Dec 29, 2009

Pledge promotions "shameful," Fanning says

Influential pubcaster David Fanning, Frontline e.p., had harsh words on what he sees as the growing commercialism in pubcasting during his James L. Loper Lecture in Public Service Broadcasting at the Annenberg School for Communication. One evening after he'd spoken at a station fundraiser, he recalled, "I was scrolling through the channels when I came across a shopping channel with a dubious doctor selling nutritional supplements. I was interested in a perversely fascinated way as he promised all sorts of remedies, including -- and I’m not exaggerating here -- results for cancer sufferers. And then the shot changed to a woman with him who said that if you bought these supplements you’d be making a donation to . . . yes, the public television station I’d just left. And there, in the wide shot, was the backdrop I’d stood before that evening . . . Nova, Nature, and Frontline . . . This is our deepest embarrassment as public broadcasters. I have heard the arguments, and I understand the imperatives, but to think that, hucksters aside, we spend more of our energy and on-air promotional time, pushing programs that have nothing to do with our mission, is shameful." Read Fanning's full remarks here.

Dec 26, 2009

American Archive project unearths surprises at WQED

WQED in Pittsburgh, one of 22 pubcasting stations participating in phase two of CPB's American Archive Pilot Program, is uncovering a treasure trove of old programming, reports the Post-Gazette. There are interviews with baseball exec Branch Rickey, who integrated the game; Eleanor Roosevelt; and jazz legend Louis Armstrong. The station received $100,000 to digitize and preserve valuable footage.

Dec 25, 2009

Aloha, and seasons greetings

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, pubcasters all! Here's a feel-good story of seasonal generosity, courtesy of Hawaii PBS.

Dec 23, 2009

Political writer barred from KERA debate

"Snarky" blog postings by Paul Burka, senior executive editor of the Texas Monthly, disqualify him as a panelist for next month's televised debate between Republican gubernatorial candidates Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson and Gov. Rick Perry, a spokeswoman for Dallas's KERA-TV tells the Texas Tribune. KERA, chief sponsor of the debate among several media outlets, invited the magazine to appoint a panelist, just not Burka; the magazine declined to send anyone and dropped out as a sponsor. The Tribune suggests that Hutchinson's campaign leaned on KERA to ban Burka, who has been "a fixture" in the state's political debates since the late 1980s. "We were dismayed at what they decided to do, and surprised, given Paul Burka's involvement in past debates," Texas Monthly Editor Jake Silverstein tells the Tribune. "We stand behind everything he does, and we consider his voice our voice on Texas politics."

NPR's Android app now available for download

The NPR News app for Google's Android mobile platform, announced earlier this month, has gone live. Mashable has already taken it for a test-run: "[T]he Android version of NPR News is very similar to its iPhone counterpart. Most of the menu designations are the same and most of the layout options are similar." The biggest missing feature is the live streaming function: "You can listen to archived programs, but live-streaming and tuning in to live stations won’t be available until spring 2010."

Dec 22, 2009

Thomas to exit Etsy next month

Former NPR digital media chief Maria Thomas is leaving Etsy, the online marketplace for hand-crafted goods that she has run as chief executive since 2008. Founder Rob Kalin will takeover as c.e.o. in January. It's not clear why Thomas is leaving. In a blog post announcing the change, Kalin wrote that the company has become profitable under her leadership. "Maria helped us reach this major milestone....Her long experience and business skills were hugely helpful." Traffic to the site has doubled in the past year, according to TechCrunch, which offers this speculation about the role that NPR's former veep played at Etsy: "Perhaps Thomas was brought in for adult supervision while Kalin, who is young, was learning the ropes."

Dec 21, 2009

Comic book reveals listening preferences of mutant antiheroes

What else would Marvel Comics stars Wolverine, a Canadian mutant who has sideburns and retractable claws, and Nightcrawler, a German Catholic mutant who has a tail, listen to during a road trip? In the comic “Nation X #1,” the X-Men’s ears are glued to WBEZ-produced This American Life, as revealed by news producer Hunter Clauss in a blog for WBEZ’s sister station, Vocalo. Current has determined that they are listening to a towering achievement of self-deprecatory humor in which TAL's staff takes blood tests and finds that even some of the women have more testosterone than Ira Glass. (The stuff is poison, anyway!) Wolverine and Nightcrawler do not acknowledge the subject. They are shown staring straight ahead at the highway, as mutant guys always do.

Andrew Gill, a Vocalo web producer, followed up with James Asmus, author of the Marvel comic, who confirmed: “I’m a huge TAL fan (NPR in general), so when trying to depict the warm and wistfully quiet moments in a road trip, it felt like the perfect way to set the mood.” Nightcrawler has listened to TAL for years, Asmus says, and introduced Wolverine to the show. ”I’m declaring that right now,” Asmus told Gill. “It’s official continuity.” Current has learned that in the next book in the series, “Nation X #2,” amazed Arbitron personnel will monitor Wolverine’s portable people meter as he's converted — enduring excruciating pain — into a core listener and major donor with retractable claws.

PBS signs up for full-time Nielsens

PBS announced today that for the first time, it has subscribed to full-time Nielsen ratings, reports the New York Times. The ratings will provide weekly numbers only. Andrew Russell, a senior v.p. for PBS Ventures, told the paper that monthly ratings were no longer satisfying marketers, who want shorter time frames for sponsorships and more information on viewership. The subscription started tracking numbers with National Parks: America's Best Idea in September. That reached an average of 5.5 million viewers over its six-night run.

