Dec 31, 2008

Idaho needs DTV translators

IdahoPTV says it needs six new digital translators to maintain coverage during and after the digital transition in February, reports Boise Weekly. More than 400,000 people in Idaho watch over-the-air signals; during a pubTVshow on DTV in November, some 2,600 viewers called in seeking advice. For IdahoPTV, buying more repeaters would need to be done through a privately-funded capital campaign. Peter Morrill, g.m., says broadcasters need opportunities from the FCC to apply for digital translator channels.

Audience growth begins at home

Pubradio marketing and programming consultants Deborah Blakeley and Israel Smith propose a 12-month audience growth goal for public radio stations and outline the steps needed to achieve it in "Thinking Audience," the latest article published by Station Resource Group's Grow the Audience project.

Harrisonburg stations make urgent fundraising appeal

"We are among the smaller stations in the public radio system," writes Tom DuVal, g.m. of WMRA and WEMC in Harrisonburg, Va., in an email appeal for year-end donations. "We cannot cut enough expenses without having a noticeable and undesirable impact on the quality of the service you receive." Underwriting revenues have dropped sharply and decreases in government support and private contributions have added to the stations' financial woes, DuVal tells the Daily News Record. Staff members have already taken 10 percent cuts in their salaries; lay-offs and cost-cutting program changes may come down next month.

Dec 30, 2008

FCC head anticipates DTV challenges

Outgoing FCC Chairman Kevin Martin concedes in a Q&A with Broadcasting & Cable that challenges remain as the February DTV transition nears. One potential problem: Running out of money for converter boxes. The president-elect's transition team favors a stronger call-center program to assist viewers; Martin is calling on state broadcasters to assist. As far as funding for them, "We have some money, but there are strict rules on the government process that I can’t comment on until the contracts are awarded."

Dec 29, 2008

Year-end fundraising special raises $130k

Best of Public Radio 2008, a year-end fundraising special that aired on 70-plus stations on Saturday, generated contributions totaling more than $130,000 through a special website, John Sutton, one of the marketing consultants behind the campaign, reports that some listeners chose to make donations directly to their local stations.

UPDATE: In an email, Sutton estimates that the campaign's fundraising total could hit $200,000. Donations to the campaign website have topped $166,000 as of 1 p.m. today. Listener contributions via station websites may bring in another $35,000.

Levine's search for 'moxie' turns inward

The idea behind "American Moxie," an NPR series by Ketzel Levine, was to examine how ordinary Americans adjust when times get tough. But mid-way through reporting for the series, Levine learned that she was one of 64 NPR employees being laid off. “Every story that we all do, we’re always looking for the perfect ending,” Levine tells the New York Times. “And suddenly it was handed to me. It was not one of my choosing, but as a storyteller, what could make a better story?” Ketzel shares the story of her unexpected career setback on (scroll down) and on her own blog, Ketzel Uprooted. Meanwhile, Public Radio Exchange is offering free producer accounts to recently displaced staff from NPR and pubradio stations. It's "our small way of helping out," writes PRX's Jake Shapiro. ALSO: the Association of Independents in Radio recently offered free, one-year memberships to NPR employees who are losing their jobs. For more info, contact Erin Mishkin, membership director, or 617-825-4400.

FCC reports viewership changes due to conversion

The FCC has released two reports (PDF) outlining changes in TV coverage areas from analog to digital for all 1,749 full-power TV stations in the country. Some 89 percent of stations (1,533) will see a net gain of viewers in the switch; 11 percent (196 stations) will have a net loss. The FCC posted detailed maps of each station's coverage areas on its website, as well as maps of those stations with significant upcoming changes.

NTIA , FCC foresee digital conversion problems

The National Telecommunications & Information Association (NTIA) is anticipating problems in the lead-up to digital conversion in February, according to Broadcasting & Cable magazine. NTIA says it may need up to $330 million more for its $40 DTV-to-analog converter box coupons, and reports there may be a shortfall of up to 2.5 million converter boxes. The FCC plans to spend about $10 million on call centers for questions and problems during the week of the DTV transition, estimating 350,000 calls per day Feb. 15-21. However, the FCC also says that would not be enough money or operators to handle the expected flood of calls. Even if it allocated all $20 million Congress recently gave it for the transition, it would not be enough, predicts FCC Chair Kevin Martin. Government and industry representatives, including President-elect Barack Obama's transition team, have been meeting with FCC reps to discuss the issues.

