Sep 30, 2009

"National Parks" series gets six of its own iPhone apps

One iPhone app will be released for each episode of National Parks: America's Best Idea, according to developers We-Envision. The 99-cent apps, six in all, generate mini-films using thousands of Web-based photos from some 400 national parks, and provide information about the parks, maps and live webcams. The first ships today.

Sesame Street marks 40 seasons with visit from First Lady

The kick-off episode for Sesame Street's 40th season on Nov. 10 will feature a very special guest: First Lady Michelle Obama. She'll (attempt to) convince kids of all the good things that vegetables bring to the plate. This will be her second appearance on the show.

Sep 29, 2009

Underwriting losses prompt NHPR to cut jobs

With corporate support revenues running 11 percent below last year, New Hampshire Public Radio laid off four employees. Business reporter David Darman, one of five full-time NHPR journalists, was among those riffed, according to the Concord Monitor. "Everybody knows the economy's bad, and the station's not immune to that," Darman told the Monitor. "But it was a shock to me." NHPR's member support revenues have been growing, but not enough to cover lost underwriting income, according to Alexandra Urbanowski, v.p. of development and marketing.

Doug Mitchell: "sticking with what I believe in" and busier than ever

In a column for journalists seeking employment, pubradio producer and journalism trainer Doug Mitchell says he was lucky to have been "booted" from NPR during lay-offs this year. He's now working on three different projects, including a forthcoming Living on Earth podcast, and continues to work with new talent. After 21+ years at NPR, the hardest part of being laid off was "feeling like my work didn't matter to the new leadership of NPR because it didn't generate revenue or didn't meet the plus side of whatever cost-benefit analysis was used," Mitchell said. "Sticking with what I believe in has proven to be a great salvation."

Dyson show has CPB support but consortium backs away

There's been a split within the African American Public Radio Consortium over the Michael Eric Dyson Show, a midday talker launched in April by the consortium and Baltimore's WEAA. CPB awarded a $505,000 grant to WEAA on Sept. 15 to produce a show with Dyson, but it's unclear whether consortium member stations intend to carry it. Richard Prince of the Maynard Institute reports that the consortium cut ties to Dyson months ago and is backing a new weekday show hosted by Tony Cox. "The Michael Eric Dyson Show is no longer," Loretta Rucker, consortium executive director, told Prince. "We had a good four months with Dr. Dyson but the arrangement eventually devolved over compensation." Since Dyson left the broadcast this summer, Cox began hosting an AAPRC-backed broadcast. Plans call for Upfront with Tony Cox to relaunch Oct. 1 and originate from NPR West in Culver City, Calif., although NPR won't be involved in the production.

Knight Commission to issue public media recommendations

The Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy will present its findings Friday before a plethora of federal officials, such as Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski and U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra, and media dignitaries including NPR President Vivian Schiller. It's the "first major national commission of its kind in the digital age," according to a press release. PBS helped gather public comments for the report, and local pubcasters testified in meetings across the country. The commission will present 15 recommendations for "sustaining democracy and meeting America's information needs," including comments on public broadcasting's role. A draft report was issued in April (PDF).

Sep 28, 2009

Ken Burns, in perpetual motion

Where in the world was Ken Burns when his 10-year project, National Parks: America's Best Idea, had its PBS premiere last night? Watching it alone, in his Washington, D.C., hotel room. "I like to watch it when everyone else does," Burns told Current after a National Press Club event today. The energetic documentarian has been making appearances for the project since July 2008, and hasn't been back home to Walpole, N.H., since Aug. 21. That's not all: He's working on half a dozen projects simultaneously. How does he do it? Check out the upcoming Current for an inside look.