Dec 18, 2009

Tweet away, pubmedia brainstormers

Want to talk public media 140 characters at a time with like-minded thinkers? Use the Twitter #pubmedia hashtag to join in the discussion. Idea comes from Jessica Clark of the Center for Social Media at American University.

Thumbs up and down from viewers on new PBS Newshour

Comments are coming in to the PBS ombudsman regarding the transformation of PBS NewsHour into a more nimble and multiplatform program. Viewpoints range from appreciation of its "new briskness" to disappointment that "it comes across as a canned program." Also, thoughts from viewers on specific NewsHour reports including climate change.

PBS shows take 18 CINE Golden Eagles

PBS programs have won 18 CINE Golden Eagle Awards, presented twice a year to recognize work of filmmakers, videographers, producers, directors and other craftspeople in the film, television, and new media industries. Among the winners are Sesame Street, American Masters, four for Nova (including "Ocean Animal Emergency," above) and a MacNeil/Lehrer doc. WCTE-TV/Two Six Inc., serving the north-central area of Tennessee, also scored an Eagle for Tuba U: Basso Profundo. Full list of winners here.

Dec 17, 2009

Bohdan and Paul talked sneakers

How the Beatles Rocked the Kremlin is bringing back some McCartney memories for KCET programming guru Bohdan Zachary. Turns out he actually chatted with Paul McCartney -- yes, gabbed, in person, for several minutes, with THE Paul McCartney -- backstage at a 1976 Wings Over the World Tour concert stop at Madison Square Garden. A buddy of his was a longtime friend of Paul's wife Linda. As Linda and his friend caught up, Zachary and the former Beatle visited. "First, he complimented me on my 'cool shoes' (old sneakers I'd hand painted) and engaged me in conversation all about me," Zachary recalls. "He particularly enjoyed hearing about my home life in Detroit, loved that I spoke only Ukrainian until I was 6 years old, and that I secretly listened to 'Abbey Road' on headphones every night before I went to bed."

Local Community Radio Act passes House

The House yesterday approved the Local Community Radio Act, which would effectively remove channel-spacing regs that have previously blocked new low power FM stations in urban areas (Current, Sept. 20). Reclaim the Media reports that the Act "would allow for the creation of hundreds, possibly thousands, of new, low power FM radio stations dedicated to broadcasting community news and local perspectives to neighborhoods across the country." The Senate version has been okayed by the Commerce Committee, but a full Senate vote has not been scheduled.

Kasell says he'll be "NPR's roving ambassador," complete with magic tricks

NPR news voice Carl Kasell, who'll do his final broadcast for Morning Edition on Dec. 30, chatted with Ozarks Public Radio yesterday about his past and future. Topics included his North Carolina accent ("All of us who were born below the Mason-Dixon line, at some time had to deal with it, to get rid of it. . . . I read some books on the subject and worked with some very good people who did not have an accent and who would help me along the way to get rid of it") and his next adventures ("I’m going to be NPR’s roving ambassador. I’ll be attending fundraisers, any kind of an event a station has and would like to have me there to help out, give a speech, do a little magic. I’m an amateur magician. Anything I can do to help an NPR station, I’ll be there and do it"). He'll also continue his on-air duties as "official judge and scorekeeper" on Wait Wait . . . Don't Tell Me!

Film, radio producers among United States Artists fellows

Frequent producers for public radio Scott Carrier of Salt Lake City (Hearing Voices), and Elizabeth Meister and Dan Collison of Three Oaks, Mich. (Long Haul Productions), were among 50 individuals named United States Artists fellows for 2009. Also three film/video producers: Cruz Angeles of New York (Sundance 2009 debut Don't Let Me Drown), Charles Burnett of Los Angeles (first episode of The Blues, Killer of Sheep), Heather Courtney of Austin, Texas (Los Trabajadores on Independent Lens) and Renée Tajima-Peña of Los Angeles (Calavera Highway on P.O.V., 2008). Each will receive an unrestricted $50,000 grant. United States Artists was founded in 2005 in response to a finding of an Urban Institute study that 96 percent of Americans appreciate the arts but only 27 percent believe that artists contribute to the good of society. The Ford, Rockefeller, Prudential and Rasmuson foundations donated $22 million to establish USA; additional donors' gifts go 100 percent to the artists. Diane Kaplan, former head of Alaska Public Radio Network, is president of the Rasmuson Foundation and secretary/treasurer of USA.

Biden announces first broadband stimulus grants today

Eighteen broadband stimulus projects in 17 states worth $182 million will be announced today by Vice President Joseph Biden in Dawsonville, Ga. Public broadcasters are among the many nonprofit and commercial entities vying for the funds (Current, Sept. 21) in four categories: middle mile, to build or improve high-speed connections to communities; last mile, connecting users to their community's broadband infrastructure; public computing, to expand computer centers; and sustainable broadband, for projects that promote broadband demand. UPDATE: No public broadcasting projects announced in this round. Biggest single grant this time is $39.7 million with $9.9 million in matching funds, to Albany, N.Y.-based ION Hold Co., for 10 middle-mile fiber optic segments in 70 rural communities in New York, Pennsylvania and Vermont. Smallest: A $106,503 loan with $87,405 in matching funds for Big Island Broadband/Aloha Broadband Inc., to provide high-speed service to an unserved area of some 600 residents and businesses in the northern part of the island. More announcements are coming periodically through February 2010 for this first round of grants. Rules for the final round should be announced in January, with all funding awarded by September 2010.