Sesame Street book getting press

Michael Davis' new book, "Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street," is getting attention in the press. The New York Times published a review on Dec. 26 headlined, "Brought to you by the letter S," by James Panero, managing editor of The New Criterion. He laments what he sees as Davis' focus on trivia: "Do we really need to know that (Joan Ganz) Cooney served boeuf bourguignon, 'a traditional French country recipe . . . on Page 315 of the first volume of "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," ' to Lloyd Morrisett at their 1966 dinner?" He calls the book, the 40-year-old program's first complete overview, "a tireless if not altogether artful history of this unique place."

PubTV station nears all-Catholic channel deal

RGV Educational Broadcasting Inc., owner of KMBH-TV in Harlingen, Texas, hopes to have a deal inked by Jan. 19 with recording company Gospa Records to provide programming for KMBH DT 38.2, its upcoming digital all-Catholic channel. The Brownsville Herald reports that Gospa will form a nonprofit arm to work with the station, with Gospa paying for time on the air. KMBH will earn $120,000 the first year and $240,000 for each of the remaining years of the five-year deal. In addition, KMBH will receive 50 percent of the money generated by commercials on the station. No CPB or PBS funds will be used in the deal.

Dec 23, 2008

Its structure cripples pubmedia, new report contends

A report on pubcasting is one of a series of new research papers from the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. The project, titled, "Media Re:public: News and Information as the Digital Media Come of Age," explores the potential and challenges of the emerging networked digital media environment, according to its website. One of the 11 papers, on public broadcasting and public affairs, is authored by Pat Aufderheide, director of the Center for Social Media at American University; Jessica Clark, director of the Future of Public Media project, also at American University; and Jake Shapiro, founder of Public Radio Exchange. One point: "The structure of U.S. public broadcasting cripples any kind of coherent national planning. It has provided remarkable stability over the years, but this stability at a time of rapid
change is itself becoming a liability." Here is the entire report.

At North Carolina station, layoffs start at the top

The board of WHQR in Wilmington, N.C., has laid off three of its top managers, including General Manager John Milligan, the Wilmington Star-News reported yesterday. The layoffs, intended to maintain the station's "long-term financial viability," the news release said, also include the news and development directors. In addition, the station eliminated its p.d. position, which is vacant. The station's website lists about a dozen staff members and 10 on-air personalities.

Dec 22, 2008

Revenue slides for WWOZ, Jazz Fest

After far-flung listeners and pubradio stations pitched in to aid WWOZ's recovery from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, donations to the New Orleans community station have plummeted, according to New Orleans CityBusiness. The station has been relying promotions of Brass Passes--premium memberships that begin at $375 and provide special access to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage festival--to stay afloat. David Freedman, WWOZ g.m., tells the business journal that Jazz Fest itself is at risk because "we are having trouble finding the underwriting to support it."

Is pubradio willing to spend what it will take to grow the audience?

Surveying the wreckage of canceled public radio shows, research and marketing consultant John Sutton outlines the lessons learned from NPR's Day to Day and APM's Weekend America, two shows that received millions in CPB aid toward their goals to attract new audiences and funding.

ITVS selects five projects for funding

The Independent Television Service has announced contracts with five projects from its International Call 2008. The films selected to receive production funding were chosen from 385 submissions in 74 countries. The winners will be broadcast on PBS, including prime-time slots on Independent Lens and the new PBS World series Global Voices. The programs also will be distributed on commercial outlets including the Sundance Channel, the National Geographic Channel and HBO, and on online video sites such as Caachi, Jaman and SnagFilms. Winners originated in Serbia, Indonesia, Armenia, China and Kurdistan. Two more projects will be selected soon.

Proposed 50 percent NY fund cut stuns pubcasters

New York's public broadcasters were shocked by Gov. David Paterson's proposed 50 percent cut in state funding, a move they say may force staff and programming reductions, according to the Times-Union in Albany. The budget, presented last week, reduces the state's subsidy for public broadcasting to $9.4 million divided among nine pubTV stations and 17 pubradio stations. Peter Repas, executive director of the Association of Public Broadcasting Stations of New York, says his group will lobby hard against the cuts. "If implemented, this cut will change the face of public broadcasting in New York," he says.

Dec 19, 2008

WGBH lays off 12

Boston's WGBH added to the host of recent announcements of station layoffs today with the news that it will lay off 12 employees. The station has also frozen salaries for management and filling of vacant positions and reduced capital purchases. Membership revenue has held steady for the broadcaster, but corporate sponsorship has declined, said a spokeswoman. The Associated Employees of the Educational Foundation, WGBH’s in-house union, agreed to a restructuring of the network’s design department and to accept smaller wage increases next fiscal year. More in the Boston Herald.