Top pubcasters' salaries listed in newspaper survey

Twenty pubcasters are included in The Chronicle of Philanthropy's executive compensation survey for the nation's top foundations and charities. Figures reflected end of fiscal 2008. The Chronicle's survey examined 325 organizations that are among those raising the most money from private sources in 2008, as well as grant makers holding the largest assets. Former NPR C.E.O. Kenneth Stern, who departed in 2008, is atop the pubcasting list, receiving $1,319,541 as part of his four-year contract. Another former exec, PBS C.O.O. Wayne Godwin, who served from 2000 to 2008, was paid $398,063. Current PBS C.E.O. Paula Kerger, $534,500, up from $424,209 at end of fiscal 2007. Rounding out the list, in descending order: Laura Walker, c.e.o. of WNYC Radio, $474,808; Al Jerome, KCET president, $426,688; Jeff Clarke, c.e.o., Northern California Public Broadcasting, $406,501; Neal Shapiro, WNET president, $400,570; Sharon Percy Rockefeller, WETA president, $391,904; Thomas Conway, WNET v.p., $374,321; Daniel Schmidt, WTTW president, $347,491; William Kling, Minnesota Public Radio/American Public Media president, $347,217; Jonathan Abbott, WGBH president, $337,870; Jon McTaggart, MPR/APR c.e.o., $313,967; Joseph Bruns, WETA executive v.p., $303,108; Linda O'Bryon, Northern California Public Broadcasting chief content officer, $282,360; Paula Apsell, senior exec producer at WGBH, $278,209; Dean Cappello, chief creative officer, WNYC Radio, $272,072; Deborah Hinton, KCET exec v.p., $251,446; Dennis Haarsager, NPR interim c.e.o., $219,369; and Reese Marcusson, WTTW c.f.o., $214,397. Some 30 percent of the country's nonprofit leaders took a pay cut this year, according to the Chronicle. Median compensation for chief executives at the organizations surveyed was $361,538. The highest paid nonprofit exec is James J. Mongan of Partners HealthCare System in Boston, whose compensation in 2008 topped $2.7 million, a 99 percent increase over his 2007 pay.

Sep 25, 2009

Frontline, Tehran Bureau site partner up for coverage

Frontline has entered into an "editorial partnership" with Tehran Bureau, an online news site connecting journalists, experts, readers--and sometimes anonymous contributors. The site launched today. The joint effort fits into what Frontline e.p. David Fanning refers to as "converged" journalism. The show's senior editor Ken Dornstein tells The New York Times that means “investing in the best reporting possible, then using all platforms to incubate and publish stories.” Segments of the upcoming Frontline episode on Iran, “A Death in Tehran,” will be shown on the site before the November television broadcast.

More from ombud of PBS, that "strange beast within the world of media"

A new column from PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler is now online. Subjects include KBDI's Sept. 11 conspiracy theory pledge programming, and Tavis Smiley's former affiliation with Wells Fargo wealth-building seminars.

Pubcaster develops teaching tool tackling post-incarceration issues

WFYI Public Broadcasting in Indiana is announcing a new board game it helped create that provides insights into the challenges former inmates face. The project was developed with Volunteers of America-Indiana and John P. Craine House, an alternative sentencing program for nonviolent women. "Checkpoints and Challenges" provides role-playing situations that newly free inmates face. It's designed for use by re-entry programs, correctional systems, congregations with prison ministries and secondary and higher educational programs. It'll be sold starting Sept. 30 on the volunteer group's web site for $32.

PBS Video Portal offers entire National Parks series

By now you know, unless you've been holed up in a Yosemite cave, that Ken Burns' latest doc, National Parks: America's Best Idea, kicks off Sunday night. The PBS Video Portal will have the entire series, all six parts, available for viewing starting that day. The portal already offers an extended preview and a peek behind the scenes.

Unions accuse TPT of layoffs targeting members

The local president and vice president of the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians (NABET) have been laid off from Twin Cities Public Television, reports the online news site The Twin Cities Daily Planet. A NABET statement said that in August, after union contracts were renegotiated, TPT announced layoffs of four of 11 NABET employees and at least three IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) members. The NABET workers were on the production crew for Almanac, the station's weekly pubaffairs program. TPT President Jim Pagliarini said the station was "absolutely not" trying to quash the unions. "We need to free up resources," Pagliarini said. The station recently made three senior hires, two for existing positions and one the new position of chief revenue officer. The CRO will help "bring more money into the station," Pagliarini told the Planet.

KQED, U.C.-Berkeley J-School to create local nonprofit news service for Bay Area

With $5 million in backing from San Francisco businessman and investor F. Warren Hellman, KQED and the University of California at Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism will launch a local nonprofit Web-based news service for San Francisco. "The Bay Area has a voracious appetite for news and is one of the most engaged and community-minded regions in the nation," Hellman said, when announcing the Bay Area News Project yesterday. "We are confident that this is an ideal place to create a new economic model that will sustain original, local quality journalism, and we believe the Bay Area will step up to support these efforts." Online and mobile platforms will be the primary channels for the service, with public radio and TV distribution via KQED. The New York Times, which recently announced plans to publish a Bay Area edition, may also join the partnership. U.C. Berkeley's journalism school already publishes "hyper-local" neighborhood news sites. It plans to partner with the university's schools of business, engineering and information services to support more innovations in news technology. News coverage from yesterday's announcement is posted here.

