Feb 1, 2011

Rick Steves: "I think you should know people before you bomb them."

Say, "Rick Steves," and what do you think? Congenial public TV travel host. Think again. According to a blogger at, Steves made quite the speech at last weekend's (Jan. 29 and 30) Chicago Travel and Adventure Show.

Referring to himself as a "provocateur," he held forth on topics including legalization of marijuana, infrastructure reinvestment, housing prices, health care reform, American "torture" of prisoners, the growing gap between rich and poor, gun control, "racist" incarceration policies, legalized prostitution and the "hysterical" American media.

Steves also defended his 2009 TV special on Iran, saying, "I think you should know people before you bomb them." He added: "I'm happy public TV had the balls to show it. It would never have seen the light of day without channels like WTTW."

Steves' company, the blog noted, has annual revenues between $30 million and $40 million.

ivi TV gets help from unexpected allies — four public-interest groups

An intriguing alliance has formed among ivi TV, the brash startup that's selling Internet access to specially encrypted TV signals, and four public interest organizations that have filed an amicus brief in its defense. The groups, Public Knowledge, the Media Access Project, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Open Technology Initiative of the New America Foundation, identify themselves in the "friends of the court" Jan. 31 filing as "public interest organizations concerned with maintaining an open, competitive, and diverse communications infrastructure."

The Seattle-based ivi is being sued by 25 broadcasters including WGBH, and PBS, which seek a restraining order to stop ivi from selling their content (Current, Oct. 4, 2010). The four public-interest groups are opposing that request, and telling the U.S. District Court in New York that online video distributors "are rapidly becoming one of the preeminent forces for competition in the marketplace, with the potential to lower consumer costs, spur technological innovation, and even promote the deployment of high-speed Internet access to communities it currently does not reach. However," they add, "OVDs must be allowed to operate and innovate in this space if their promise is to be fulfilled."

Journalists should join the fight for Net neutrality

What does a free and open Internet mean for the future of journalism? Quite a lot, writes Kat Aaron, a journalist with the Investigative Reporting Workshop and media policy fellow, on MediaShift. Net neutrality, the principle protecting equal treatment of all content on digital networks, provides the foundation for innovative crowd sourcing projects and platforms for minority and low-income communities to amplify their voices via online dialogues and specialized reporting. "Despite journalism's increasing reliance on a neutral network, most journalists and their trade associations have been silent on this issue," Aaron writes. "To preserve the tools and technologies most reporters take for granted requires vigilance, organizing, and yes, the a-word: advocacy."

WTTW's "Grannies on Safari" hosts hope to escape Egypt today with tour group

Regina Fraser, co-host of Grannies on Safari, says the group just heard from the U.S. State Department today (Feb. 1) and is standing by for a flight out of Egypt, as the revolution there continues to intensify. Fraser, co-host Pat Johnson and 10 Americans are stranded in Luxor after arriving on Jan. 26. Maria Dugandzic of MediaPros 24/7 in Chicago has been monitoring the situation and is in close contact with the group. "The State Dept just called them and told them to pack their bags because they may have a flight back to the U.S. in the next hours," Dugandzic said.

She said the tourists arrived there on Saturday from Cairo and are currently on a boat docked on the Nile. Four travelers were able to get out "on pricey charters," Dugandzic said. Those remaining include an 82-year-old grandmother from Ohio.  The ATM's have run out of money, "and downtown Luxor is not an attraction right now, so at this stage they would like to get home."

The WTTW show is nationally syndicated. It follows the co-hosts around the globe, often with travelers in tow.

Discussions bubbling up between nonprof news orgs, commercial TV affiliates

Nonprofit news entities are beginning to explore the possibilities of partnering with commercial broadcasters. NBC agreed to have at least five local affiliates collaborate with the nonprofs as part of its agreement with the FCC to merge with Comcast. Joe Bergantino, co-founder of the New England Center for Investigative Reporting in Boston, is in talks with several television outlets, including one commercial. "I think [the FCC order] sends a strong message that partnering with nonprofit investigative reporting centers makes a lot of sense for commercial news outlets," he tells TVNewsCheck.“It makes journalistic sense and it makes economic sense.” Thus far, nonprofit journalism entities, which are springing up to fill coverage holes left by dwindling newspaper staffs, have been collaborating with major metro newspapers, public TV stations (Current, March 30, 2009) and regional news networks.

Penn State pubcasting produces video on tactics for reacting to gunmen on campus

University licensee Penn State Public Broadcasting has produced a video advising Penn State students how to react if faced with a gunman on campus. The Daily Collegian says the pubcasters worked with psychologists and police officers before screening the project. It's part of a course teaching the "Five Outs" – get out, call out, hide out, keep out and take out. In one scene, students fight back against a gunman, one using a backpack to knock him down. Penn State University Assistant Police Chief Tyrone Parham said that “take out” is a last resort, when no other options are left. “Remember, at this point, you may be literally fighting for your life,” Parham said. Two students were shot, one fatally, on the Penn State campus in 1996.