APM shutters Weekend America

American Public Media announced today that it will cease production of Weekend America, its two-hour weekly digest, as of Jan. 31. The cancellation will affect 13 full- and part-time jobs related to the show, but a spokeswoman for APM could not confirm how many of those employees would be laid off. The show airs on 134 stations. APM and its sister regional network, Minnesota Public Radio, face a deficit of upwards of $2 million as income from all sources declines. A blogger for shares the press release.

Retired CBS exec to helm KPCW in Park City

The new manager of Utah's KPCW-FM is retired television executive Jonathan Klein, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. Klein managed Baltimore CBS affiliate WJZ-TV and later became a CBS president in charge of 14 stations. Klein's radio experience includes managing KDKA in Pittsburgh and serving on the board of Baltimore's WJHU-FM, the NPR station sold by Johns Hopkins University in 2001. He succeeds Blair Feulner, a KPCW founder and longtime manager who announced his departure to listeners in July. KPCW also is accepting applications for program director and development director.

Dec 18, 2008

New book details history of "Sesame Street"

Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street by former TV Guide editor Michael Davis hits bookstores Dec. 26. The book "also covers early public television (then as ever an unwieldy, perplexing contraption). And it invokes the 1960s idealism that ignited Sesame Street and remains a fundamental part," writes Frazier Moore of the Associated Press.

NPR, pubTV holding steady for news viewers

NPR is maintaining a generally steady listenership among Americans for their daily news, Gallup polling shows. Some 18 percent of Americans listen to the pubradio network daily, which is the same figure as in 1995 -- but down slightly from 19 percent in December 2006. PubTV daily news viewership remains at 28 percent, same as in December 2006. Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,009 Americans ages 18 and older; polling was conducted Dec 4-7.

MPBN shutting down transmitters, cutting jobs, salaries

Cutbacks in state and federal funding have prompted changes at Maine Public Broadcasting Network, President Jim Dowe announced to staff on Dec. 18. Six jobs will be cut from a full-time staff of 86. There will be a hiring freeze on three additional open positions, temporary wage reductions of 5 percent to 20 percent through the end of the fiscal year next June, temporary suspension of the company’s contributions to employees’ 403(b) retirement plans and the shutting down of transmitters for WMED-DTV in Calais, WMEF-FM in Fort Kent and WMED-FM in Calais.

"Newspaper death spiral," and a proposal to avoid it, envisioned for pubcasting

The worst of the "Econolypse" is yet to come and public broadcasters need a plan of action, writes Robert Paterson, a consultant on NPR's New Realities project who also advises stations. Paterson plays out a grim scenario for the field in 2009 — continued cost reductions that put NPR on "the newspaper death spiral" and force stations to scale back until they become network repeaters. His solution? "In short there has to be a drive to create a true PUBLIC MEDIA NETWORK — to set up a network that can offer all the members the full value of the network effect," he writes. Paterson points to a proposal co-developed with Alaska Public Media's John Proffitt to reorganize the Alaska Public Radio Network as a collaborative public media entity, or "chaordic organization." A slide show from Proffitt's presentation to Alaska pubcasters is here, and Proffitt writes about it and takes questions on his blog, Gravity Medium.

Dec 17, 2008

Transition team talks Public Media 2.0

Alec Ross of President-elect Barack Obama's transition team met with pubmedia reps Dec. 16 in Washington at a forum organized by the Media and Democracy Coalition, reports Gigi Sohn, a communications attorney who blogs at the site of her group Public Knowledge. Ross, a member of the Technology, Innovation and Government Reform Policy Working Group, spoke with independent media and technology producers and distributors including ITVS, Public Radio Exchange and the National Public Lightpath Initiative. The pubcasters, Sohn reports, "urged the transition to think of public media as more than PBS and NPR, and to provide opportunities for more grassroots oriented public media."

APM/MPR deficit may be up to $2M

American Public Media and Minnesota Public Radio are running between $1.5 million and $2 million under budget for the fiscal year that began in July, reports blogger David Brauer. That's just under 3 percent of APM/MPR's $70 million budget. Brauer says he hears cuts may be coming, "just before or after the holidays."

Support grows after demise of college FM station

KTXT-FM in Lubbock, Texas, one of the nation's most powerful college radio stations, closed Dec. 10 due to financial constraints. Since then, a Facebook page supporting its return has more than 4,000 members, according to an Associated Press story in the Houston Chronicle. The 35,000-watt, noncommercial station operates under an educational license and is supported by Texas Tech University. The school's media department, which ran the station, spent about 40 percent of its budget on items including the transmitter, building and antennae over the last four years. The transmitter needs $16,000 in repairs. KTXT has been broadcasting since 1961.