Sep 24, 2009

Senate committee OKs satellite act

The Senate Judiciary Committee today approved the Satellite Television Modernization Act of 2009. Among other things, the legislation allows for the importation of signals into markets that lack a network affiliate. Larry Sidman, president of the Association of Public Television Stations, complimented the committee “for acting quickly and wisely on providing a much-needed legislative solution to allow state public television networks to reach all their state residents with important news and public affairs programming.”

Now playing online: PBS Emmy winners

Several of PBS's recent Emmy winners are now streaming online at the PBS Video site. There's Masterpiece's "Little Dorrit," Nova's "A Walk to Beautiful," POV's "Inheritance" and Between the Lions.

Fire damages New Hampshire PubTV

Firefighters had to make two trips to extinguish a blaze sparked by a generator at New Hampshire Public Television in Durham, reports The Union Leader in Manchester. The emergency crew had to cut a hole in the roof to put out the fire. The generator had been running for several hours due to a power failure.

Latest income source for filmmakers: "Documercials"

Creating short website "documercials" for commercial businesses is a growing way for documentary filmmakers to supplement their income, according to The Independent. The story cites numbers from Kelsey Group, an advertising research firm, that in 2007, small businesses spent $10.9 million on Internet video ads and that's projected to hit $1.5 billion in 2012. "The trend also focuses on portraying a company’s corporate message in a more sincere format," it notes. So more companies are turning to docmakers for their unique approach to subjects.

Sep 23, 2009

Blumenthal is NJN's latest interim chief while staying with WYBE

Howard J. Blumenthal, c.e.o. of Philadelphia’s WYBE-TV, has been named interim executive director of the state-owned New Jersey Network and interim president of its fundraising arm, the NJN Foundation. He will keep the WYBE job as well, NJN said in a clarification. NJN has had temporary top execs since the former e.d., Elizabeth Christopherson, took a foundation job last November. Blumenthal is a former media exec and onetime e.p. of Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?

PBS and NPR regulars make it to the Hollywood Bowl

Ari Shapiro, NPR justice correspondent for four years, and Emilio Delgado, who’s been “Luis” on Sesame Street for 38, were guest singers with Thomas Lauderdale’s retro mini-orchestra Pink Martini at the Hollywood Bowl Sept. 19. Delgado performed “Sing a Song,” the Carpenters hit by Sesame Street songwriter Joe Raposo, with the band’s vocalist China Forbes (a duet captured in this video recorded at KCRW). And Shapiro’s global singing debut (pictured above and here on YouTube) is a suaaaave interpretation of what he calls “a big-band swing number.” In an interview with Alex Cohen on L.A.’s KPCC, Shapiro, who sang in college, tells how he fell in with this band. Note to booking agents: Go for a duet with Shapiro and fellow legal reporter Nina Totenberg, soprano.

On the Boss' 60th, WXPN pays tribute morning & night

Philadelphia's WXPN celebrates Bruce Springsteen's 60th birthday today with special programming and a tribute concert originating from World Cafe Live, its partner performance venue. Beginning at 10 a.m., Helen Leicht hosts four hours of wall-to-wall Springsteen, and she's taking requests for Bruce classics and covers here. Leicht also hosts tonight's event, The Boss' Birthday Bash, which will feature the Phill-E Street Band performing Springsteen's seminal 1975 release Born to Run cover to cover. The concert will be broadcast and webcast live from 7:30-10. And for those Bruce fans who just can't get enough, WXPN has produced a webstream of Springsteen songs covered by Local XPN Artists.

Sep 22, 2009

WGBH sues over "Famous 'Roadshow' Tour"

WGBH is suing a North Carolina antiques and collectibles trader for its use of the phrase "The Famous 'Roadshow' Tour" to promote its events in the Northeast, according to The Boston Herald. The trademark infringement lawsuit accuses of damaging WGBH's reputation by using what it considers deceptive newspaper ads. It was filed in U.S. District Court in Boston Friday.

Was there a *#$!*% word on Georgia Public Broadcasting?