Dec 16, 2009

Salary and funding woes hit WLIU's new owner

Peconic Public Broadcasting, the new owner of WLIU 88.3 in Southampton, N.Y., could not pay most employees this month. And despite an impressive list of supporters for the station, large donations previously promised have not yet materialized, reports the Southampton Press. Station manager Wally Smith said Peconic didn't expect to have to cover payroll this month as per its transfer agreement with former owner Long Island University. Smith expects the station will meet full payroll for its 13-person staff after the new year. “There’s nothing unusual about the fact that there are rough patches,” Smith told the paper, which referred to the "complicated transfer of the station" that is expected to be completed in early January. As for the hefty anticipated donations, "we had couple of disappointments," Smith admits. "Some [gifts] didn’t come through at the level we anticipated based on the suggestions we had gotten from supporters.” He also says he's confident things will work out.

Might AARP's first Spanish-language show come to PBS?

AARP Broadcast, a media arm of the nation's largest membership organization for adults 50 and older, just shot a pilot of Viva su Segunda Juventud, its first Spanish-language show, reports Multichannel News. There's no distributor yet and an AARP spokesperson declined further comment to that reporter. Is the new program perhaps PBS-bound? AARP Broadcast currently produces two half-hour titles that aired on Retirement Living TV in 2009 but will be distributed to pubTV stations by Maryland Public Television starting in 2010. The partnership is a good fit, considering the pedigrees of both the shows' hosts: On Inside E Street it's Sheilah Kast of WYPR in Baltimore, and on My Generation it's Cynthia Steele Vance, a WETA trustee and former pubcasting reporter.

Watchdog group urges public to petition PBS on Moyers and Now replacements

Fairness & Accuracy in Media, a national news watchdog organization tracking bias and censorship, is encouraging the public to sign a petition urging PBS to replace the departing public affairs programs Bill Moyers Journal and PBS Now with "similarly thoughtful shows" that continue the tradition of "hard-hitting, independent programming that should thrive on public television." It adds: "What replaces those programs will be a test of its commitment to the very foundations of public broadcasting itself." Here's a link to the petition.

PBS Teachers offers new classroom resources on economic, financial issues

PBS Teachers is giving instructors a way to help students become more economically and financially literate through its new Access, Analyze and Act project. It's a unique collection of educational digital media resources focused on the economy. According to a statement today from PBS, Eight lessons plans offer real-world case studies on four economic topics that explore economic and financial issues from a young person’s point of view. There's an introduction on the site by PBS Now host and senior editor David Brancaccio encouraging teachers to make the study of economics a personal story, and a video appearance by Michael Mandel, chief economist for BusinessWeek.

Dec 15, 2009

Dino Train chugs onto People mag's "Best Kids Shows" list

People magazine puts Dinosaur Train, the new PBS show from the Jim Henson Co., on its "Year's Best Kids Shows" list, according to the Muncie, Ind., Star Press. Also included: Jungle Junction from Disney, The Superhero Squad Show on Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon's The Fresh Beat Band and Cartoon Network's The Garfield Show. (Garfield creator Jim Davis's company, Paws Inc., is based in rural Albany, Ind., hence the announcement via the Star Press.)

NPR diversity consultant to sign on as v.p.

Keith Woods, a Poynter Institute dean who was consulting with NPR on newsroom diversity, will join the network as vice president, diversity in news and operations, in February. The position, a newly created senior management role, will lead development and implementation of strategies for diversity within NPR and public radio as a whole. Newsroom diversity--as well as NPR's commitment to training, hiring and retaining journalists of color--have come under criticism this year as NPR laid off staff, canceled its African-American oriented show News and Notes, and fired one of its few black newsroom managers. "We are extremely fortunate to have found a leader who offers a combination of strong journalistic credentials, diversity expertise and a passion for teaching," said NPR President Vivian Schiller, in a news release. Woods has taught writing and reporting on race relations, ethics and diversity at the Poynter Institute for professional journalists for 15 years; he also writes on race and media and consults with news organizations and journalism schools. Previously, he reported for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans. Details on how Woods' consulting assignment turned into a full-time job here. mention in junk-food survey "misleading," PBS exec says

Many of the most popular websites for kids contain advertisements for junk food, reports Reuters on a study in the latest American Journal of Public Health. One of the websites examined was, which averages 9 million unique visitors per month. Lesli Rotenberg, s.v.p. of children's media at PBS, noted that the site's appearance in the study is "misleading," as it does not accept advertising nor market food products to children. The site carries logos of PBS sponsors at the bottom of some pages, including McDonald's and Chick-fil-A. Children never see images of food products, she said, adding that the Fizzy's Lunch Lab and Don't Buy It pages actually teach kids about healthy eating -- and how to avoid media influences in their purchase decisions.

N.C. pubcasters in "hissing contest" over doc filmed in state?

A documentary on North Carolina is "caught in a hissing contest" between pubTV stations UNC-TV and WTVI, reports the News & Observer in Raleigh. Mike Lassiter, an attorney in Statesville, and videographer Scott Galloway captured businesses throughout the state and the people behind them in their film, Vanishing Americana. But it probably will only be seen in 13 of the state's 100 counties, on WTVI alone. Statewide pubcaster UNC-TV refuses to show the film. "It's a bit of an overstatement to call it a policy, but it's a general rule that we don't broadcast things originating from WTVI," said UNC-TV spokesperson Steve Volstad. "Our service area overlaps and much of the time our broadcast schedule is the same." Response from WTVI's Eric Davis, v.p. of broadcasting and content: "'Overlap' . . . is meant to be pejorative," he told the paper. "We only carry 25 percent of the PBS schedule, and we time-shift the ones we do run."