Skepticism within NPR about lay-off decisions; Facebook group fundraising to save 'Day to Day'

NPR Ombudsman Alicia Shepard answers questions about the budget cuts announced by NPR last week and reports on reactions among NPR staff: "Many, but not necessarily all, NPR employees seem to accept the rationale that big cutbacks were needed to ensure the company's long-term financial health. Assertions by senior executives that the layoffs were not targeted at getting rid of specific individuals have not been as widely accepted, however," she writes. Meanwhile, Save Day to Day, a Facebook Group established last week that now has 667 members, asks fans of the soon-to-be canceled show to send $50 to NPR. "[H]opefully we can save this, one of the best shows in the NPR line-up," the group's founder, a listener from Cincinnati, writes.

"Grow the Audience" reports on classical music station performance

Education levels within a market are the best predictor of classical music station performance, according to the latest report [PDF] from Grow the Audience, a CPB-backed project of Station Resource Group that is examining options for future pubradio audience growth. The report, published by SRG and Walrus Research, analyzes the performance of the entire field of all-classical stations, including the few remaining commercial outlets, and identifies stations that are over- and under-performing. It also predicts the performance of all-classical stations in Houston, Atlanta and Tampa, three top markets that lack the format. The project website recently added commentaries on audience growth strategies by former NPR News chief Bill Buzenberg, research consultant Mark Ramsey and Latino Public Radio director Florence Hernandez-Ramos.

Dec 16, 2008

Eyeing 'painful' cuts ahead, Maine pubcasters convene town hall meeting

The Maine Public Broadcasting Network, which provides public television and radio services to the state, closed last fiscal year with a $2 million deficit and is convening town hall meetings to gather public input about its future. Cuts in state funding, reductions in federal aid from CPB and declining member contributions have taken a toll on the state network's bottom line, according to this news account of last night's public forum. MPBN President Jim Dowe told attendees that it's premature to talk about staff or programming cuts, but "MPBN will cut wherever necessary and some of it will be 'painful,'" the Morning Sentinel reported.

Dec 15, 2008

Candidate for deanship, Klose close to closure

Kevin Klose, president emeritus of NPR, will visit with faculty and students of the University of Maryland's journalism school on Tuesday. He is the only candidate now under consideration to become its dean, and officials may extend an offer if they are pleased after his visit to College Park, Provost Nariman Farvardin told the campus newspaper, the Diamondback.

It's unofficial Kent Manahan month at NJN

The three-decade former anchor of NJN News gets an hourlong primetime special on Friday, "Kent Manahan: Anchoring a Legacy," with excerpts from her past programs plus recent interview segments, the state net announced today. And a week earlier the state Public Broadcasting Authority appointed her acting executive director. Predecessor Elizabeth Christopherson quit NJN in November and old Current she will join a foundation.

Pennsylvania stations tighten belts

WLVT-TV in Bethlehem, Pa., will likely raise about $100,000 less during its current pledge drive than it did last year, but there are no plans yet to cut jobs or local programs, says Pat Simon, president. The station is also waiting on state funding, which usually comes in July. Like many stations, WLVT is slashing its travel and ad budgets. WVIA in Wilkes-Barre has fared worse — last week the station announced it was laying of five employees, axing two programs and reducing salaries to make up for a $200,000 shortfall. 

"NextGen" training program for young journalists to be cut as NPR downsizes

Behind last week's headlines of NPR show cancellations and journalists losing their jobs, NPR eliminated Next Generation Radio, a training program created and managed by veteran producer Doug Mitchell. "What 'NextGen' (as it was known) did was to find young people from various backgrounds and give them the sense of wonder about radio journalism in all its forms," writes Jeffrey Dvorkin, former NPR ombudsman, on his blog. "Doug taught these kids about sound and story-telling and taking risks." Dvorkin describes the decision to let Mitchell go as a "huge loss for the company," and so far 159 Facebook users have endorsed this view by joining the group "Save Doug Mitchell's job." Mitchell describes the rationale for NextGen, and its strategic importance to public radio, in this 2003 Current commentary.

FCC asks ham radio operators for DTV help

The FCC has approached the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), an association of ham radio operators, for assistance with the upcoming digital TV transition. The commission would like members " to provide technical educational assistance to their communities," according the league's website. A spokesman for the organization says the FCC is letting ham groups nationwide decide how to best handle the task in each community. ARRL members will not be making house calls, the spokesman stressed, but handing out technical information and FCC materials on the transition.

Dec 12, 2008

California's KVIE reduces staff

KVIE-TV in Sacramento, Calif., laid off seven staffers this week, reports the Sacramento Bee. The cuts amount to 10 percent of KVIE’s staff. General Manager David Lowe said a drop in viewer donations prompted the belt-tightening.