Viewers are still talking about Saturday night's Georgia Music Hall of Fame Awards on Georgia Public Broadcasting: F-word or not? A posthumous tribute to inductee Shakir Stewart of Def Jam was given by members of his family. But as the segment ended, a woman in the groupwas heard yelling as the mics were still open, “Get the [expletive] off me! Don't touch me!” The Peach Buzz blog in Atlanta said there's been no explanation for what caused the ruckus, or even confirmation of what exactly was said.

Once again, PBS dominates news/doc Emmys

PBS scored the most statuettes of any network at the 30th Annual News and Documentary Emmy Awards last night in New York. It's the ninth consecutive year the network has won the most awards. The six went to Frontline, with two; POV (team pictured), NOVA, Bill Moyers Journal and National Geographic's "Illicit: The Dark Trade." PBS had 38 nominations, also more than any other broadcast or cable network. A full list of the news and doc winners is at the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences site. On hand to accept POV's honor, from left: Exec Director Simon Kilmurry; V.P. Cynthia Lopez; Director/Producer/Editor James Moll; “Inheritance” subject Helen Jonas and daughter Vivian Delman; Producer Christopher Pavlick; and Exec Producer Chris Malachowsky. (Photo: Marc Bryan-Brown Photography)

PubTV's classroom side develops in parallel with general-audience side

The Ford Foundation has finalized its $1 million grant to the PBS Foundation for the PBS Digital Learning Library (formerly known as EDCAR). The network revealed the grant to attendees at Showcase in May. The money will help create the online repository of pubcasting-created educational content for K-12 teachers and students, such as video, audio, images, games and interactive learning activities designed specifically for classroom use, flowing to teachers through local stations. CPB also will provide content grants to PBS member stations.

Purchase of classical WCRB opens door for WGBH-FM to go all-news against WBUR

Another commercial classical station will join the pubcasting fold under a deal announced yesterday by WGBH. The Boston pubcaster is acquiring WCRB-FM, a 27,000-watt station that draws a weekly audience of some 340,000 listeners, from Nassau Broadcasting Partners of New Jersey.

The purchase allows WGBH-FM to shift its music programming to a new channel and go all-news in direct competition with Boston NPR News powerhouse WBUR, the Boston Globe reports this morning. “This lets us save classical music and look at opportunities to expand our journalism and give folks in Boston more of the public radio journalism that they love,’’ WGBH President Jon Abbott tells the Globe. “This will lead us to build out and continue to enhance news’’ offerings.

WGBH, which has been cutting its budget by laying off staff and imposing furloughs and pay cuts, will finance the purchase through a special capital campaign.

Sep 21, 2009

Independent Lens welcomes host Maggie Gyllenhaal

Indie movie fave Maggie Gyllenhaal will be host of the new season of Independent Lens, premiering Oct. 13. Former hosts include Edie Falco, Angela Bassett, Don Cheadle and Susan Sarandon.

StoryCorps wants Latino histories

StoryCorps on NPR, which has archived oral histories from more than 50,000 participants, is kicking off StoryCorps Historias in a Washington, D.C., event Thursday. StoryCorps calls it "a groundbreaking initiative to record and preserve the stories of Latinos across the United States" (Current, Dec. 22, 2008). Partners in the national project include the Latino Public Radio Consortium, Latino USA and the U.S. Latino and Latina World War II Oral History Project. Members of Congress, CPB President Pat Harrison and StoryCorps founder Dave Isay will be on hand for the announcement, at the United States Botanic Garden next to the Capitol.

KBDI developing investigative news project

Wick Rowland, CEO of KBDI in Denver and dean of the Colorado University-Boulder School of Journalism, has announced that Colorado Public Television will create an investigative news website and pubTV show, according to the Temple Talk journalism blog from John Temple, former publisher of the now-defunct Rocky Mountain News. The project will have a staff of 12; it's currently partially funded. Heading up the effort will be former Rocky Mountain News reporter Ann Imse. KBDI will provide about a quarter of the $2.2 million budget, including air time, the website, libel insurance and administrative costs. The group is hoping to raise $400,000 to get begin work.

Keillor's economic impact far-reaching

Alarm bells went off in Minnesota when Prairie Home Companion talker Garrison Keillor mentioned to Minneapolis's Star Tribune last week that he might give up host duties and become producer for a "successor show." The newspaper is examining "the ripple effects" that it says "would be enormous" for state businesses if that happened -- even at the state fair, where Keillor appearances routinely draw 7,000 to 11,000 fans. Keillor's mild stroke on Sept. 7 and four-day hospital stay has him pondering his future.