PBS snags three Golden Globe nods

PBS's Masterpiece received three Golden Globe nominations. Nominees for the prestigious Hollywood Foreign Press Association's honors were announced this morning. Nods went to Little Dorrit for best miniseries or motion picture made for television, and Kenneth Branaugh in Wallander (above) and Chiwetel Ejiofor for Endgame both in the category of best performance by an actor in a miniseries or motion picture made for television. The awards will be presented Jan. 17. Entire list of nominees here.

KCET-TV fave appears on The Simpsons

Did you catch much-loved, uber-enthusiastic California pubcaster Huell Howser on The Simpsons Sunday? Who's he? As the LAist blog says, "While we can't say that no one outside of California knows who Howser is, it's likely the cameo will only tickle locals who have seen Howser marvel over all manner of landmark, machine, or quirky Californian on his various PBS shows," seen six nights a week on KCET as well as various other broadcasts on pubTV stations in Oregon, Nevada and Tennessee (he's a Tennessee native). Also included in the blog item is a link to another, ahem, very quirky Howser tribute video, "Trippin' with Huell Howser." Heh.

From the latest edition of Current

Delaware city officials threaten to oppose WHYY license renewal
Work cut out for a Public Media Corps
Back to the Future: Ramp up public TV local news, PM Magazine-style
Big regional Emmy wins for pubcasters in Salt Lake and Dallas

Dec 14, 2009

Go along with Nova onto a Navy aircraft

David Pogue, who's hosting a four-part Nova for fall 2010 on materials science (working title: Stuff), has a cool Flickr set of his weekend adventures on a Navy aircraft carrier. (Don't miss shots of the production team.) This segment will be on steel. The production team is also blogging its behind-the-scenes work at Inside Nova. That blog has been a "big hit," says Nova spokeswoman Carole McFall. "I think people really enjoy hearing about what’s in the pipeline directly from our researchers and production teams."

Sorry, no s'mores at PubCamp Webinar

Wondering what the heck a PublicMediaCamp is? The next National Center for Media Engagement can help out with that. Its next Peer Webinar, at 2 p.m. Eastern this Wednesday, is "PubCamp 101." Presenting will be Jonathan Coffman, PBS's product manager, social media; and Peter Corbett, an event expert and CEO of iStrategyLabs. They'll cover the history of PubCamps, why PBS and NPR are involved, and how to create a local PubCamp. Sign up here.

Most Writers Guild nods go to PBS; Frontline sweeps entire category

PBS has 15 Writers Guild of America nods -- more than any other broadcast or cable TV channel -- for outstanding achievement during the 2009 season. Frontline took all six nominations in the documentary and current events category. In the documentary other than current events category, all six slots also went to pubcasting, five for American Experience and one for National Parks: America's Best Idea. Bill Moyers Journal scored two nominations in news analysis feature or commentary, and Sesame Street also took two spots in children's episodic and specials. The nominations are from both the Writers Guild of America, West, and Writers Guild of America, East. The awards will be presented Feb. 20, 2010, in New York and Los Angeles. WGA has a full list of nominees here.

Dec 11, 2009

Viewers quiet on new NewsHour, PBS ombudsman says

Interestingly, PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler didn't receive any comments from viewers on the revamped PBS NewsHour, he reports in his latest column (well, one that was "not for posting"). Getler, who calls himself "a devoted watcher" of the program, writes of its latest incarnation: "I, personally, found the first few days of the new format and approach to be a distinct improvement. The program seemed to have more zip and energy, faster paced, with good interviews and without the always predictable language that introduced the show in the past." The new version, with its online anchor Hari Sreenivasan, kicked off Dec. 7.

Penn State pubcasting compiles films by student vets of Iraq War

Penn State Public Broadcasting has created an interesting web site filled with documentaries by student war veterans, "Back from Iraq: The Veterans' Story Project." Eight students completed a special class for them last semester, "Narrative, Oral History, New Media Technologies," at Penn State University’s main campus that taught the vets documentary filmmaking. They chronicled their experiences in their docs. Among the vets is a Marine machine gunner, a surface warfare fire controlman and an intelligence officer. Support for the project was provided by CPB.

In case you missed it . . .

Washington Week's Gwen Ifill chatted with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show last night. One revelation: Pubcasters on her show "are seated hours before we begin, just to have a chance to stare at each other." Who knew?

CPB grants allow pubTV travel to more conferences

CPB has expanded the list of conferences for professional development small-station grants. Staffers at public TV stations receiving nonfed financial support of $2 million or less may attend various conferences in 2010. Want to go to NETA in January? Or the PBS tech conference, or Showcase? There's a rolling deadline to apply for no more than two $1,500 grants per year for professional development.

Dec 10, 2009

Let the research begin: Paragon retained for LA Public Media project

Radio Bilingüe has retained Denver-based Paragon Media Strategies to conduct research for its LA Public Media Project, a multiplatform service aimed at young minority listeners in Los Angeles. The contract, announced late yesterday, calls for intensive research to identify the audience and test content for the service, slated to launch next year on a yet-to-be identified radio channel and digital platforms. "For the first time, a national media research firm will be studying this young audience to find out what it wants from a public media service," said Hugo Morales, executive director of Radio Bilingüe. "Our goal is to work with Paragon to map out the needs and aspirations of this audience and design and test content that resonates with them." Paragon, helmed by programming consultant Mike Henry, has worked on many public radio start-ups and service expansions, including Radio Milwaukee, The Current in Minneapolis, and, most recently, KXT in Dallas, the Triple-A station launched last month by KERA.

