Apr 30, 2009

PBS to air Spike Lee's "Passing Strange"

Great Performances has acquired Spike Lee's film adaptation of the Broadway show Passing Strange and plans to air it on PBS in 2010, according to Variety. The rock musical follows a young black man who leaves 1970s Los Angeles for Europe. The stage version garnered seven Tony Award nominations last year and won for best book of a musical.

CPB ombudsman lauds two pubTV docs

In his latest column, CPB ombudsman Ken A. Bode praises two pubTV documentaries that recently won prestigious journalism awards: Torturing Democracy and Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story.

Jones of PBS ponders new media opportunities

Michael Jones, who became COO for PBS in January, comments on the issue of new vs. traditional media in an interview in The New Pittsburgh Courier. "In my mind, the real challenge is how do you deliver the content in terms of relevancy going forward?" he told the paper. "We stream our programming on the Internet, you can download them on YouTube—how much do you put into Internet distribution and stay with linear television? That’s the challenge. The content we’ve managed pretty well; it’s how do we invest in delivery systems to continue to deliver that content in a way that is relevant to all of the changing audiences?”

Confab focuses on new public media platforms

Pubcasting analyst Jessica Clark weighs in on the recent Media in Transition conference, organized by Henry Jenkins, director of the Comparative Media Studies Program at MIT. The weekend confab "was rife with examples of how projects and practices are migrating across multiple platforms," she writes. She adds: "Government support accounts for less than a quarter of the funding for public broadcasting as it is. Rather than being spread even more thinly, these limited funds should be channeled towards creating media platforms and projects that meet both the needs of citizens and the technologies of the moment."

Smiley's Prince interview garners attention

Tavis Smiley's exclusive interview with Prince, the reclusive rock star, generated worldwide press coverage. Prince has revealed, among other things, that he is epileptic. Part one of the show is here, part two is here.

Mexican Sesame Street creates swine flu PSAs

Plaza Sesamo, the Mexican Sesame Street, is partnering with broadcaster Televisa to produce public-service spots on the swine flu, according to Sesame Workshop. Muppets Pancho and Lola join three of the country's celebrities to appear in the announcements, which instruct children to tell a parent if they feel sick, cover their mouths with a tissue or arm when they sneeze or cough, and wash their hands several times a day. Plaza Sesamo e.p. Ginger Brown was en route to begin a new season of the show when the outbreak began. Instead of filming new episodes, the staff worked on the announcements.

Apr 29, 2009

CPB okays funding distribution rules

The CPB board this week approved distribution guidelines for funds that may be received from its supplemental appropriations request to the Office of Management and Budget. APTS asked for $211 million and NPR for $96 million, for a total request of $307 million. Two panels of pubcasters advised CPB on the guidelines. The first included members of CPB, PBS, APTS, the Affinity Group Coalition and the Public Radio Station Resource Group; the second was comprised of station reps from 10 pubTV and radio stations nationwide. All agreed that the goals should be should be: Funds are to be spent in accordance to current CSG policy, funds are to be distributed within 45 days or as quickly as possible, and funds are to be distributed in one payment. If the request is approved, the earliest CPB would receive the funds would be Oct. 1. Audio of the meeting is available on the CPB website.

Pop interrupted by porn in Waco

The viewers of KWBU-TV probably weren't expecting a flash of pornography when they tuned in o the pledge program My Music: '50s Pop Parade on Sunday night. Five seconds of adult programming appeared on the Waco, Texas, PBS affiliate, around 6:40 p.m. Interim g.m. Clare Paul said the station received about eight calls. The problem could have originated with the local cable company; it's checking its broadcast logs. Paul told The Waco Tribune: “It absolutely did not come from us.”

Court okays FCC fines on indecent broadcasts, for now at least

The Supreme Court yesterday ruled narrowly in favor of Federal Communications Commission's penalties for broadcasters airing "fleeting expletives," but it did not address questions about whether the FCC's system of policing the airwaves is constitutional. The decision, which backed the $325,000 fines that the FCC began imposing in 2004 for each broadcast of certain "dirty words," makes it "quite easy to imagine a majority coming together to nullify the FCC’s present policy," according to this analysis by SCOTUSblog, which follows the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, political instability at the FCC makes it difficult for Beltway insiders to predict how the commission will react to the decision, according to the Washington Post.

WETA, 20 other nonprofits drop from United Way

PubTV station WETA is among 21 mid-Atlantic nonprofits that have dropped out of United Way and instead joined forces with Community 1st, a new fund-raising consortium. The groups cited declining numbers in workplace donations, as well as "lingering distrust," as The Washington Post reports, of the local United Way. A fraudulent accounting scandal sent the group's former chief executive to prison in 2004.

Apr 25, 2009

WILL becomes Illinois Public Media

WILL in Urbana, Ill., is changing its name. Effective Monday it will be Illinois Public Media. The name WILL will refer to specific parts of Illinois Public Media, rather than the whole, marketing director Kate Dobrovolny told the local News-Gazette. The "Illinois" in the title helps convey the station's affiliation with the University of Illinois.

Problems proliferate with pubstation channel placement

Add Sarasota and Charlotte counties in Florida to the growing number of areas where pubTV channels are being moved onto digital tiers that cost more for viewers to watch. The latest station is WUSF in Tampa. Comcast customers in the two affected counties must subscribe to a service that costs three times as much as basic cable, reports the local Herald-Tribune.

Apr 24, 2009

Girl's screams on NPR piece prompt listener objections

NPR ombudsman Alicia C. Shepard writes in her latest column, "What makes NPR's storytelling so powerful and compelling is the adroit use of sound." However, those sounds can sometimes be quite disturbing. Shepard reports that several listeners "strongly objected" to an April 7 Morning Edition story that used the screams of a Pakistani girl being flogged by a Taliban commander.

How about $2 billion for NewsHour?

Alex Jones wants one or more of the world's richest people to establish a $2 billion endowment that would provide permanent funding for PBS's NewsHour, reveals journo David Westphal, blogging on the Annenberg School for Communication site. Jones, director of the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard, floats the idea in his upcoming book, Losing the News: The Uncertain Future of the News That Feeds Democracy. Regarding NewsHour, Jones writes: "If Warren Buffett or a group of billionaires wanted to change the world, this is how they could do it. It'd be one hour of prime viewing time for every television in the country. It would give the United States the genuinely high-quality TV news operation that it has never had."