Weiss explains why NPR decided against across the board cuts

"[W]e didn't want to cut across the board," NPR News chief Ellen Weiss says in this NewsHour interview about the budget cuts and lay-offs announced on Wednesday. "We didn't want to say, 'You know what? Try to do the same quality, try to do the same amount of journalism, try to have the same reach nationally and internationally, but try to do it with less money.'" Efforts to diversify and grow the audience through News & Notes and Day to Day, two cancelled shows targeting African American and younger audiences, are no longer "just something we do through one program or even two programs," but have to go across "everything NPR does," from radio programs to web-based content and mobile services.

Dec 11, 2008

StoryCorps to open permanent oral history booth in Atlanta

The first permanent StoryCorps booth outside of New York City will be installed in Atlanta next year -- located temporarily in a studio at Public Broadcasting Atlanta's WABE-FM until 2011, when it moves in the city's new civil rights museum, the Center for Civil and Human Rights, the station announced today. "WABE is family to us," said project founder Dave Isay in the release. "There is no other station in the country that’s dearer to our hearts that cares more about StoryCorps and public broadcasting." While New York now has the only permanent StoryBooth, San Francisco is hosting one through next October, and a mobile booth is patrolling Alaska through April.

NewsHour to report on NPR downsizing

Tonight's NewsHour with Jim Lehrer includes a segment on the NPR job cuts. The Washington Post's Marc Fisher is a confirmed guest. NPR Ombudsman Alicia Shepard may also participate.

Correction: The NewsHour's Jeffrey Brown will interview Ellen Weiss, NPR senior v.p. of news. Fisher and Shepard will not participate, according to a producer.

Commentator petitions to save 'News & Notes'

An online petition to save News & Notes challenges NPR's official explanation for the show's cancellation: "several staff members report a different reason given to them . . . which had nothing to do with audience levels or funding," writes journalist/blogger Jasmyne Cannick, a News & Notes commentator and L.A.-based political consultant. She asks News & Notes fans to write NPR execs to express support for "one of the best national radio newscasts dedicated to African-American news and views." Baratunde Thurston, a blogger and News & Notes commentator, also questions NPR's decision to cancel the show: "In the grand, new age of Obama, this is happening? This past year, we at Jack and Jill Politics and the broader Afrosphere had to work triple time to try to inject some sanity into the media conversation about race . . . . With Obama headed for the White House, the supply of ignorant racial media discourse will only grow." Because Michel Martin's Tell Me More has a broader, multicultural focus, it "can't be accurately called a black program," he writes.

ITVS a "difficult partner" for filmmakers?

The Independent, an online (previously print) publication about independent film, reports that some filmmakers are unhappy with how the Independent Television Service (ITVS), a CPB-backed organization that funds independent productions, control films' content and "plays hardball" during contract negotiations. In more than a dozen interviews with sources who remain mostly anonymous, the publication found that "the organization can at times be a difficult partner, placing unnecessary demands on filmmakers ... shrouding the collaborative process in secrecy, and at times stifling the independent, creative spirit of the very filmmakers it is designed to support." Many producers came to ITVS's defense, but apparently, some felt pushed to make their films more journalistic and "balanced" even though they didn't regard their film as journalism. Others said films had been intentionally "buried" and were never broadcast. Sources were particularly critical of contract negotiations, which they say "[push] inexperienced filmmakers to sign a lengthy and complex contract without the benefit of time to review it or to run it by a lawyer." According to the article, ITVS agreed to publish its standard contract details for the first time at The Independent's request. The founder of the publication, the Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers, helped lobby for the establishment of ITVS in 1991. RELATED: On Dec. 1, the ITVS Board of Directors voted to make the board a self-nominating entity. Previously, the National Coalition of Independent Public Broadcasting Producers (NCIPBP) nominated board members, who were then approved by CPB. The ITVS Board will now seek out and approve members independently.

DTV adds more PBS markets

DTV, the only satellite provider offering PBS in high definition, has added 14 more markets for local pubTV, reports Multichannel News. More are planned for 2009. The new markets include Burlington-Vt.-Plattsburgh, N.Y.; Toledo, Ohio; Youngstown, Ohio; Flint-Saginaw-Bay City, Mich.; Indianapolis; Knoxville, Tenn.; San Diego; San Francisco; Springfield-Holyoke, Mass.; and Tampa-St. Petersburg, Fla.