As a sponsor faces lawsuit over lending practices, Smiley ends relationship

After being drawn into a scandal over alleged predatory loan practices of Wells Fargo, talk show host Tavis Smiley has cut all ties to the financial company.

Smiley, who hosts shows on both PBS and Public Radio International, began working with Wells Fargo in 2005 as a speaker at wealth-building seminars for African Americans. A lawsuit recently filed by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan charges that these seminars were marketing schemes to peddle subprime mortgages to minorities and "part of the bank’s overall illegal and discriminatory practice of steering black and Hispanic borrowers into riskier and more expensive loans," according to the Washington Independent.

“Basically we were just speakers for hire,” said Kelvin Boston, host of the American Public Television series Moneywise, who also appeared at the seminars. “We didn’t have any role or any control over what else happened. The main point is that we were not involved in any of their discussions or in anything they sold.”

"I cut everything off with Wells Fargo," Smiley told journalism blogger Richard Prince [scroll down here], as the Independent's story began circulating on the blogosphere last week. The move cost "a lot of money," Smiley added, but he didn't know how much. Wells Fargo had sponsored Smiley's weekly PRI series and his annual "State of the Black Union" conferences, televised by C-SPAN.

In a written statement, Smiley said the mission of his media company is "to empower and speak for the underserved" and it "always will support any official and credible investigation of allegations of any company accused of disrespecting communities of color with discriminatory practices."

The Washington Independent is an online publication of the Center for Independent Media and staffed by a team of blogger/reporters who specialize in politics, policy & business reporting.

And the most Emmys go to: Little Dorrit!

Little Dorrit, the BBC/PBS/WGBH Dickens adaptation considered an Emmy underdog, actually walked away with seven statuettes: Best miniseries, directing, writing, art direction, casting, cinematography and costumes. The stunning victory for the Masterpiece miniseries even bested such powerhouses as Mad Men and 30 Rock. Here's a clip of just one of the acceptance speeches, and a list of all the winners. Other pubcasting winners: American Masters for original main title theme music, and Great Performances for nonfiction series. UPDATE: PBS's Joe Miller, senior associate of primetime publicity and awards, tells Current the network will be re-posting the miniseries on the PBS Video site on Thursday, and refeeding it to stations sometime this week.

Sep 20, 2009

A growing Ken Burns' backlash?

With the PBS premiere of Ken Burns' much anticipated National Parks: America's Best Idea quickly approaching, The Los Angeles Times is examining the filmmaker, his approach and his subject matter. "Though he's generally respected by critics and scholars," the paper said, "a backlash has been building, dismissing him as middlebrow, charging that he's repeating himself, that he's too earnest, too dark or naively patriotic." As Tim Page of The Washington Post wrote of Burns' 2001 film Jazz, in which Burns presented the improvisational music as a mirror of American culture, "This sort of unreflected populist Hallmark-ese seems a strange mixture of New Deal and New Age, and I don't believe it for a moment."

Sep 18, 2009

Special ALMA award goes to Latino Public Broadcasting

Latino Public Broadcasting has received a 2009 National Council of La Raza ALMA Special Achievement Award for its body of work for the year starting June 2008 in the development, support, and promotions of Latino-themed documentaries on public television. LPB Chairman Edward James Olmos and Managing Director Luis Ortiz accepted the honor during the ALMA pre-show on Thursday. The ALMA Awards show with hosts Eva Longoria Parker and George Lopez airs at 8 tonight on ABC.

Liza coming to public television

Liza Minelli's Las Vegas show "Liza's at the Palace" will be shot for distribution by American Public Television, Playbill reports. The Tony-winning production will be available to stations in November, then released on home video in 2010.

Sep 17, 2009

This American Life departing Showtime, host Ira Glass says

Ira Glass, host of pubradio phenom This American Life, somewhat accidentally revealed last night that its Showtime version is ending. "I don't know if I can say this yet, but we've asked to be taken off of television," Glass told the audience at a panel discussion in Manhattan that included several of the show's senior producers. As reported by FishbowlNY, Glass said that despite its four recent Emmy nods, the TV version would not continue. "Most journalism is about things that already happened, as it turns out," he said. "But with television, you want to capture it while it's happening."