Save WCAL group commits to appeal MPR's legal victory

Four years after classical station WCAL left the air in the Twin Cities region, its fans have committed to raise the legal costs and appeal their case to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. Save WCAL filed a brief yesterday asking the appellate court to undo St. Olaf College's sale of the station to Minnesota Public Radio, which now uses the frequency for its contemporary music service, The Current. The WCAL group, represented by attorney Michael McNabb, has had mixed results so far with its claim that the college ignored the intent of donors who kept WCAL going for 80 years. The case won some favorable comments from retiring Judge Gerald Wolf but lost in February with Judge Bernard Borene's summary judgment upholding the legality of the sale. Save WCAL's website says the group is raising funds to match a $25,000 challenge grant to pay McNabb, who said he could not undertake the appeal on a continuing pro bono basis.

Apr 23, 2009

NPR cuts another 13 jobs

NPR announced today another 13 layoffs, part of cost-cutting measures to close an $8 million budget gap this fiscal year. Two were senior positions, while another was a news management job eliminated in March, says Dana Davis Rehm, senior v.p. of marketing, communications and external relations. The remaining positions were in the communications, legal, and IT divisions. All of the positions were nonunion jobs. The cuts will save NPR $700,000 this year and come after an additional 64 jobs were eliminated in December. NPR President Vivian Schiller discussed the cuts and NPR's financial picture in an all-staff meeting today at NPR headquarters.

University will offer Flint station to another pubTV operator

The University of Michigan announced today it will close WFUM in Flint and expects to arrange for transfer of the channel to another public TV operator by this summer. Some or all of 21 employees will lose their jobs. A detailed fact sheet, in a Word document, says the station is projected to lose revenues equal to one-third of its operating budget. WFUM was one of the stations found to be in "fragile" economic condition by a CPB survey, the university said. The survey predicted the recession would reduce pubTV stations' income by 14 percent this year. In Flint, WFUM membership and underwriting revenues are projected to drop 26 percent from last year's level and the station has used all of its reserves, the university said. Its auditor, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, said in February that WFUM was no longer a "going concern," meaning that it was unlikely to survive. The station won nine regional Emmys in the Michigan competition last year, according to the Flint Journal.

Unionized NPR employees ratify new contracts

NPR technicians represented by the National Association of Broadcast Engineers and Technicians have ratified a new contract with management. The votes, collected yesterday, were 72 percent in favor and 28 percent against, according to NABET. The contract reduces NPR’s contributions to retirement plans, cuts three holidays and requires employees to take week-long furloughs. It also suspends jurisdictional rules governing some technicians’ jobs. NPR employees represented by the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, who make up a much larger share of the network’s workforce, also ratified their contract yesterday. Details from AFTRA are forthcoming. Current covered the NABET negotiations in an earlier article.

What good is journalism, anyway? Comments invited ...

PBS is helping to collect public comments on the journalism's iffy future for a blue-ribbon Knight Commission that compares itself to the Carnegie Commission of 40 years ago. The 15-member commission is scheduled to vote on its recommendations in May. A summary of its draft report finds that journalism is "a critical intermediating practice" (and other good things). Since Tuesday, a handful of people have contributed remarks on the pubTV network's little-known social network, PBS Engage -- a comment line that will be open until May 8. The Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy, funded by the Knight Foundation and run by the Aspen Institute, features a Carnegie-like cast of 15 commissioners, including Co-chairs Theodore Olson, former U.S. solicitor general, and Google exec Marissa Mayer. Ex-officio members are Aspen Chair Walter Isaacson, biographer and former Time editor (he came back for the Feb. 15 cover story "How to Save Your Newspaper"), and Alberto Ibarguen, Knight chair and former PBS chair. It's a bipartisan crew, with a matched pair of former FCC chairs, Reed Hundt (D) and Michael Powell (R). The commission has held several hearings around the country since it began work last June and is scheduled to vote on recommendations May 13.

Viewers continue their reaction to two PBS shows

PBS ombudsman Michael Getler's latest column features additional letters from viewers regarding the use of Al Jazeera news reports on WorldFocus, as well as more on Frontline's "Sick Around America."

State cuts threaten to shutter two Pennsylvania pubTV stations

Proposed budget cuts in Pennsylvania are putting two stations in jeopardy of closing, according to testimony at a hearing Wednesday of the Senate's Communications and Technology Committee. Gov. Ed Rendell wants to eliminate the network that links stations statewide, and end grants to individual stations. "The precipitous decline in funding would have a severe, if not fatal, effect on our two smallest stations," Tony May, chairman of the Pennsylvania Public Television Network, told the committee. May told Current that Philadelphia's WYBE and WQLN in Erie each count on state funding for more than 30 percent of their budgets, and that there are "certainly alternatives to going dark but none of them are very palatable." Under Rendell's proposal, some limited functions of the network would continue through another state agency.

With 17 layoffs at WHYY, eyes turn to boss's paycheck

Philadelphia’s WHYY-FM/TV laid off 17 employees or 8 percent of its staff Wednesday to help balance its budget for the upcoming fiscal year, the Inquirer reported today, quoting spokesman Art Ellis’s reassurance to audiences that the affected workers include “no one directly involved in news or content production.” The newspaper, which examined President Bill Marrazzo’s pay at great length in November, yesterday reported pointedly that his $740,090 potential salary, benefits, expenses and deferred compensation in fiscal '07 equalled 62 percent of the amount saved by the layoffs.

WNYC's Greene Performance Space now open

WNYC radio opened its long-awaited Jerome L. Greene Performance Space on Tuesday in Lower Manhattan, reports The New York Times. It's wired for TV, radio and video streaming, and features a reconfigurable wood stage, seating for more than 100, programmable LED lighting and robotic cameras. "It’s not just about going back to performance; it’s also about adding a 21st-century multiplatform aspect,” said Laura Walker, the president and chief executive of WNYC.

Comcast shift of MPT sparks outcry

In what may be a harbinger of nationwide problems, angry viewers continue to complain to Maryland Public Television that they've lost the station. The problem: Comcast moved MPT from its basic lineup of channels to the digital tier, The Washington Post reports. "We've had quite a few calls," station spokesman Michael Golden told the newspaper. "More than 'many.' " The move affects tens of thousands of viewers in 10 Maryland and Virginia counties plus the District of Columbia. And there are more problems in Delaware.

Kerger of PBS responds to tribal complaints over "We Shall Remain"

PBS head Paula Kerger has responded to the three Native American tribes regarding their concerns over the series We Shall Remain, according to the Cape Cod Times. The Mashpee Wampanoag, Narragansett and Wampanoag of Gay Head (Aquinnah) tribes of Massachusetts had complained to the network about their representation in the first episode, "After the Mayflower," which detailed tribal interactions with Pilgrims. In her letter, Kerger said the producers did reach out to the tribes and interviewed several tribal members. More on the tribal letter here.