Show cancellations allow NPR to avoid making "a thousand cuts in everything"

A roundup of reports on the downsizing at NPR: The decision to cancel Day to Day and News & Notes, two mid-day shows that originate from studios in Culver City, Calif., "seemed to have the least impact on our audience" and allowed NPR to avoid making "a thousand cuts in everything," Interim President Dennis Haarsager says in the New York Times. The LA Times describes the role of Day to Day in covering stories from the West coast and quotes Haarsager describing "a la carte ways" that the network can distribute its stories. "Not everything has to have a brand, a title. It wouldn’t have to be a branded show with a cute title and music," he says. The Washington Post and LA Observed, a blog that first published rumors of imminent cuts at NPR, list the NPR talents being let go. So does NPR's own media reporter David Folkenflik, who captures some of the anger expressed yesterday during a staff meeting at NPR HQ in D.C.

UPDATE: No original reporting but extended comment threads on Gawker and HuffPo.

Dec 10, 2008

Less than half of laid-off staff work on canceled shows

Neither Day to Day nor News & Notes were attracting large enough audiences or underwriting revenues to stay on the air given the revenue losses that NPR has taken since July, according to a memo sent to NPR staff this afternoon. "[W]e concluded that it was necessary to eliminate some activities completely to achieve the long term savings we require while protecting our core mission," wrote Dennis Haarsager, interim president, in the memo. Of the $23 million projected budget deficit announced today, $14 million is attributable to expected shortfalls in corporate underwriting, said Dana Davis Rehm, senior v.p. The 64 employees being laid off include 29 who work on the two canceled shows, Rehm said. An additional six reporters not affiliated with these programs are being let go. The Morning Edition team that works with L.A.-based cohost Renee Montagne are among 30 NPR Westers who will continue to work out of the production facility in Culver City, Calif. "It would be a strategic mistake not to stick with NPR West," Rehm said.

Job and spending cuts extend across NPR

NPR is eliminating 64 jobs to address a projected budget deficit of $23 million and confirming that Day to Day and News & Notes will go off the air on March 20, 2009. Many of the personnel cuts come from laying off staff of the two canceled series, NPR announced in a news release, but job and spending cuts extend across the company to reporting and production, station services, digital media, research, communications and administration. Twenty-one open positions will not be filled. "With all of NPR's revenue sources under pressure, these actions were necessary to responsibly stabilize our finances and put NPR on a realistic path," said Dennis Haarsager, interim president. "It's crucial to realize that these programming changes are being driven by a loss in revenue, not relevance," said Ellen Weiss, senior v.p. of NPR News.

NPR said to be shutting down two shows

Staff members of NPR’s Day to Day and News and Notes, based at the network’s western production center in Culver City, Calif., are meeting today with NPR News chief Ellen Weiss about cancellation of their programs and pending layoffs, according to three pubradio sources. An NPR West staffer says word inside the building is that more than 60 people will lose their jobs. It is unclear whether the production center, established in late 2002 in a major expansion of NPR’s news operations, will remain open.

CPBer to the UN?

Cheryl Halpern, CPB board member and former chair, has been nominated by President George Bush to be an alternate United Nations representative, according to JTA, a global Jewish news agency. UN alternates represent the United States at committee meetings and other smaller forums.

Budget woes force cuts at WVIA

Five positions have been eliminated and several programs halted at Northeastern Pennsylvania Educational Television Association due to an expected $200,000 funding shortfall, according to the Times Leader of Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Gone are a television production staffer, a documentarian and an FM radio news person, as well as the CEO's part-time administrative assistant and a receptionist. The layoffs represent about 8 percent of its workforce. The station, better known as WVIA Public Media, also is putting on hiatus its "Pennsylvania Polka" and "WVIA Ballroom" shows. Two documentary projects were scrapped. Job openings and compensation for training, travel, dues, maintenance and hospitality were frozen. President and CEO Bill Kelly also is taking a 10 percent salary cut, or about $18,000, which brings his salary to $163,890.

Dec 9, 2008

Civil liberties group challenges NPR, DHS on E-Verify credits

The Electronic Privacy Information Center, a Washington-based civil liberties group, filed a Freedom of Information Act request [PDF] with the Department of Homeland Security seeking documents related to the E-Verify underwriting credits airing on NPR. The group also is pressing NPR to take the spots off the air. "The ad running on NPR is part of a political campaign to make E-Verify mandatory for all U.S. employers," wrote EPIC Executive Director Marc Rotenberg in a letter [PDF] to NPR Ombudsman Alicia Shepard. "Perhaps NPR could also look more closely at how the government tries to influence public opinion through expanded media presence and paid sponsorship." The letter was cosigned by leaders of the ACLU, Free Press and the National Immigration Law Center. Shepard first weighed in on the controversial underwriting contract in her Nov. 25 column. Last week she discussed it on Talk of the Nation. This backgrounder [PDF] from EPIC includes links to critical reports on E-Verify and questions whether the NPR spots meet FCC standards for noncommercialism.