New NewsHour kicks off YouTube channel

The PBS NewsHour, which relaunched its revamped show and web presence on Dec. 7, is starting a "major new initiative" on YouTube, the Google Blog reports. Its YouTube channel -- complete with a welcome from host Jim Lehrer -- is running reports from the TV broadcast on the same night the show airs, along with web-original news videos. PBS has had success with YouTube in the past, particularly during last year's election. Its "Video Your Vote" drew 2,500 viewers posting videos of their Election Day experience. PBS incorporated the channel into its election coverage.

Dec 9, 2009

Congress committee passes omnibus; 8.1 percent more for pubcasting over last year

A House and Senate conference committee has approved a package of six unfinished fiscal 2010 spending bills, including funding for CPB and other pubcasting programs. The $446.8 billion omnibus appropriations bill is expected to pass muster with the House soon, then proceed to the Senate and on to President Barack Obama for his signature. The omnibus gives CPB a $445 million advanced appropriation for FY 2012; $36 million for digital conversion; $25 million for the public radio interconnection system and $27.3 million for Ready To Learn for FY 2010. It also provides $25 million in “fiscal stabilization” grants to pubTV and radio stations. If signed into law, the proposed FY 2012 CPB funding would represent a $15 million, or 3.5 percent, increase over CPB’s FY 2011 levels, and the RTL funding would be $1.9 million, or 7.5 percent, more than FY 2009. In total, the funding represents an increase of $41.7 million, or 8.1 percent, over in last year’s appropriations legislation.

Alvarado exits CPB for American Public Media

Joaquin Alvarado, senior v.p. of diversity and innovation at CPB since June, has resigned to take a similar position at American Public Media in St. Paul, the corporation announced this afternoon. Alvarado, a leading advocate for broadband expansion, will be senior v.p. of digital innovation at APM, focusing primarily on its Public Insight Journalism project, according to a spokeswoman. APM is the national distribution arm of Minnesota Public Radio. Alvarado will continue to advise the CPB Board's digital media committee. His interim successor at CPB will be Joseph Tovares, acting v.p.

Early in his short tenure at CPB, Alvarado was involved in retooling the PBS World digital channel into what he called "World 2.0," a multimedia service for a younger, more diverse audience. During a meeting with pubTV station execs in August, Alvarado described World 2.0 as a "transmedia platform" where "innovation starts to happen." But PBS withdrew its support for the project this summer and turned World back over to the two stations that originally developed it, WNET in New York and WGBH in Boston.

Pubcasters to speak on "Kids @ Play"

Participants at the upcoming "Kids @ Play" include Susan Zelman, education s.v.p. at CPB; Rob Lippincott, education s.v.p at PBS; and Terry Fitzpatrick, e.v.p. of distribution for Sesame Workshop. The session is part of a larger meeting, "Living in Digital Times," at the January International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Other speakers are as diverse as the "chief information and logistics bear" from the Build-A-Bear Workshop to the under secretary for the U.S. Department of Education. The other summits: Digital Health, Mommy Tech and HigherEd Tech.

Dec 8, 2009

More on Liasson's Fox News appearances

NPR Executive Editor Dick Meyer denies any connection between his request that political correspondent Mara Liasson reconsider her appearances on the Fox News channel and the White House's recent campaign to discredit the cable outlet as a mouthpiece of the Republican Party. "NPR has not had any communication of any kind with the White House regarding the status of any of our reporters or their work for anyone outside of NPR," Meyer wrote in an email to NPR Ombudsman Alicia Shepard. "Any suggestion to the contrary is simply false." The suggestion, put forward yesterday in an anonymously sourced story by Politico, has stirred up the blogosphere and generated 142 emails to NPR in roughly 24 hours, according Shepard.

Sesame gets into the eBook business

SesameWorkshop today announced its first eBooks for Sesame Street. Several are now online for free, with more titles available for purchase in spring 2010, the Workshop said in a statement. There'll also be an annual subscription that provides access to more than 100 books, with new titles added monthly. The eBooks "will help us leverage our library of 40 years worth of traditional print publishing,” said Scott Chambers, the Workshop's s.v.p. of worldwide media distribution. The Workshop's top-selling title, The Monster at the End of This Book, is the first eBook (above).

More choices for mobile NPR fans

NPR is expanding its mobile offerings with two services unveiled today: a redesigned and expanded NPR Mobile Web service for users of Blackberry and other mobile devices not sold by Apple; and an Android app to be released later this month. NPR Mobile Web now has the look and feel of the NPR News app for Apple's iPhone and iPod touch; its enhancements include new search capabilities, higher-quality audio, and access to the live streams of all NPR stations. “The mobile [web] relaunch allows to us to address the BlackBerry platform," says Demian Perry, head of NPR mobile operations, in this interview with paidContent. "The BlackBerry has six different operating systems, which is an added complication in terms of creating an app.” The NPR News app for Android will have "backgrounding" capabilities, allowing users to listen to audio while toggling through other applications. The open source design of the Android system allows NPR and its member stations to share and incorporate each other's programming more easily, Kinsey Wilson, senior v.p. of digital media, tells paidContent.

Dec 7, 2009

Business reporting Emmys go to Frontline and NewsHour

PBS received two Emmys for Business and Financial Reporting at ceremonies today in New York City. The awards recognize eight categories of programming. Frontline's "The Madoff Affair" won for outstanding doc on a business topic, and NewsHour won for outstanding coverage of a current business news story in a regularly scheduled newscast, for two segments of its "Faces Behind the Numbers" look at unemployment. Previously announced lifetime achievement Emmys went to retiring Paul Kangas, anchor and financial commentator for Nightly Business Report, and Linda O'Bryan, the show's founder and current chief content officer at Northern California Public Broadcasting. A list of winners is online at the Emmy website.