Apr 22, 2009

Indiana station gets legislative support

Lakeshore Public Television in Merrillville, Ind., struggling under state budget cuts, is getting a boost from Indiana Senate Democrats. They've put the station on their priority list of "Top Ten Things That Need to Change in the Budget," according to The Post-Tribune of Northwest Indiana. The station was "blindsided," as the paper said, by the $110,000 funding cut. It reduced its staff by 10 percent, leaving four vacant positions unfilled and laying off six people. "It's one thing to say from the outset 'this is what you're going to be getting,'" said Thomas Carroll, station CEO. "But the state told us we could expect that money, and we budgeted accordingly. Then they withheld it."

PBS launches new portal for video on demand

PBS unveiled its new online video portal offering full-length episodes of nearly all of its primetime programs. The catalog of shows available for on demand streaming is limited with this beta launch, but PBS aims to add thousands of hours of programs by summer, the Los Angeles Times reports. PBS Video will begin offering programs from local public TV stations in May. Here's a link to our earlier coverage of PBS Video, which began pilot testing last fall. PBS's news release on the site launch is here.

Apr 21, 2009

Elmo the Elmonaut tells kids about astronomy

Sesame Street's Elmo appeared today at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington to introduce a show that helps children learn about astronomy, The Associated Press reports. "This is one small step for a monster and one giant leap for monsterkind," Elmo declared to the delight of kids at the museum. Dressed in a space suit, he dubbed himself an Elmonaut.

FCC proposes rules on rural radio service

The FCC has proposed new rules intended to increase radio service to rural areas (PDF). If approved, they establish new preferences for such areas and make moving licenses out of the locations more difficult. The proposal specifically addresses Native broadcasters, stating that "several tribal groups have expressed concern about their ability to establish radio service to their people and tribal lands." (Some 30 Native entities received FCC construction permits late last year, see Current story from November 2008.) The proposal tentatively concludes that to serve the public interest, federally recognized tribes should have a priority in FM allotments, AM filing window applications and noncom educational FM filing window applications.

Gorilla ends up at pubTV station

A wayward large stuffed gorilla now has a home at WDSE in Duluth, Minn., according to station promotions director Jodi Hagen. She told Current that the gorilla was bound for a dump site but rejected because it wasn't construction debris. It fell off the back of the owner's truck -- coincidentally, right into the path of a state Department of Transportation official. The owner returned when he realized it was gone and subsequently offered the nearly 6-foot toy to state troopers. One of them thought WDSE might like the gorilla for its Kids Club Circus, an annual event to thank parents for supporting children's programming. "They made sure weren't drugs in it or anything," Hagen added. So that's how it ended up at WDSE. PBS Kids character Martha Speaks, there for the circus, officially welcomed the gorilla with a banana. Now the station is soliciting ideas for names. Hagen said the gorilla's sex has not been determined. Send ideas to gorilla(at)

Apr 20, 2009

Many foundations reducing grants, new report says

Nearly two-thirds of foundations responding to a survey are planning to reduce the number or size of grants they award in 2009. More than 1,200 foundations took part in the new research by the Foundation Center, titled Foundations Address the Impact of the Economic Crisis (PDF). Nearly two out of five respondents expect to dip into endowments to fund grants. More than half are engaging in more nongrantmaking activities, and about two-thirds plan to seek more collaborations and partnerships this year.

Review of Saberi sentence ordered by top judge

Iran's highest judge ordered a “careful, quick and fair” consideration of an appeal against the eight-year jail sentence imposed on Roxana Saberi, an Iranian-American journalist who was tried last week on charges of espionage. Saberi has reported from Iran for NPR, the BBC, ABC News, FOX and other news organizations, and has been held in Iran's Evin Prison for months. NPR, which joined other major news networks early this month in calling public attention to Saberi's detention, issued a statement responding to news of the ruling by a secret Iranian court: "We are deeply distressed by this harsh and unwarranted sentence," said NPR President Vivian Schiller. "Through her work for NPR over several years, we know her as an established and respected professional journalist." In an interview NPR's Scott Simon on Friday, Reza Saberi, the 31-year-old reporter's father said his daughter was coerced into making incriminating statements.

WHUT to participate in mobile video trial

The Open Mobile Video Coalition, an alliance of broadcast groups including PBS and APTS, today announced a consumer trial this summer in Washington, D.C., of mobile digital television technology. Taking part will be Washington's WHUT. According to Broadcasting & Cable, the trial will enable broadcasters to showcase and test programming, services and features of the technology, and will help prepare broadcasters for the commercial deployment scheduled for later this year. That will include nine pubcasting stations. For a list of those stations and background on the coalition, see this Current story.

Apr 19, 2009

Jim Lehrer faces Stephen Colbert, survives

If you missed it last week, the NewsHour's Jim Lehrer's appearance on The Colbert Report is now online. As the intro on the website reads, "It takes real courage for Jim Lehrer to be boring five nights a week on television."

Tribal leaders criticize "We Shall Remain"

Officials from three Native American tribes are signatories to an open letter to PBS concerning the American Experience series "We Shall Remain." In a piece published in the Indian Country Today newspaper, they contend their tribes, the Wampanoag, Mashpee Wampanoag and Narragansett, were overlooked. "Our ancestors are central to the events following the Mayflower landing, yet our historical guardians ... were avoided by this PBS production," they wrote. " ... We have not struggled to maintain our tribal cultural identities for nearly 400 years since colonization to be disrespectfully ignored and dismissed or to have our history misrepresented for the purpose of entertainment."

Apr 18, 2009

Jane Pauley praises NewsHour

Longtime broadcaster Jane Pauley told an audience at DePauw University Friday what the NewsHour means to her. "I depend on the NewsHour on PBS," reports the university's website. "I pray that Jim Lehrer lives forever, because what they do is journalism, and in broadcast journalism it is, in my opinion, the absolute best and I absolutely depend on it. I gotta say the network shows are, to me, I watch them but they're optional. The NewsHour is not optional."

New Hampshire station lays off five

New Hampshire Public Television laid off five employees this week, citing the bad economy. Four vacant positions also will not be filled. "We tried in every way we could to reduce expenditures in other areas," spokeswoman Grace Lessner told Foster's Daily Democrat. "It's a very unhappy thing to let people go." The paper added that last year, NHPTV became a wholly owned nonprofit subsidiary of the University System of New Hampshire after over 40 years of the University of New Hampshire having the authority for the station's day-to-day operations.

