Nov 14, 2011

Pubcasting wayfarer Rick Steves wins Journalist of the Year from travel writers

Rick Steves, whose travel commentaries run on both public television and radio, is the Journalist of the Year in the 2011 Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Competition, sponsored by the Society of American Travel Writers Foundation. Steves also won gold awards for his travel blog and Travel With Rick Steves broadcasts on public radio, and a bronze award for Rick Steves’ Europe: Season Six distributed by American Public Television. "Rick Steves connects with a wide audience today," the society said in a statement, "sharing his travel adventures and insight in all forms of media from print, radio and television to blogs and tweets."

Another APT show also scored an honor: Best travel video winner is Richard Bangs’ Adventures with Purpose/Hong Kong.

The awards, widely seen as the most prestigious in travel journalism, were announced at the annual conference of the Society of American Travel Writers, Nov. 7-12 in Wellington, New Zealand.

Here's a full list of winners, culled from 1,209 entries.

Free Press adds it up: state funding cuts to pubcasting since 2008 total $85 million

A report released today by media reform advocates at Free Press chronicles the impact of four years of budget battles in state capitals and finds that the public TV system is at a precarious tipping point.

Since the onset of the recession in 2008, public broadcasting stations in 24 states have lost $85 million in financial support from what has historically been one of their most reliable funding sources -- state governments.

Public TV networks in at least four states -- North Carolina, Oklahoma, Maine and Idaho -- are considering shutting down transmitters serving sparsely populated regions, and New Hampshire Public Television is among those drastically scaling back on local production. To adjust to the loss of its entire $2.7 million state subsidy, New Hampshire Public Television has cut two-thirds of its local programming, including its public affairs show N.H. Outlook.

Co-authors of the report, "On the Chopping Block: State Budget Battles and the Future of Public Media," contend that partisan lawmakers have unfairly targeted public broadcasting by enacting disproportionately deep cuts on stations as they sought to reduce state spending.

"In general, the cuts to public media are extreme when compared to budget cuts generally, meaning that public broadcasters are being forced to shoulder more than equal weight in these tough economic times," write Josh Stearns and Mike Soha. "The result is that local public media risks becoming less local in their content and services to communities."

Looking cumulatively over the cuts imposed in the past four years, they estimate that public media has lost $202 million in annual support. Among those hardest hit have been stations in Florida, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Pennsylvania -- where policy makers completely zeroed-out pubcasting appropriations. In Alabama, Indiana, Kansas and South Carolina, state aid declined by 50 percent since 2008.

Stearns and Soha see bright spots for public media to recover and potentially reverse the funding losses. They point to states in which lawmakers worked on a bipartisan basis to preserve aid to pubcasting -- and call for reforms at the state level to strengthen firewall protections.

"[R]ecent events illustrate that while our public media system still enjoys support across affiliations at the local level, it needs new structures and policies to protect it from extremists' political meddling."

PBS Kids announces first "augmented reality" educational app

Children now have their own "augmented reality" educational mobile app from PBS Kids. The Fetch! Lunch Rush App was created by WGBH in Boston and is based on its PBS Kids Go! series, Fetch! With Ruff Ruffman.

“Augmented reality is becoming a popular marketing tool and a compelling feature for gamers, but no one has fully explored what this could mean for educating children,” said Jason Seiken, PBS's s.v.p., interactive, product development and innovation, in a statement.

Augmented reality blends a physical, real-world view with computer-generated sensory input including sounds, video or electronic graphics.

In the app, star Ruff Ruffman takes the lunch order for his studio crew. The challenge for players is to keep track of how many pieces of sushi everyone wants. The app uses 3-D imagery "to reinforce the early algebraic concepts, helping kids to make the connection between real objects and corresponding numeric symbols," PBS said in a statement.

The FETCH! Lunch Rush App is available for free from the App Store on iPhone or iPod touch. It was developed with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and a Ready To Learn grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

Jim Leonard, longtime host on Texas Public Radio, dies at 61

Texas Public Radio's KSTX/89.1 FM reports that Jim Leonard, an on-air host for 17 years, died Nov. 10 of complications from a heart transplant he received in September. Leonard was 61, and had battled heart disease for decades, the station said in a statement on its website.

“First and foremost, Jim Leonard was one of our best voices on KSTX,” said Texas Public Radio’s Nathan Cone, director of classical programming, who worked with Leonard for more than a decade. “He was sharp at writing copy for air, and adept at handling the pressure of hosting our local broadcasts of All Things Considered and Morning Edition. Even when breaking news or technical problems may have caused chaos inside the studio, to the listeners, it sounded effortless. Few people can handle that the way Jim did.”

Leonard retired in 2010. He had joined the station in 1993.

A memorial service took place Nov. 12 at American Legion 579 in San Antonio; Leonard had served on the combat front lines in Vietnam as an Army medic. His body will be interred in his home state of Georgia, the station said.

"To the Point" to return to topic of Friday's "completely unacceptable" broadcast

To the Point host Warren Olney is under fire for his Nov. 11 talk show linking the child sex abuse scandal at Pennsylvania State University to barriers that prevent same-sex couples from becoming adoptive or foster parents. "This entire broadcast was utterly worthless, embarrassing, and completely unacceptable," wrote Gawker's Seth Abramovitch in a scathing critique posted on Friday. After the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation to objected to the program, Olney apologized for the misunderstanding and promised further discussion of the topic today. GLAAD has also requested that producing station KCRW and distributor Public Radio International remove the Nov. 11 edition of To The Point from the show's website.

UPDATE, Nov. 15 -- Olney closed his Nov. 14 broadcast with an apology acknowledging his failure to explicitly say that pedophilia and homosexuality are not connected. But Gawker's Abramovitch described the broadcaster's statement as "insufficient" and an example of the shortcomings of To the Point and public radio journalism in general.

"Olney's approach is irresponsible and lazy, because it assumes the journalist's work is done once the two sides of the debate are chosen and given the microphone; then it's up to the viewer to discern which side 'sounds more right.' It's a convenient way to fill an hour, yes, but responsible journalism? No."