Sesame Workshop, Hasbro join forces

Sesame Workshop and Mattel are ending their long marketing relationship in January, reports Broadcasting & Cable. The Workshop has inked a 10-year deal with Hasbro to market toys and games based on Sesame Street characters, beginning next month. The Workshop signaled it wanted to move away from Mattel's holiday-oriented marketing strategy to Hasbro's year-round brand development. Hasbro includes the Playskool, Milton Bradley, Tonka and Parker Bros. lines, B&C notes.

KCSM has $6,000 toward its Jan. 1 fundraising goal of $1 million

KCSM in San Mateo is still struggling despite some $800,000 in cuts -- including dropping PBS membership. The Oakland Tribune reports the station needs to hit its $1 million fundraising goal by Jan. 1; so far it has raised $6,000. Marilyn Lawrence, g.m., fears the San Mateo County Community College District may be forced to sell KCSM, which has been on the air since 1964. The 1.5 million watt station broadcasts to San Mateo, San Francisco, Santa Clara, Alameda and Contra Costa counties, and is carried on 60 cable systems.

NPR's Liasson asked to think twice about appearing on Fox

Politico is reporting that NPR executives recently asked political correspondent Mara Liasson to reconsider her relationship with Fox News. NPR brass is concerned that the cable news channel's programming has grown more partisan and regular appearances on Fox by Liasson and NPR news analyst Juan Williams add to the perception that NPR tilts to the left, according to Politico. Liasson declined to sever her ties with Fox. Williams, whose NPR contract gives him wide latitude for outside work, no longer identifies himself as an NPR analyst when appearing on the cable channel. NPR denies that its request for Liasson has anything to do with the White House's recent campaign to discredit Fox as a shill for the Republican party. An unnamed source tells Politico that the White House criticism of Fox came up during talks with Liasson.

Car talk with Bohdan

Follow a KCET crew as program guru Bohdan Zachary tags along to the LA Auto Show. Huell Howser's reporting will be part of the station's evening of car programming Jan. 14, featuring the doc Who Killed the Electric Car? Howser chatted with GM reps about their electric Chevy Volt, available starting next year.

Dec 4, 2009

Meanwhile, across the pond ...

European pubcasters will assist struggling pubTV and radio networks in Eastern and Southern Europe, the New York Times reports. “There is a real threat of public service broadcasting disappearing in some of these countries,” Claudio Cappon, vice president of the European Broadcasting Union, told the Times. “Every day we are receiving cries for help.” Pubcasters in Hungary, Cyprus and Malta and the former Yugoslavia are facing budget cuts due to the global recession, as well as waning political support. The Broadcasting Union plans to coordinate programming donations to the needy broadcasting systems. Some 500 hours of drama, documentary and children’s shows, normally sold to broadcasters, would be provided free.

Demise of Now baffles and annoys PBS ombudsman

The cancellation of Now on PBS is bothering PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler as well as some of his readers. Late last month, news leaked out from PBS that Now and Bill Moyers' Journal would end next year. PBS confirmed in a statement that the shows would "conclude their weekly series at the end of April 2010," and details would follow in January. But as Getler writes, "I must say that as a steady viewer of these programs, not just as the ombudsman, I find the one and only PBS public statement thus far about the ending of these programs to be puzzling; unresponsive to dedicated viewers and to the high-profile role for public affairs junkies that these broadcasts have played for years on public television." John Siceloff, e.p. of Now, told Getler that the show was not ended due to financial difficulties. "So, that leaves an interesting question," notes Getler. "If the cancellation of Now was not due to financial difficulties, as Siceloff maintains, what was the reason?" One writer asks another pertinent question: "I watched Now last night and afterwards David Brancaccio was soliciting pledges for Now. I was inspired to pledge $100. Now I find out Now has been canceled. Why is PBS using Now to solicit pledges for a show they've canceled?"

Center for Independent Media shows nonprofit news is a feasible concept

David S. Bennahum's Center for Independent Media is one of the success stories in nonprofit news, reports Allan D. Mutter in his blog, Reflections of a Newsosaur. Since starting the center, which includes an online news network, in 2006, Bennahum has raised more than $11 million from hundreds of individual donors and some four dozen foundations. His advice: Don't become overly dependent on a single funding source. Don't concentrate on raising money from journalism-oriented institutions; rather, target funding to support issue-oriented reporting. He's also focusing on advertising sales, revenue from live events and subscription products aimed at niche readers, perhaps politicians, lobbyists or state contractors. The center's sites include such news portals as the Minnesota Independent, the New Mexico Independent and the Colorado Independent.

Bill Baker heads up new media center at Fordham University

The new Bernard L. Schwartz Center for Media, Public Policy and Education at Fordham University will research and promote the potential role of public broadcasting in news reporting, the Graduate School of Education announced today. Its work will study the nation's newsgathering traditions and investigate "solutions for their survival," a statement said. At the helm is Bill Baker, who was WNET's president for 20 years. The center is funded by the Bernard and Irene Schwartz Foundation, which supports mainly New York-based educational, medical and cultural institutions.