Apr 17, 2009

Houston reinstates popular political show

Red, White and Blue, a Houston political pubTV show, is back on the air at KUHT after a months-long controversy. The show, one of the few on local politics, featured one Republican and one Democratic host. It had been suspended after last year's election. Politicians got involved, asking for the show to be reinstated. And now it has been. The first of the new weekly episodes runs at 8 p.m. tonight, and again at 5 p.m. Sunday.

"The last thing I'd do . . . is write off pubradio"

Audience engagement is the buzz word for Web 2.0 media and Jesse Thorn of The Sound of Young America describes his approach to it in part three of his interview with Nieman Journalism Lab. For Max Fun Con, a June 12-14 retreat for TSOYA fans, Thorn invited his audience to meet and be entertained by his friends from the world of comedy (and a guy named "Dr. Cocktail") at a retreat center in Lake Arrowhead, Calif. The event, which sold out when 155 people registered in less than two weeks, is "all my favorite things in this place," Thorn says. "All these people who really love them and want to meet each other and hang out. And, you know, drink...." Apart from being a lot of fun and a way to make some money, the event also allows Thorn to cultivate the small but devoted audience that enthusiastically supports his program and website. It's similar to the approach described by comedian and Max Fun Con performer John Hodgman in this Wired magazine interview.

Thorn also tells Nieman he was surprised by how many public radio listeners began supporting TSOYA during his pledge drive last year. "You realize real quick, when you’re doing something listener supported, why public radio stations have pledge drives. It’s because they really, really work."

Thorn contacted Current about our April 16 blog post on the first two parts of his Nieman interview to clarify his remarks expressing ambivalence about public radio carriage of TSOYA. "The last thing I'd ever do is write off public radio stations," he wrote. His goal for the interview was to "convince people that there are ways to be creative and to make media, even if they're not starting with a million dollars a year--or even $50,000 a year....Part of that is focusing energy and resources on what you can control. In my case, that's meant focusing my time on improving my show, rather than marketing it to stations. "

NPR technicians' union to vote on proposed contract

NPR management and representatives of its technicians' union yesterday reached tentative agreement on a one-year contract that will furlough employees for up to five days and eliminate NPR contributions to union members' retirement plans until September 30. NPR tentatively agreed not to lay-off any bargaining unit members for the term of the contract; in exchange, the union will temporarily suspend rules of jurisdiction that define the jobs performed by its broadcast engineers and technicians. Members of the bargaining unit will vote on the proposed contract next Wednesday, April 22. A summary and full text [PDF] of the agreement are posted on the NABET Local 31 website, along with details about a membership meeting tomorrow afternoon for bargaining unit members. Meanwhile, NPR continues to negotiate with representatives of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, which represents 380 news division employees at NPR.

AFI seeks Digital Content Lab volunteer mentors

The American Film Institute is seeking media pros to volunteer as mentors for project developers in its annual AFI Digital Content Lab. AFI is looking for people into video, games, hardware, software, mobile devices and other aspects of media who would work with selected project teams while they develop digital applications in this year's round. More info and application form are online. Here's AFI's roster of past projects. You also can connect with the Lab on Facebook (AFI Digital Content Lab group) or Twitter (follow AFIDCL). Meanwhile, the Lab plans its Digital Hollywood Content Summit May 5 in Santa Monica, Calif.

Wisconsin doc gets in middle of cat fight

Madison, Wisc., filmmaker Andy Beversdorf has received death threats over his latest doc, "Here Kitty, Kitty," airing Saturday on Wisconsin Public Television. The subject: Whether the state should allow killing of feral cats. "It was a big fight between the bird people and the cat people that produced a lot of characters who were very passionate about the whole thing, so it made for good cinema," Beversdorf told the Wisconsin State Journal. The "bird people" include a professor whose study blames cats for the deaths of millions of birds. More in the Chicago Tribune via The Associated Press.

Apr 16, 2009

CPB hires digital v.p. (batteries included)

CPB added new-media and public-interest experience yesterday, announcing the hiring of Robert Bole, v.p. of digital media strategy and investments, formerly v.p. of media for One Economy Corp., a D.C.-based nonprofit that developed the Beehive, a national website with localization that provides practical living advice and information services to millions of low-income families, as well as an online video platform Public Internet Channel; a community forum device, 24/7 TownHall; and an education site for families, ZipRoad.

The Wisconsin network and Now on PBS won Cronkite Awards

Wisconsin Public Television and the national series Now on PBS received two of this year’s 10 Walter Cronkite Awards for political reporting on TV. The awards were announced yesterday by the Norman Lear Center at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. Wisconsin Public Television won its fourth Cronkite for real-people stories that “went above and beyond what many come to expect from public television,” the judges said. They cited the Now on PBS program “New Voters in the New West” for showing the party’s rush to capture first-time voters.

More on Al Jazeera, Worldfocus and Fox

PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler's new column tackles the recent Fox News report on the use of Al Jazeera English television reporting on Worldfocus. Fox quoted a member of Congress that pubcaster PBS should not be airing the Middle East-based network reports. One point Getler makes: "Al Jazeera does view things through an Arab world prism because that is its main audience. And it also focuses heavily on the civilian costs of war — whether in Afghanistan, Iraq or Gaza. So its filming and reporting became valuable from these regions, even if, at times, they are hard to look at. Yet it is better to know this as part of the mix of reporting, in my view, and to absorb it in context with all the ways we get information, than to have only the often sanitized version of warfare that one gets on American network television."

Jesse Thorn on the future of pubradio, and his place in it

"My situation is that if I had to choose between losing my stations and losing my direct podcast fundraising, I’d pick the one that would allow me to continue to pay my rent and . . . lose the stations," says Jesse Thorn, host of the The Sound of Young America, a comedy podcast and weekly public radio show from PRI, in a two-part interview with the Neiman Journalism Lab. Thorn describes how efforts to attract younger and more diverse audiences with shows such as Day to Day, News and Notes, Bryant Park Project and Fair Game failed because they were expensive to produce and didn't gain the station carriage needed to cover their costs. TSOYA, by contrast, operates on a gross budget of $85,000 a year, with roughly $10,000 coming from the dozen or so pubradio stations that broadcast it. "You know, I don’t even have a studio--I do my show in my apartment. And like that is so much more sustainable." In part one of the interview, Thorn says he's "almost checked out of trying to get radio stations to pick up my show. . . . Maybe my time is better spent making my show better than it is convincing a 58-year-old guy in triple-pleated khakis that my show about interviewing comedians and what not is worth their airtime." Thorn has lots of more provocative things to say about problems with public radio's funding model and its struggle to reach beyond its core audience of "everyone who is old, white, and highly educated." You can listen or read the transcripts of part one, in which Thorn describes the philosophy behind TSOYA, and part two, which gets into the politics and problems of pubradio.