Internet security firm detects malware on PBS page, report says

Network World, a news provider for network and IT professionals, is reporting that the Internet security firm Purewire has discovered malware in the PBS Kids' Curious George web page. Purewire researcher Nidhi Shah told the news site that the company first observed a malware, or malicious software, infection on Monday when a Purewire customer's computer picked it up. The log-in at the Curious George page may produce an error message that drags the user to a domain where "an attempt to exploit vulnerabilities on the user’s desktop applications is made," according to the news report. A PBS rep said it is aware of the problem, which should be fixed by Friday afternoon.

Kermit isn't going Gaga

Kermit the Frog is on the record about his relationship with oh-so hip pop star Lady Gaga: There is none. His denial to People magazine comes after the two arrived together at the recent MTV Video Music Awards and were photographed smooching as Kermit leaned out of the back of a limo. "It was not a romantic kiss," he insists. "It was a kiss for good luck. Kissing a frog is good luck for the person giving the kiss–but bad luck for the frog if his pig finds out." That would be Miss Piggy, who has long been linked to the green Muppet. But what about the Kermit cape and hat Lady Gaga wore during a television interview in Germany? "Actually, no actual amphibians were harmed in the making of that frog coat," Kermit explains. "In fact, after she checked the coat, she gave those frogs the rest of the night off."

Mortality bites Keillor in the butt

Garrison Keillor, 67, insists he's fine, just fine, after a mild stroke earlier this month. He also tells The Associated Press that he has no plans to retire or to postpone the new season of his Prairie Home Companion that begins Sept. 26. "I'm not a collector of things. I don't have hobbies . . . so work is what I do," he explained. His staff confirmed to Current that Keillor fully intends to participate in the big meatloaf dinner and street dance that traditionally kicks off each first show. Keillor described his experience in the hospital in an essay on titled, "Nice 67 y.o. male has brush with mortality." He writes about "when the doctor talks about how you must go on a powerful blood thinner lest a stray clot turn your fine intellect into a cheese omelet, you must now accept being 67 y.o. and do as he says. You had intended to be a natural wonder, an old guy who still runs the high hurdles, but mortality has bitten you in the butt."

Sep 16, 2009

Ernest Wilson, new CPB chair and comm-school dean, sees push to define and advance public media

With the change of parties in the White House comes an echo at CPB. Its board unanimously elected a Democrat, Ernest Wilson, as chair today in Washington. Louisiana PTV chief Beth Courtney was named vice chair. Afterward Wilson told Current that the time is right for a reexamination and expansion of pubcasting comparable to the Carnegie Commission's report more than 40 years ago. The outcome "shouldn't be determined on 9th Street," at CPB headquarters, but rather through discussion around the country, he said. The international communications scholar, now dean of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California, was first named to the board nine years ago by President Clinton and reappointed by President Bush. [CPB release.] Full interview to come in Current, Sept. 21, and on this site.

Smiley wins international prize

PRI talk host Tavis Smiley was awarded the 2009 Interdependence Day Prize on Sept. 12 in Istanbul, Turkey, by the CivWorld project of Demos, a nonpartisan public advocacy organization. About 100 delegates from around the world attended the policy forum. CivWorld President Benjamin R. Barber, called Smiley a "fearless television broadcaster, intrepid interviewer and ardent humanitarian, who has become a voice for all humankind by putting honesty before interest, civil discourse before polemics, and integrity before advantage." Past recipients include actor/activist Harry Belafonte; Lord Bhikhu Parekh, professor of political philosophy at the University of Westminster; and Polish Solidarity founder Adam Michnik.

Sep 15, 2009

Maryland cuts 10 percent of workforce

Maryland Public Television has announced 18 layoffs, or about 10 percent of its staff, effective Oct. 6. There will also be furloughs, according to a station statement. Job cuts come from the technology, content, institutional advancement, communications and administration units. MPT President Robert Shuman said there'll be no loss of programming.