Four decades of Christmastime chemistry

With all the pubcasting 40th anniversaries this year, we couldn't let this one pass unnoticed. Yes, for the 40th year, Wisconsin Public Television will offer "Once Upon a Christmas Cheery in the Lab of Shakhashiri," hosted by University of Wisconsin-Madison chemistry professor Bassam Shakhashiri. Tickets to the taping this weekend were gone within a few days; broadcasts on WPT will be Dec. 21, 24 and 28. The special runs on stations nationwide, so don't forget those magic words: Check your local listings.

Weekend listening for music lovers

The Sounds of American Culture, an annual radio series featuring recordings from the Library of Congress' National Recording Registry, brings the story of John Lee Hooker's first hit song to this week's edition of Studio 360. "Boogie Chillen" is the first of five new pieces to air; next week Carmen Miranda's “O Que é que a Bahiana tem” gets the spotlight (more details here). Sounds of American Culture, produced by Ben Manilla and Media Mechanics with support from the Library of Congress, brings attention to the limited number of recordings that are added to the registry each year. Previous installments, several of which won New York Festival Awards, aired on NPR.

Tavis Smiley adds four hourlong specials to PBS lineup

Tavis Smiley will do several primetime specials in addition to his regular weekly PBS show starting in January, his production company announced yesterday (PDF). The programs will be titled Tavis Smiley Reports. The first of the four hourlong programs, on Jan. 27, 2010, will go behind the scenes with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The March 31 episode will dissect one of the Rev. Martin Luther King's pivotal speeches, delivered one year before his assassination. In the third, Smiley joins director Jonathan Demme on a visit to New Orleans and reports on its ongoing challenges after Hurricane Katrina. The fourth will be announced next year. Smiley's late-night PBS talk show, Tavis Smiley, kicks off its seventh season on Jan. 11. He also has a radio talker distributed by Public Radio International.

Dec 3, 2009

House approves satellite reauthorization bill

The House has passed the Satellite Home Viewer Update and Reauthorization Act by a vote of 394 to 11, with 29 members not voting. Association of Public Television Stations President Larry Sidman noted, “This legislation reflects a reasoned approach to the satellite carriage needs of public television stations across the country.” The bill allows satellite operators to carry out-of-market network TV station signals for viewers who don't receive an adequate signal from their nearby station. The Senate version of the bill, the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act, passed the Commerce Committee on Nov. 19.

Pubradio talents share interviewing tips

Virtuoso Voices, the production shop creating interview clips for classical music stations, has updated and republished its extended tip sheet on interviewing performers. "Interviewing 3.0" features advice from some of public radio's best-known hosts (Bob Edwards, Robert Siegel, Susan Stamberg), as well as its most experienced music producers (David Brown, John Diliberto, Marco Werman and Brian Newhouse, among others). Terry Gross isn't among those sharing trade secrets; but, reading through the guide, it becomes apparent that the craft of interviewing isn't a secret, it's a disciplined skill that has much to do with being prepared, listening carefully and not being afraid to ask the hard, obvious or even dumb questions. Producers David Srebnik and Cynthia May first developed the guide as a presentation to the Association of Music Personnel in Public Radio; the latest version, expanded with help from Tom Huizenga of NPR Digital, offers advice that applies to any and all interviews.

FCC offers 67 spare local FM frequencies for noncomm use

For a week in February (Feb. 19-26), the FCC will offer 67 local FM frequencies assigned to specific cities and towns. The commission postponed the filing window from December on the request of public media groups seeking more time to prepare. (Original announcement.) Though the frequencies will be reserved for noncommercial use, they remain unused in the commercial FM band — that is, above 92.1 MHz. The places on the list were chosen because at least 10 percent of their population now have access to no more than one noncomm radio service. The FCC will use a point system giving preference to local applicants with local boards and to those who don’t hold other licenses. These are mostly small cities and towns; among the larger or better known are Terre Haute, Ind., and Bozeman, Mont. Though the list includes Amherst and Canton, the FCC refers to Amherst, N.Y. (not Massachusetts) and Canton, Ill. (not Ohio). Five are in Indiana and five in Illinois. Most of the channels are designated for Class A, the weakest category of full-power FM stations, with transmitter power limited to 6 kilowatts. To coordinate with this FCC window, the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration will extend its annual deadline for related equipment grant applications until Feb. 26.

Ramsey to pubradio: to court younger listeners, get creative, be bold

What should public radio do about the aging of its audience, as documented in the latest Walrus Research report? Given that the trend parallels a much more profound shift of aging among the U.S. population as a whole, media analyst Mark Ramsey writes, any attempts to create "younger-oriented versions" of NPR's tentpole news magazines would be the "wrong way to go."

"That's like asking Lady Gaga to cover a Peggy Lee tune and expecting it to be a hit, assuming Lady GaGa would even be interested in covering it (which she would not)," Ramsey writes on his blog Hear 2.0.

Repeating a point he made during a 2008 keynote speech to the Public Radio Program Directors conference, Ramsey notes that Jon Stewart of the Daily Show is "more popular among public radio listeners than the vast majority of public radio personalities. Jon Stewart does a type of news show. Jon Stewart reaches younger audiences." Ramsey also recommends Slate's weekly political podcast, Gabfest. "It reaches exactly the kind of younger, college-educated crowd that public radio has coveted. It sells out its occasional live events. And, of course, it's not on public radio."

WordGirl and Clifford enter the app world

Scholastic Media, the international children's publishing, education and media company, is introducing iPhone and iPod apps for several kid's shows including PBS's Clifford the Big Red Dog and WordGirl. Clifford's is titled BE BIG with Words; kids are rewarded with pictures of words they spell. For WordGirl fans there's Word Hunt (above), in which players save a city from villains by using vocabulary words. They're available from the Apps Store.