Apr 15, 2009

Pubaccess stations run job-hunter videos

Unemployed folks in Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire are producing and appearing in The New England Job Show on 26 public access channels in the two states. The half-hour program was created by "a group of people who didn’t even know each other a few weeks ago," according to its website. The current show is available on its blog, and the Elevator Pitch page features short videos from job seekers.

Bert and Ernie go human

An upcoming theatrical production will be the first time longtime Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie will be portrayed by humans instead of Muppets. Bert & Ernie, Goodnight! will have its world premiere in September at the Children's Theatre Co. in Minneapolis, according to a Sesame Workshop statement on the Animation World News website. Sesame Workshop spokeswoman Lauren J. Ostrow confirmed to Current that yes, this is indeed the duo's first performance as humans, "with the exception of one short, comical segment performed by actors from The Sopranos as part of a larger project." And yes, she's serious!

Pacifica hits six decades

Pacifica Radio went on the air 60 years ago today at KPFA in Berkeley. Founder Lewis Hill had been working toward that first day on the air since 1946, according to the station's website. The station says it is the first listener supported noncommercial radio broadcaster in America. But now KPFA is "bogged down by behind-the-scenes bickering," according to The San Francisco Chronicle. Pacifica recently announced severe financial problems.

Harvard fellow sees pubcasting as roots of new public media

"Public broadcasters need to get over themselves, [they're] as bad or even worse than many of the print journalists about the high-priesthood thing." So says Persephone Miel, head of the Media Re:Public and fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School. She was interviewed on the website of Reclaim the Media, a grassroots media reform group. Miel thinks that the public media movement should be led by the existing structures of CPB, PBS and NPR. One suggestion: "Maybe what we really need to do is expand the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's charter, so that they can fund online-only resources."

Apr 14, 2009

Ten Webby Award nominations for pubcasters

NPR leads public broadcasters in nominations announced this morning for the 13th annual Webby Awards, the international competition for "Best of the Web" recognition. NPR Music, Podcasts, and each received nominations in the Web division; Project Song, a video series presented online by All Songs Considered, and the NPR iPhone application were nominated in divisions for online film and video and mobile Web divisions, respectively. For PBS, Frontline/World garnered three nods (here, here and here). Also in the running for Webbys are P.O.V., Religion and Ethics Newsweekly, and the public radio series America Abroad. In addition to votes by members of the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, which sponsors and presents the Webby Awards, web users determine which nominees in each category garner People's Voice Awards. The full slate of Webby Award nominees is posted here. To vote in the People's Voice Awards, register here first. [Corrected from an earlier version.]

Apr 12, 2009

Pubcasting Peeple rejoice: WETA staffer wins diorama contest

Melissa Harvey, a graphic designer for WETA, has triumphed in The Washington Post's annual Peeps diorama contest. Her entry, "NightPeeps," placed marshmallow Peeps bunnies into the famous painting by Edward Hopper (extra credit for that wordplay!). "I wanted to re-create the bleak urban landscape and the fluorescent light, and add a little pink and yellow," Harvey said. The work took 45 hours over two weekends. Judges were enthusiastic: "A work of staggering genius . . . a technical triumph . . . cinematic . . . artistic and moody . . . [with] seriously sick and twisted detail . . . it elevates the Peeps diorama to an art form." Don't miss the photo gallery of winners and finalists.

Apr 10, 2009

State senator wants UNC-TV under university jurisdiction

North Carolina's public television network would be overseen by the University of North Carolina's School of the Arts if a state senator has her way. The provision, inserted into the state budget by Democrat Linda Garrou, surprised pubcasters at the TV network as well as school officials, reports The Winston-Salem Journal. Currently, UNC-TV is an 22-station network licensed to UNC but reporting directly to the board of governors that oversees the university system.

PBS ombudsman tackles "Sick Around America" dispute

The controversy surrounding Frontline's "Sick Around America" doc is the subject of PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler's latest column. He reports receiving notes from viewers complaining that the show failed to discuss, or even mention, the "single-payer system" of national health insurance, which some activists say is a solution to the nation's health-care crisis. Those critical comments "escalated and then exploded, producing another round of critical mail and a serious journalistic dispute." Journalist and author T.R. Reid, who did reporting for the program and was to be its on-air correspondent, dropped out of the project before it aired March 31 in a dispute over the content. He's worked on several projects with Frontline in the past. Ried told Current, "Frontline is done with me. I think they're blaming me for this mess." Reid said he finished his final interview for the project Jan. 6, saw an edited version of the program in mid-February and suggested 16 script changes, which Frontline declined to make. Read Frontline's response here.

Apr 9, 2009

FreePress sets media reform event May 14

Funding of journalism and public media are on the agenda of the full-day FreePress Summit “Changing Media” set for May 14. The media reform group FreePress puts the questions at stake in these words: “What can we do to support hard-hitting journalism? Who will fund quality public broadcasting? How will we safeguard an open and neutral Internet? When will we have Internet access for everyone?” The group says top policymakers will speak at the event, but registration is now open for 250 participants who will have their voices, too, in discussion groups and individual voting using wireless keypads. PBS will be wrapping up its four-day annual PBS Showcase event in Baltimore as the FreePress event begins. The Knight Foundation is funding the event at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. Tickets are free but limited in number. Details are online. Phone: 877-888-1533, ext. 603.

KERA cuts staffers, reallocates funds

KERA in Dallas is eliminating four and a half positions "so that resources can be reallocated to other areas within the organization," it said in a statement. Affected are staffers in volunteer services, data management, education programs and TV production. President Mary Anne Alhadeff said the station will use the funds to increase news and public affairs reporting and advance online services.

Q&A: Online storytelling

Amanda Hirsch, former editorial director of PBS Interactive, interviews Angela Morgenstern, senior director of PBS Interactive, in this Q&A about storytelling online. Morgenstern praises PBS KIDS GO! Broadband, "specifically, their pioneering efforts to overlay games directly onto online video. They are pushing the creative boundaries of the technologies daily, and as a result, creating an experience that will draw kids 'inside the story' in a way we haven't seen to date."