CPB invests $505k in Michael Eric Dyson Show

CPB announced major funding to producers of the Michael Eric Dyson Show, a midday talk show for African-American audiences that launched in April on public radio stations in 18 markets. The $505,000 grant to producing station WEAA in Baltimore covers one year, but CPB anticipates multi-year support, according to a spokeswoman. In a news release, CPB President Pat Harrison described CPB's commitment to ensuring a "diversity of voices in public radio." "[T]his grant . . . is an investment in that commitment and an expansion of the relationship between public media and diverse audiences," she said. "We're very pleased that CPB is investing in WEAA's national production capacity," said LaFontaine Oliver, g.m., who launched the show in collaboration with Loretta Rucker of the African American Programming Consortium. "And we're excited about bringing Michael Eric Dyson's exploration of important issues to a national audience through Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and other public radio stations." Morgan State University, WEAA's licensee, is one of 105 HBCU institutions nationally.

CPB board mulls getting information more directly to public

The CPB Board, meeting at headquarters in Washington, D.C., today pondered an intriguing concept: Using advertising, or even scrolling information at the bottom of commercial TV news broadcasts, to bring more attention to the important work being done by pubcasting. In a conversation sparked by talk of the new CPB-funded, several members commented on the need to get that H1N1 resource directly to the public, not relying entirely on local stations to push it out to local viewers. CPB is "continually frustrated" by the public not knowing how connected it is to communities, said CPB head Pat Harrison. "We need to take a look at what we can and can't do, and how much money it would require." Is it possible for the flu portal address to be included in a scroll beneath, say, newscasts on MSNBC, FOX or CNN? Or advertising directing consumers to the portal on commercial networks? Billboards, or ads in airports? But then there's the sensitive issue of tax money being used to buy advertising. But as outgoing Board Chair Chris Boskin noted, "Taxpayer money is paying for this information, which is important to taxpayers." Member David Pryor discussed approaching billboard companies for free ads as a public service. Harrison suggested the board explore the advertising issue for both the flu portal as well as the systemwide economic outreach initiative that grew out of the mortgage crisis project (Current, July 14, 2008).

PRX assists cross-border training for Spanish-language journalists

Public Radio Exchange has partnered to create a site for sharing community web and radio reports across borders. Its collaborator, the International Center for Journalists, yesterday announced the two-year project funded by the McCormick Foundation. ICFJ trainers will work on radio and web skills with journalists for participating Spanish-language radio stations in the United States and Latin America. The project kicks off with a panel discussion about broadband access in minority communities at the National Press Club Sept. 17.

Civil rights footage found in stations' attic search

Stations uncovered forgotten doc footage on several civil rights movements as they prepared for the preservation phase of the CPB-funded American Archives pilot project. Included were recordings of movement leaders Langston Hughes, Thurgood Marshall, Gloria Steinem and Harvey Milk as well as the Ku Klux Klan, some on 16mm film unseen for decades.

CPB hopes to use the project to raise funds for a wider preservation effort. In the second phase of the project, 22 stations get grants to preserve and digitize historical content. Project manager Oregon Public Broadcasting said it will give CPB-funded grants totaling $2 million. The pilot focuses on the civil rights movement plus more recent recollections of World War II produced to accompany the PBS series The War.

TV grantees include WTVS, Detroit; WNET, New York; WHUT, Washington, D.C.; KCPT, Kansas City; and the Louisiana, Iowa and Arkansas state networks. Radio grantees include WYSO, Yellow Springs, Ohio; Minnesota Public Radio and Pacifica Radio, Berkeley, Calif. Radio/TV joint licensees include WSIU, Carbondale, Ill.; Wisconsin Public Television and Radio; WGBH, Boston; WVIZ/WCPN, Cleveland; WQED, Pittsburgh; WOUB, Athens, Ohio; WKNO, Memphis; WILL, Urbana, Ill.; WCNY, Syracuse, N.Y.; Mississippi Public Broadcasting; KQED, San Francisco; and Texas Public Broadcasting Association. First-phase grantees were announced in June.

Sep 14, 2009

Six Creative Arts Emmys go to PBS

PBS scored six honors at the Creative Arts Emmy Awards Saturday night in Los Angeles, with Masterpiece's "Little Dorritt" the big winner with four. Taking home statuettes were: Rachel Freck for casting; Barbara Kidd and Marion Weise for costumes; for art direction, James Merrifield, Paul Ghirardani and Deborah Wilson; for photography, Lukas Strebel. Great Performances scored for its title music by John Williams; and American Masters was outstanding nonfiction series, with Susan Lacey, Prudence Glass, Julie Sacks and Judy Kinberg producers. These Emmys recognize technical disciplines and behind-the-scenes production work such as picture editing, sound editing, sound mixing, special visual effects, cinematography, art direction, music, stunts and more. A full list of winners is on the Emmy website (PDF). HBO was top winner with 16.