WGBH HD archives now available through Getty Images

Getty Images, one of the world's largest creators and distributors of still images, footage and multimedia, is now offering WGBH Educational Foundation's extensive library of high-def footage, it announced yesterday. Included are series such as Nova, Frontline and American Experience, as well as limited runs. The agreement gives producers, filmmakers, corporate and entertainment clients access to the offerings. Check out WGBH's footage here.

February deadlines set for PTFP equipment grant applications

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration has set Feb. 4 as the application deadline for most grant applications for the fiscal year 2010 round. (Federal Register notice.) An exception: Feb. 26 is the deadline for new noncommercial FM station projects filed in the FCC’s weeklong application window that closes the same day (see item above). The agency's PTFP staff will hold webinars for applicants in coming weeks. NTIA staffer Walter Sheppard is seeking station executives to review applications—who aren’t applying for grants this year.

Dec 2, 2009

Pubcasting reform workshopped by FTC panel

As the Federal Trade Commission convened its two-day workshop on how journalism can survive and thrive during the shift to web-based media distribution, Future of Public Media project Director Jessica Clark called for policymakers to look beyond proposals to provide the taxpayer support needed for public broadcasting to expand its role in journalism. "[S]erious policy proposals need to go further," Clark writes for PBS's MediaShift blog. "Simply producing additional news doesn't address the demand side of the issue." Clark calls for policy changes promoting public engagement with media. "This means more than just handing out yet another serving of information to a surfeited audience; it's about engaging users at every phase--planning, funding, production, distribution, conversation, curation, and mobilization--to make sure that all stakeholders' voices are included." She points to a proposal by Rutgers University professor Ellen Goodman on public broadcasting's transition to digital public media as well as Free Press's agenda to reform public broadcasting.

During this morning's FTC panel on nonprofit journalism, Free Press Executive Director Josh Silver called for three structural changes to be sought through reauthorization of the Public Broadcasting Act. "Abandon the appropriations process," Silver said, referring to congressional appropriations to CPB. Free Press advocates an independent funding mechanism for public media, such as spectrum auction proceeds or taxes on electronic devices. "Change the way the CPB Board is appointed," he said. The current process of presidential appointees is "too political." Silver also called for a stronger role for ombudsmen at CPB and other pubcasting news organizations.

Speaking on the same panel, CPB's Joaquin Alvarado said any reauthorization has to provide adequate funding to the field. "We have to address, 'How much funding? To do what?'" Alvarado said. He envisions a scenario in which traditional public broadcasters and the innovative new media start-ups backed by the Knight Foundation and others could come together and support each other's work. Professional journalists, he said, are like an endangered species of condor. "We need mating pairs."

The first afternoon panel at the FTC has just resumed. You can stream it here or follow the #FTCnews twitter feed. Wall Street Journal's coverage of yesterday's panels, featuring fireworks between Rupert Murdoch and Arianna Huffington, is here.

Dec 1, 2009

Tampa volunteer producer Arlene Engelhardt will head Pacifica

Pacifica Radio’s new executive director, effective tomorrow, is Arlene Engelhardt, a programmer and former board president at affiliate station WMNF in Tampa. She was appointed by the Pacifica Foundation’s national board last week, succeeding Grace Aaron, the board chair who has served as interim director since January. The top staff position has been open since the resignation of Nicole Sawaya in September 2008. Engelhardt is co-host of Women’s Show, “an eclectic feminist/womanist radio magazine” on the Tampa community radio station. She has been a peace activist, an executive with United Cerebral Palsy and a v.p. of product development for a multimedia publishing company, according to Pacifica. The often-fractious, politically progressive five-station chain and national network based in Berkeley, Calif., celebrated its 60th anniversary in April.

ITVS, PBS partner to present indie flicks on iTunes

ITVS and PBS are offering more than 20 indie films via iTunes, according to ITVS. The initiative is part of the Independent Digital Distribution Lab, which kicked off in April to expand broadband distribution and explore revenue-generating partnerships for independent filmmakers and pubTV. Featured are films from Independent Lens, Global Voices and other series and broadcasts.

FTC journalism summit webcast now available

The webcast has begun for the FTC's workshop, "How Will Journalism Survive the Internet Age?" Participating pubcasters include Joaquin Alvarado, CPB's senior veep for diversity and innovation; NPR head Vivian Schiller; Jon McTaggart, senior veep and COO, American Public Media; Alisa Miller, president and CEO, Public Radio International; and Jason Seiken, senior veep, PBS Interactive. The workshop continues tomorrow.

Public Radio Satellite System turns 30

The Public Radio Satellite System is marking its 30th anniversary, it announced today. PRSS launched in 1979, and was the first to use satellite technology to develop a national distribution network for radio. Back then, PRSS sent out programming to 192 public radio stations; now it transmits nearly 400,000 hours of programming annually from more than 200 producers to more than 800 public radio stations. Last month it launched the Technology Research Center with NPR Labs to provide research, consulting, and testing capabilities for pubradio stations, other networks and producers. It will also market its consulting services to commercial clients. That revenue will support distribution of content to public radio stations.

Nightly Business Report chooses Kangas replacement

Nightly Business Report has decided on a co-anchor to work with Susie Gharib, the show announced today. Tom Hudson was formerly in that slot at the nationally syndicated First Business program. Hudson replaces longtime anchor Paul Kangas, who announced his retirement in May. Hudson, already working with the show, makes his on-air debut on Wednesday, and comes on as co-anchor Jan. 4.