Worldfocus defends use of Al Jazeera English reports

A North Carolina congresswoman is accusing Worldfocus of airing "propoganda" from the Al Jazeera English television network. "My concern is that the American people should be pretty darn upset about the fact that their tax dollars are going to fund this," said GOP Rep. Sue Myrick. "I mean, they're already upset about what their tax dollars are going to fund, and now they're funding propaganda." The show originates from WNET and features international news. In response, e.p. Marc Rosenwasser issued a statement explaining that Worldfocus reports come from several networks including Channel 10 of Israel, Britain's ITN, Deutsche Welle of Germany, TV Globo of Brazil, Africa 24 and ABC of Australia. "Though many people who have not seen Al Jazeera English think of it as a propaganda machine for Islamic extremist causes, much of what it produces is not ideological and much is not even from that part of the world," the statement says. "We also believe Al Jazeera English does sometimes offer us and our viewers a unique perspective from various parts of the world where it has access that others don't." For more on the show, see the Current story about its launch.

NPR downsizing is a "crisis we will not waste"

Why is NPR cutting into its radio newsroom while continuing to invest in digital operations? It’s a question that’s been repeatedly posed to President Vivian Schiller as she leads the network through its latest round of budget cuts. “I’m here to tell you today, and I will continue to say this . . . until I’m blue in the face--this is a crisis we will not waste,” Schiller said during a March 30 speech at NVision 2009, a conference on the future of journalism. “The answer for us is not to retrench and just go back to what we do best, but to regroup. We have to innovate. We have to push. We have to take risks . . . . I say, we absolutely must embrace the way people use media today.” A video of Schiller’s speech, including her “to-do” list for NPR’s newsroom and digital operations is here.

Apr 8, 2009

NET audit details missing inventory

A state audit of Nebraska's NET reveals the pubcaster can't account for almost $600,000 of property, according to the Lincoln Journal Star. Missing inventory includes a $29,000 video camera and two $23,000 Betamax tape players. NET listed 91 items last summer it couldn't find for at least four years. NET is reviewing its practices for tracking property. "On balance, I’d say this is a well-run agency," state auditor Mike Foley said.

Tensions mounting over NPR budget woes

When KCRW's Ruth Seymour responded to Susan Stamberg's proposal to raise money for NPR by mounting a national pledge drive, she reminded the longtime NPR host that the recession is affecting local stations too: "We have our own programs to consider, our staffs to protect, and local communities to answer to," she wrote in a March 31 email that accompanies this Wall Street Journal story on how NPR's budget woes have exacerbated tensions with local stations.

Apr 7, 2009

Triple-whammy of financial setbacks for KKFI

KKFI, a community radio station in Kansas City, Mo., told volunteers that it could run out of money by the end of April, according to the Springfield News-Leader. The station fell $30,000 short on its fall fundraiser and then had to replace aging equipment after it was forced to move into new studios. In addition, the FCC fined KKFI for failing to renew its license on time.

WYPR faulted by CPB Inspector General

After a special review of WYPR-FM in Baltimore, CPB's Inspector General reported on March 20 that the station violated the terms of its annual CPB grant and several policies required by Communications Act of 1934. The station, which angered local listeners with the January 2008 firing of longtime host Mark Steiner, did not maintain a functioning community advisory board, nor did it comply with open records requirements for financial records or EEO statistics, the IG's auditors concluded. They also found that WYPR didn't properly document how it spent its CPB grant. The report was lauded by station critics who mounted the campaign to "Bring Back Mark Steiner," but WYPR President Anthony Brandon challenged the IG's assertion that it didn't have a functioning CAB. "[W]here we have come short, as the audit has discovered, is primarily in our record keeping." The station has taken steps to comply with the auditors' conclusions, but the IG recommends that CPB monitor whether WYPR follows through. Meanwhile, the Save WYPR blog is demanding to know who signed WYPR's "false compliance records" certifying that the station was following CPB grant rules. A blogger for the Baltimore City Paper assesses the damage done by the special review: "The I.G. report might sting, but looks to me more like a jab than a knockout punch."

PBS, ITVS start distribution initiative

Independent Television Service and PBS are jointly launching the Independent Digital Distribution Lab to explore revenue-generating partnership models for indie filmmakers and pubTV, according to an ITVS statement. Nearly 50 works will be distributed over the next six months through download-to-own and ad-based video sites. The initiative is part of ongoing efforts at PBS and ITVS to expand distribution to broadband audiences.

Apr 6, 2009

WLIW21 apologizes for concentration-camp error

PubTV WLIW21 on Long Island has issued an apology to several Polish organizations regarding a an item in its current program guide, reports the Canada Free Press. The station apologized to the Polish American Congress, the Kosciuszko Foundation and the Polish Consulate for describing the Auschwitz concentration camp that Hitler’s SS operated in German-occupied Poland as “Polish” instead of German. The program in question, "Swimming in Auschwitz," is being broadcast "as part of WLIW21’s special programming in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day throughout April as a way of acknowledging all the victims of Nazi actions," the statement added.

NPR's coverage of itself deemed "excessive"

When NPR's Tovia Smith reported on March 24 about her network's record-setting audience growth, the coverage made "a few folks inside NPR" uncomfortable," reports Ombudsman Alicia Shepard in her latest column. Smith filed stories for NPR newscasts and for All Things Considered about dramatic growth of NPR's audience last fall, and she included details about NPR's recent financial troubles. To some NPR insiders it "sounded like an appeal for money," especially as it aired while some stations were running pledge drives, Shepard wrote. NPR Managing Editor Brian Duffy explained the assignment in an email: "My thinking was that NPR does a very good job of being transparent about the bad news--layoffs, cutting shows," he wrote. "I felt it was appropriate to report on the good, as well, but insisted that it be couched in the context of . . . the continuing financial challenges we face." Shepard said the combination of a 2-minute ATC piece and newscasts airing throughout the day was "excessive."

What about apps for other smartphones?

There ARE other smartphones capable of running apps besides the iPhone. Last week BlackBerry launched BlackBerry App World (you have to use Microsoft's browser for access), It offers Pandora, Clear Channel and Slacker audio players, AOL and Yahoo instant messengers, a New York Times shortcut, MySpace and Bloomberg apps. (BlackBerry's maker, RIM, gets a 20 percent cut of every app sale, and cell companies want a cut, too, according to MoCoNews.) Palm is inviting developers to write apps for its new smartphone operating system. The Pocket Tunes online radio player, recommended by satisifed listener Izzy Smith, is now offered for earlier Palm and Windows Mobile smartphones as well as iPhones. And T-Mobile, which offers smartphones with Google's Android operating system, says the average user has downloaded 40 apps -- most adding more than one a week. Google's Android Market offers a range of apps including a free NPR Podcast player (built by a developer who calls himself CodeShogun). Meanwhile, iPhone users can choose from 25,000 apps. As of tomorrow, for example, users of France Telecom's cell service, Orange, can install an iPhone app that lets them watch 20 channels of live TV, reports.