Dec 8, 2008

Eby: He'll be new g.m. in St. Louis

Filling the vacancy left by the departure of Patty Wente, KWMU-FM in St. Louis has hired Tim Eby, g.m. of WOSU-FM in Columbus and former chair of the NPR Board. He starts work in St. Louis on Inauguration Day, the Riverfront Times reported today. Consultant Rob Paterson twitters appreciatively about KWMU and its public TV neighbor.

Want a pubmedia stocking stuffer?

Reclaim the Media, a Seattle-based nonprofit "dedicated to pursuing a more just society by transforming our media system and expanding the communications rights of ordinary people," is offering a unique holiday gift for the broadcast fans on your list: A set of Media Heroes Trading Cards. Forget baseball greats Mickey Mantle and Ernie Banks, instead you can collect and swap such luminaries as longtime PBSer Bill Moyers, "Media Matters" host Bob McChesney and Pacifica Radio founder Lew Hill. How about a Children's Television Workshop card to show off at your next pubcasting confab? A set of 21 cards sells for $10.

Dec 5, 2008

Chicago Public Radio cuts 11 staffers

Chicago Public Radio laid off 11 full-time employees today -- 9 percent of its workforce, according to the station. "Although we continue to see positive growth in our overall audience and high responsiveness to our fundraising campaigns, we have experienced revenue shortfalls due to a significant drop in our average donation and limited growth in corporate underwriting," the station said in a letter to its board and Community Advisory Council, also shared with Current. The cuts come as the station faces a $1.5 million budget shortfall, according to the Chicago Tribune. The Chicago Reader lists some of the laid-off employees, which include two hosts of CPR's startup web/radio hybrid, The Reader's media critic wrote about earlier this year. A recent article in Chicago’s Time Out looks critically at’s execution: “…[T]o many people who hear Malatia’s new radio project, it doesn’t sound like groundbreaking radio. Often, it just sounds like college radio.”

Lehrer on podcasting, The Takeaway and more

Brian Lehrer, host of an eponymous weekday talk show on New York’s WNYC, fielded a variety of questions this week from readers of the New York Times’s website. “Frankly, I don’t consider my program a radio show anymore,” he wrote in response to a question about podcasting and the future of radio. “I think of it as a radio-based multiplatform interactive news and issue … media thing. If we come up with a short, cogent name for that, I’ll use it. Ideas welcome.” (Via the PRPD blog.)

Rowland: Create trust fund for pubcasting's political coverage

Public broadcasters should receive proceeds from a tax on campaign ad spending to support their political coverage, argues Wick Rowland, president of Colorado Public Television, in an op-ed in the Rocky Mountain News. “A 3 percent tax on the commercial media expenditures for the 2008 federal elections would have provided roughly $100 million, which could have been invested in a public broadcasting political coverage trust fund,” he writes. “With such a resource, public television and radio stations all over the country could greatly expand and improve their debate work.”

PBS Hawaii plans move to new home

PBS Hawaii plans to buy the soon-to-be-vacated headquarters of Honolulu’s NBC affiliate and move into the studios within the next few years, reports the Pacific Business News. The pubcaster now leases space from the University of Hawaii but failed to secure another long-term lease from the school. It may add a building to its new home, which is much smaller than its current space. “It’s a wonderful ‘control your own destiny’ moment,” said PBS Hawaii President Leslie Wilcox.

Dec 4, 2008

CPB, PBS to evaluate Challenge Fund

CPB has released its FY 2009 Business Plan, which details use of discretionary funds. Up for evaluation is the Challenge Fund, a joint effort with PBS to fund programs that draw a larger audience. "We will investigate alternative methods for attracting and developing these projects," according to the plan. The 10-part PBS series Carrier, which won widespread critical acclaim, was a Challenge Fund project. CPB also will select one or more of the seven project prototypes in the American History & Civics Initiative for full production funding. The American Archive project moves ahead with grants to stations and content producers to digitize and preserve local content. The two-year-old Local Service Initiative matching grant program will be scrutinized "with a view towards making appropriate adjustments to the initiative in future grant rounds." The full 14-page document is available online.

Kerger fancies newsgathering partnership with NPR

PBS President Paula Kerger says the network is "thinking very carefully about what role we will play in news coverage moving forward,” adding that PBS continues to look at “different ways we can partner” with NPR. She spoke to blogger Leonard Witt, a media prof at Georgia's Kennesaw State University after her speech at an Atlanta Press Club luncheon Dec. 3. One hurdle to PBS’ newsgathering capabilities: funding. The radio network has “made a huge commitment to newsgathering. And in part they’ve been able to do that because they were the beneficiaries of a substantial bequest from Joan Kroc,” a $200 million infusion that NPR received in November 2003. A wishful admission from Kerger: “I am looking for public television’s version of Joan Kroc.” Witt is an advocate of what he calls "Representative Journalism," which involves citizen reporters, and thinks the model may suit PBS' needs. Here is more coverage of Kerger's Atlanta appearance.

