May 9, 2011

Upcoming PBS primetime lineup brings first Arts Fall Festival

PBS announced today (May 9) its primetime lineup for this fall, which includes its long-awaited arts initiative and a refocus for WNET's Need to Know.

The network's first Arts Fall Festival, on the drawing board at least since 2009, will begin Oct. 14 and air Fridays through December with broadcasts of classic and contemporary performances including Women Who Rock, inspired by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum exhibit; Give Me the Banjo, narrated by Steve Martin; and "The Little Mermaid" from the San Francisco Ballet on Great Performances. There'll also be artist and performer profiles, behind-the-scenes documentaries and mini-films about the art scenes in Miami, San Francisco, Cleveland, Chicago, the Blue Ridge Mountains and other areas of the country. Plans call for related online content educational tools.

The newsmag Need to Know relaunches on Sept. 16 "with a new format and focus," PBS said. The show will report on issues related to Election 2012. NTK has been retooling recently, dropping co-anchor Jon Meacham late in March. PBS said Meacham will continue to offer commentaries.

Schedule changes include pairing Nature and Nova on Wednesday nights.

The fall season officially premieres Oct. 2-4 with Prohibition from filmmakers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. The series features music by Wynton Marsalis and the voices of Tom Hanks, Jeremy Irons, Paul Giamatti, Oliver Platt, John Lithgow, Samuel L. Jackson, Patricia Clarkson, Adam Arkin, Sam Waterston, Josh Lucas and others, with narration by Peter Coyote.

Physicist and author Brian Greene returns to Nova with “The Fabric of the Cosmos” on Wednesdays, Nov. 2-23. The four-part miniseries looks at how scientists are piecing together the most complete picture yet of space, time and the universe

Details on the schedule and programs, along with additional content and digital and children’s initiatives, will be announced May 16-19 at the national PBS meeting in Orlando, Fla.

Flooding is latest disaster for Gulf Coast pubcasting consortium to cover

Public Media Exchange, a consortium of 10 Gulf Coast pubTV and radio stations led by Louisiana Public Broadcasting, has expanded its website content to cover Mississippi River flooding and the aftermath of recent tornadoes that ripped through the South.

The GulfWatch section of the website was originally set up last year with a grant from CPB to examine the environmental, economic, legal and social implications of the massive BP oil spill. LPB is now providing live coverage of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's news conferences from the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness center. There are also updates on the potential record flooding along the Mississippi, and disaster resources on flooding and tornadoes.

Exchange members are Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi Public Broadcasting networks; WSRE-TV in Pensacola, Fla.; WEDU-TV and WUSF-TV in the Tampa, Fla., area; WWNO-FM in New Orleans; KRVS-FM in Lafayette, La.; WBHM-FM in Birmingham, Ala.; and WVAS-FM in Montgomery, Ala.

Casual visitors important even to top news websites, Pew discovers

The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism today (May 9) released an in-depth study of Web news behavior, using detailed Nielsen audience statistics. The study examines the top 25 news websites in the United States, drilling down into four areas of audience actions: how users get to the top news sites, how long they stay, how deep they go into a site and where they go when they leave. Among the findings:

— Even top news sites depend greatly on “casual users,” those persons who visit a few times per month and spend only a few minutes on the site.
— An ongoing core of loyal and frequent visitors to news sites return more than 10 times per month and spend more than an hour there.
— At five of the top sites, Facebook is the second or third most important driver of traffic. Twitter, on the other hand, barely registers.

"All of this suggests that news organizations might need a layered and complex strategy for serving audiences and also for monetizing them," note the study's authors, Kenny Olmstead, Amy Mitchell and Tom Rosenstiel. "They may need, for instance, to develop one way to serve casual users and another way for power users. They may decide it makes sense to try to convert some of those in the middle to visit more often. Or they may try to make some of their loyal audience stay longer by creating special content."

Incoming journalists reflect on becoming reporters in the digital age

A group of young journalists finishing their studies at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism today (May 9) launch, a collection of videos exploring the hurdles and possibilities for reporters in the digital age. In the videos, the 18 aspiring newsmakers examine subjects including the use of "crowdfunding" stories, computer-assisted reporting, content farms, the New York Times' new paywall, and the response to Al Jazeera English by American cable companies.

APTS, DEI get more than $920,000 from CPB to expand Grant Center

The Association of Public Television Stations (APTS) and DEI (Development Exchange Inc.) have received a $923,310, two-year CPB grant to expand their Grant Center (password protected). For the past 18 months the center has focused on identifying new sources of federal and foundation funding for pubcasters; now it will concentrate on assisting CPB-qualified pubTV and radio stations in applying for the support. Meegan White directs the Grant Center, coordinating with Amie Klempnauer Miller. White has been working with APTS since 2000 on federal grant strategy, grant writing and project management. Miller, DEI Foundation development adviser, has more than 20 years of experience in fundraising and has written successful grant proposals raising more than $20 million for public media.

Organic food advocates link "Marketplace" story to agribusiness sponsor

The Organic Consumers Association, an advocacy group that campaigns on food safety and agricultural sustainability issues, launched an online campaign objecting to a May 4 Marketplace story on how to feed the world's growing population. "The Non-Organic Future," reported by Adrienne Hill, concluded that organic food movement caters to a niche market, and that the future of farming involves wider acceptance of genetically modified foods and other commercial agricultural practices. The association described the report as a "biased and inaccurate story that sounds as if it was written by its major underwriter: Monsanto Inc," and urged its members to demand that local pubradio stations drop the program.

In an editor's note responding to the story's critics, Marketplace's George Judson urges listeners not to dismiss the show's credibility on the basis of one report. "In practice, Marketplace, like most news organizations, thinks of its coverage as ongoing and cumulative. We’ve aired scores of pieces on organic food and organic farming (do a search on for “organic food,” for example), and we will do more." He doesn't respond to OCA's allegation of undue influence by agribusiness giant Monsanto, whose Marketplace sponsorship has been a source of controversy for years. [Links: NPR ombudsman column, GMO Journal.]

ITVS, CPB, PBS partner for Women and Girls Lead campaign

The Independent Television Service (ITVS), CPB and PBS announced today (May 9) the Women and Girls Lead initiative, a multi-year engagement campaign to focus independent documentaries on the leadership development of women and girls. CPB alone is investing $2.7 million in the project, in film financing and outreach work, according to the New York Times.

More than 50 related docs are scheduled to air on PBS over the next three years. ITVS also will soon announce a deal to bring Half The Sky, the bestseller by Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and Pulitzer Prize winner Sheryl WuDunn, to PBS in fall 2012 as a four-hour prime-time special on Independent Lens. CPB President Pat Harrison will chair the project's advisory board with members including Kristof, Harvard economics professor and Nobel winner Amartya Sen, actresses Geena Davis and America Ferrera, Jordan's Queen Noor, PBS President Paula Kerger and designer Eileen Fisher. Partner organizations include CARE, World Vision and the Girl Scouts of America.

"We are living in a brand new age where citizens exchange media and ideas on a continuous basis," said Sally Jo Fifer, ITVS president. "Public media has a responsibility to lead our audiences to content that has the potential to lift us up and move us forward as a society."