Pacifica in dire straits

The Pacifica Radio board is moving to "secure our broadcast signals should we need to prevent legal liability," according to a statement late last week. The precautionary measures will be taken at all Pacifica five stations under advice of counsel. New York's WBAI owes the Pacifica Foundation at least $800,000. It's been operating at a deficit of at least $30,000 per month. Fundraising has declined about 12 percent per year since 2003. Unpaid rent for the office and transmitter facility is nearly $198,000. "Pacifica no longer has the reserves to underwrite WBAI's continuing deficits," the statement says. Pacifica's interim CFO, LaVarn Williams, is traveling to WBAI assess the situation.

Praise for 21-year 'Doctors Diaries'

"Doctors' Diaries," the 21-year doc project concluding tomorrow on Nova, draws rave reviews from Baltimore Sun TV critic The editing is superb in its fluidity. In fact, I do not believe I have ever seen a PBS documentary that was more perfectly edited. As a viewer, you feel like you are skating along on a perfect sheet of words and imagery, and then, boom, suddenly [producer-director Michael] Barnes stops you in your tracks to make a major point about the price that must be paid to join the medical Harvard Medical School students, beginning in 1987, through their education, internships, professional careers and personal lives.

Apr 3, 2009

More cuts reported at WGBH

WGBH is instituting a one-week staff furlough, cuts in executive salaries and suspension of employee retirement matching funds in an attempt to ease a projected $3 million budget gap for fiscal 2009, according to the Boston Business Journal. CEO Jon Abbott announced the moves in a memo to employees Thursday. He's also asking members of the unions at the pubTV and radio stations, the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians and the Association of the Employees of Educational Foundation, to agree to a furlough; those savings would exceed $500,000. All all vice presidents are taking a 5 percent pay cut. Abbott also wants to cut discretionary budgets 4.5 percent over a four-month period, which may include more layoffs. WGBH dismissed 12 workers late last year, about 2 percent of its staff. Jeanne Hopkins, v.p. of communications and governmental relations, told Current that programming remains a priority for the station. "Right now we're really focused, and have been for quite some time, on keeping production costs as low as possible while delivering quality programs to stations," she said.

PBS Dues Task Force beginning work on FY11

Next week PBS stations should begin receiving requests for input for the network's Dues Review Task Force. John King, the task force chair, reported at this week's PBS board meeting there will be a new dues model for the 2011 fiscal year. "The principle focus of meetings now is to define the purpose, scope and principles of the review," he told the board. The group is examining dues models used by other organizations as well as PBS. The next face-to-face meeting will be June 7, probably in Washington. Public comments will be allowed. King realizes the tough job ahead. "Any time you look at dues for PBS it's always tricky," he told Current. "It's never easy to come up with dues models that all 174 licensees can embrace and accept. It's my hope that we come as close as we can." FY2010 dues will remain at 2009 levels.

Nova host worries about 2029 asteroid

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, a popular host of PBS' Nova, says the humans must do something about the approaching asteroid Apophis. "I don't want to be the laughing stock of the galaxy and go extinct as a species because we didn't do something about it," he said at the 25th National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs this week. The massive asteroid is predicted to pass between the Earth and communication satellites on April 13, 2029. (That's a Friday, by the way.) Tyson received the Douglas S. Morrow Public Outreach Award at the confab.

Lehrer says writing is a priority

PBS newsman Jim Lehrer, out on tour for his latest novel, Oh Johnny, paused for a question and answer session with The Sacramento Bee. How has he found time to write 19 novels, two memoirs, two screenplays and three stage plays? "It goes back to when I had a heart attack 25 years ago. I was recovering and the doctor said, 'You ought to prioritize the rest of your time.' So I did. By not doing the things I don't want to do, I have plenty of time to do the things I do want to do."

Dyson to host new talker from African American Public Radio Consortium

Oprah Winfrey is confirmed as the first guest on the Michael Eric Dyson Show launching April 6 on public radio stations in 18 markets. Dr. Dyson, an author, academic and social commentator who previously hosted a talk show syndicated by Radio One, said his public radio series will deal with "several topics about which I care deeply--politics, religion, economic policy, arts and culture." The African American Public Radio Consortium, which partnered with NPR to create The Tavis Smiley Show, News and Notes and Tell Me More, teamed up with WEAA in Baltimore to produce the one-hour series, airing weekdays. How did Dyson get Oprah to appear on his new talker? “A lot of begging, brother!” Dyson tells the Atlanta Journal Constitution's Rodney Ho.

Apr 2, 2009

'Now' segment prompts messages to PBS ombudsman

PBS ombudsman Michael Getler's latest column is up. An interview with Sheriff Joe Arpaio on Now on PBS prompted much of the viewer feedback. Arpaio is sheriff of Maricopa County in Arizona, which borders Mexico. In the show critics accused him of racial profiling.

NPR Labs plans further study of HD Radio power tradeoffs

NPR Labs will do additional research to determine how much broadcasters should increase power to increase the reach of digital HD Radio signals without unduly interfering with analog FM reception. The study, funded by CPB, would be completed in time for the NAB Radio Show in Philadelphia Sept. 23-25. NPR Labs said last fall that boosting HD Radio power tenfold, as proposed by major commercial radio groups, would have significant costs in listening quality in certain geographical areas. The earlier study found that 41 percent of pubradio stations could no longer be heard on one-third or more of the car radios they can now reach.

"Contrary" host says abortions "not a bad choice"

Bonnie Erbe, host of To the Contrary on PBS, is drawing attention with her U.S. News & World Report blog post titled, "In a Recession, Abortions are Not a Bad Choice."

PBS tech officer discusses challenges, possibilities

John McCoskey, PBS' chief technology officer, spoke with TV Technology about ongoing financial and DTV challenges, as well as the upcoming PBS Technology Conference. PBS's continuing goal for stations, McCoskey says, "is to have normal workflows [that] require little human interaction, freeing-up staff to focus on things that need expertise and decision-making." He cited the NOC staff in Springfield, Va., that is remotely managing station operations for some members, "so they can run unattended for several hours a day to reduce operational costs."