Dec 3, 2008

Kermit Boston, KQED and APTS leader, dies in San Francisco

Kermit H. Boston, a longtime lay leader in public TV, died Nov. 23, the San Francisco Chronicle reported yesterday. Boston, 73, suffered a heart attack after returning home from Grace Cathedral, where he chaired the board. The onetime Pennsylvania school teacher and principal had guided many nonprofits as well as individuals in a long life of mentoring, educational publishing and leadership in the African-American communities of several cities. He served on the boards of Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Philadelphia and as board chairman of Manhattan’s Riverside Church before moving west. In San Francisco, he served on the KQED Board from 1997 to 2002, and it elected him chair for the last two years. Boston was recently elected to a second three-year term on the APTS Board and served as its vice chair. Professionally, he held executive posts with McGraw-Hill Books in New York and Simon & Schuster Technology Group in Sunnyvale, Calif., before becoming a senior partner at BKB Associates Inc., a trainer of corporate executives in leadership skills, diversity awareness, conflict resolution and employee recruiting. He is survived by his wife, Barbara Ruffin-Boston; his daughter, Kimberly Ketchum; two grandchildren; a sister, Jane Jordan; and many nieces and nephews. Memorial services will be held Dec. 9 at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco and Dec. 20 at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Philadelphia. The family asked that friends make memorial donations, in lieu of giving flowers, to the Bay Area Community Development Corp. Scholarship Fund or the Boule Foundation in Atlanta.

Funding credits for E-Verify prompt complaints

Underwriting credits for the Department of Homeland Security's E-Verify program, an electronic database that allows companies to verify employment eligibility of new hires, have stirred up objections from listeners and some station managers, reports NPR Ombudsman Alicia Shepard. The credits, which began running last month, create the perception of a conflict of interest between NPR's news coverage and funding relationships. "It just makes you a little queasy," says Sean Collins, executive producer of Latino USA, a weekly series that is also carrying the spots. "I don't think we do a good enough job of reiterating the concept of a firewall. It really does exist."

Dec 2, 2008

Public Radio Tuner 2.0 gets a thumbs down

The Public Radio Tuner is now being offered to iPhone users, but this blogger is less than impressed with the application. "Seriously, you can't mark a station as a favorite and there is no search function. Not the most convenient app I have seen." Web technologists at APM, NPR, PRX and PRI are collaborating on enhancements to the tuner, to be released in early 2009.

NPR newsmags seen as engines for future growth in pubradio news audience

The latest analysis from public radio's Grow the Audience project identifies a "short list" of market factors that drive performance of individual NPR News stations--namely education levels, competition within each market for NPR News listeners and the presence of key psychographic segments. The report [PDF], published online last week by Station Resource Group and Walrus Research, concludes that strategies to grow the public radio news audience start with the two most-listened to programs, NPR's Morning Edition and All Things Considered. In addition, the analysts predict that the cume ratings for NPR News would grow substantially if hybrid news/classical music stations in Houston, Tampa and Atlanta went to all-news formats.

25 years of Mountain Stage

On Sunday, West Virginia Public Radio’s Mountain Stage will celebrate its 25th anniversary with its 684th production, Joan Osborne, Kathy Mattea and a multilayer cake from Baltimore’s Charm City Cakes (home of the Food Channel’s Ace of Cakes). The show has presented nearly 1,700 musical artists of all genres, produced on stages around the state, in both Charleston, W.Va. and S.C., and as far afield as San Diego and Winnipeg. Traditionally, host Larry Groce invites the performers for a joint number at the end of each broadcast. (The producers also have done 39 standard-definition TV shows and nine HDTV specials.) Next year, the production goes all-digital. Full episodes are archived on the show’s site,, and segments are streamed on NPR Music.

Dec 1, 2008

NPR's Baghdad team targeted in car bomb attack

NPR's Baghdad-based reporting team narrowly escaped an assassination attempt on Sunday. After conducting interviews and having lunch with their two Iraqi drivers in a kebab shop, correspondent Ivan Watson and producer/translator Ali Hamdani were returning to their parked car when Iraqi soldiers intercepted them and pulled one of the drivers away from the vehicle. The armored BMW, which had been planted with a so-called "sticky" bomb, exploded into flames. Multimedia reporting on the incident, including video, photos and Watson's reportage for NPR, are here.