 per set for the rights to all the necessary patents. Manufacturers in Europe and Asia are charged that fee. In the United States, the group says, manufacturers are charged $20 to $30 for the rights.

CPB partnering in Patchwork Nation

Support from new partner CPB is enabling the Patchwork Nation project to continue in 2009, past its original focus of the election year. The project examines the issues of concern and politics in 11 types of communities across the nation: Monied ’Burbs, Minority Central, Evangelical Epicenters, Tractor Country, Campus and Careers, Immigration Nation, Industrial Metropolis, Boom Towns, Service Worker Centers, Emptying Nests, and Military Bastions. The project's other partners are the Knight Foundation and The Christian Science Monitor.