Committee begins work on Universal Service Fund reform

In a first move toward reforming the Universal Service Fund, leaders of the the House Energy & Commerce Committee are requesting information on the program from FCC Chairman Michael Copps. Telecom firms pay into the fund to support rural communications services. Word on the Hill is there's support on both sides of the aisle for the committee's work on the issue. One idea: Extend the fund to cover broadband access.

Apr 1, 2009

Pubradio sweeps IRE award category

Pubcasters swept the radio category in the Investigative Reporters and Editors Awards, presented yesterday by one of the nation's top journalism organizations. Receiving the certificate was "36 Years of Solitary: Murder, Death and Injustice at Angola," by NPR's Laura Sullivan, Amy Walters and Steven Drummond on All Things Considered. It was praised by the judges as a "chilling tale of injustice" told in a "graceful and compelling way." The piece was an in-depth look at the 1972 murder of a prison guard. Finalists in the category: "Natural Gas Drilling: Is New York Ready?" by WNYC's Ilya Marritz, Abrahm Lustgarten, Andrea Bernstein and Karen Frillmann; "Dirty Money" by NPR's John Burnett, Marisa Penaloza and Quinn O’Toole; and "Witnesses Wait" by PRI's Ingrid Lobet.

Pulling back the curtain on journos' learning curve

"I think we gave people kind of a way to sit with the information, like a perspective," says NPR's Adam Davidson in describing the narrative approach behind "Giant Pool of Money," the award-winning This American Life documentary that delivered the first, definitive explanation of the sub-prime mortgage crisis. "You know, we’re kind of shocked or sometimes angry. We’re often confused, but we can figure it out." Revealing the journalists' "process of discovery," Davidson says in this video interview by the Neiman Journalism Lab, strengthened the credibility of the documentary. "[B]ecause it’s closer to the actual truth, and it’s closer to the world that our audience experiences on a day-to-day basis." Davidson collaborated with TAL's Alex Blumberg in reporting "Giant Pool of Money," which became the launching pad for Planet Money, the ongoing NPR podcast and blog on global economics.

Comcast now offering PBS shows On Demand

Comcast has announced that PBS programs now will be available through its On Demand service, in HD. Included will be Antiques Roadshow, Nova, Masterpiece, American Experience, History Detectives and Frontline. On Demand allows viewers to play, pause, rewind and fast forward shows.

Report updates foundation giving numbers

Here's some good news on the funding front: The more than 75,000 grantmaking foundations in America increased their giving 2.8 percent in 2008 to an estimated $45.6 billion, according to the Foundation Center's new report, Foundation Growth and Giving Estimates: Current Outlook. Findings suggest that this year foundation giving will decrease in the range of the high single digits to low double digits, despite estimated foundation assets declining 21.9 percent in 2008. The report also says corporate foundation giving held steady at $4.4 billion last year. (Entire PDF report here.)

Nine Peabody Awards for pubcasters

"Giant Pool of Money," the ground-breaking story on the sub-prime mortgage crisis that was jointly reported by NPR's Adam Davidson and This American Life's Alex Blumberg, is one of nine pubcasting recipients of 2008 Peabody Awards announced this morning. NPR won two additional Peabodys: one for its exclusive coverage of the earthquake that devastated China's Sichuan province last May and another for a three-part series by Laura Sullivan that questioned the guilt of two inmates in Louisiana's Angola prison. Six Peabody-winning programs were presented on PBS, which topped all other media organizations (including HBO) in collecting the most Peabody medals for programs aired in 2008. Independent Lens led pubTV's winners by earning medals for King Corn and a doc on stem cell research. Peabodys were also awarded to docs presented by Nova, P.O.V., and Twin Cities Public Television. Washington Week with Gwen Ifill earned recognition for a series of live events broadcast as part of its 2008 political coverage. Peabody Awards, presented to recognize distinguished achievements and meritorious public service, are among the top honors in electronic journalism.

Happy trees indeed

An April Fool's Day joke, or a quirky tribute to a famous pubcasting painter? You decide. On Thursday, the Gallery Bar on Manhattan's Lower East Side is hosting "Beat the Devil Out of It!: A Bob Ross Tribute." As the notice says, "Grab a paintbrush and prepare to make some happy little trees." There's a Bob Ross lookalike contest, and a performance by the Titanium White Hot Dancers, a, ahem, "Ross–themed dance troupe." Costumes are strongly encouraged, so be sure to bring your Afro wig.

Pubcasting host laments White House press conferences

Llewellyn King, exec producer and host of White House Chronicle on PBS, is fuming over President Barack Obama's choice of reporters to call on at his recent press conference. "Excuse me, but I am a potted plant," King writes. "Well, at best an extra, who has been sent over by Central Casting to fill in the numbers." The problem: Most reporters, King included, "wave our arms in the hope we might be recognized towards the end of a long, rambling session that seems more like the press secretary chatting with his pals who have seats assigned in the front." His show airs on some 20 stations nationwide.

CPB ombudsman details complaints

CPB ombudsman Ken A. Bode writes in his Ombudsman's Mailbag column about several viewer concerns. Issues include commentator Gwen Ifill's "unfortunate appearance of a conflict," as Bode put it, in moderating a presidential debate while her book The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama was just hitting the shelves. Also, complaints arrived on Bill Moyers' Biblical interpretation of the Book of Deuteronomy that included the statement, “God soaked violence became genetically coded” among Jews. Bode also said his next column will be an analysis of two PBS documentaries about politics.

Couple's aid helps fund tower in honor of sister

KUAR/KLRE in Little Rock, Ark., tells this sweet, good-news story about an elderly couple who helped fund the pubradio stations' move to a new tower and transmitter site. Minnie and Layne Carson donated in honor of her sister, Mary Matthews, who was an avid newspaper reader until she lost her sight. "She took to her recliner and listening to KUAR," Minnie Carson said. "She was up on everything, national and international," Carson said, adding that NPR was a "lifesaver" for Matthews."There is no doubt in my mind that it would have been a difficult time for her if it were not for KUAR."

'A good day' for Virginia pubcasting

Virginia pubcasters statewide are no doubt relieved that Gov. Tim Kaine said Monday he will issue a line-item veto for the $1 million cut for public broadcasting that the legislature wanted, reports The Virginian-Pilot. The governor will, however, leave intact his original reduction of $640,000 for 2009-10. For one station, WHRO in Hampton Roads, the move will restore $200,000 in state funding, station president Bert Schmidt said. "It's a good day," he added.