Too Beautiful to Live: still alive and kicking

Too Beautiful to Live with Luke Burbank, a weekly evening talk show on Seattle's KIRO-FM until its cancellation last week, attracted an audience of "NPR defectors...people who were married to NPR but were stepping out on them," Burbank, former NPR reporter and co-host of the short-lived Bryant Park Project, tells the Seattle Times. As it turned out, after more than 300 broadcasts this audience was tiny: in July the show drew an average quarter hour rating of 1,400 listeners between the ages of 25 to 54, about 1.4 percent of its target demographic in the Seattle market. "Frankly, if I was managing KIRO, I'd have done the same thing," Burbank says of the decision to take TBTL off the air. In an interim arrangement expected to last at least until January, when his KIRO contract ends, Burbank is producing a regular TBTL podcast.

Sep 13, 2009

Crain's business newspaper reports on WNET

The regional weekly Crain's New York has this article on its website: "At Channel 13, the financial signals are red" based on unnamed sources. Current will report on the story this week or in its next issue. Disclosure: Current is an editorially independent news service affiliated with WNET.

Sep 11, 2009

School district backs away from WXEL purchase

Citing a budget deficit, the Palm Beach County (Fla.) School District announced this week that it is dropping plans to buy pubstation WXEL, reports The Palm Beach Post. About half of a $4.5 million reserve account planned for the purchase will now be put toward unexpected salary costs. The Community Broadcast Foundation of Palm Beach and the Treasure Coast, a local group working to take over the stations, recently sent newsletters criticizing the board's takeover plans to 550 community "heavy weights," the paper says, including political, community and nonprofit leaders.

Sep 10, 2009

NTIA considering only one more round of broadband applications

Larry Strickling, head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, told the House communications subcommittee today that the NTIA and Rural Utilities Service, overseeing distribution of $7.2 billion in broadband stimulus funds, may only offer only two rounds of applications, according to Broadcasting & Cable. NTIA and RUS had previously anticipated offering several rounds. The NTIA recently stated that the 2,200 requests received during the recent first round total some $28 billion. (See item below for what some pubcasters are requesting.)

Sep 9, 2009

Database reveals pubcasting requests for broadband stimulus funds

PBS is asking for $8.7 million from broadband stimulus funds, according to a new database of first-round applicants. PBS says it will partner with eight stations to "combine national content and existing outreach programs to stimulate demand for educational broadband content" in a project it calls PBS Broadband Communities. Among other pubcasting-related requests: The National Black Programming Consortium, $11.5 million for a 200-person Public Media Corps building on the New Media Institute. The University Corporation for Advanced Internet Development in Ann Arbor, Mich., $2.1 million to connect PBS to more than 62,000 institutions such as schools, libraries and state governments through the "next generation" Internet2. Mississippi Public Broadcasting, $2.2 million to provide technology for low-income children ages 0-5 years old and their parents. Wyoming PBS, $513,000 to develop its statewide Digital Learning Library for teachers. Previously reported was Florida Public Broadcasting's application for $22 million. Grants are due to be awarded next year.

Report probes filmmaking ethics

Honest Truths: Documentary Filmmakers on Ethical Challenges in Their Work is the latest study from the Center for Social Media at American University. It's based on 45 long-form interviews. Overall, the report found, producers and directors face on a daily basis a "lack of clarity and standards in ethical practice." Furthermore, the conversations demonstrate "a need for a more public and focused conversation about ethics before any standards emerging from shared experience and values can be articulated."

Keillor hospitalized for a minor stroke

Prairie Home Companion star Garrison Keillor, 67, suffered a minor stroke over the weekend, reports Minnesota Public Radio. Doctors at the Minnesota hospital where Keillor is being treated expect to release him on Friday. The Star Tribune says fans were alerted to his condition on the pubradio host's Facebook page that reportedly said, "Garrison Keillor has landed in the hospital, one more pitiful giant with tubes in his hands, wearing a tiny hospital gown, peeing into a container, and endlessly reciting his correct name and date of birth. Have Mercy." That was later changed to: "Garrison Keillor is enjoying a sunny day at an undisclosed location in southern Minnesota." Keillor said in a statement he expects to be ready for the show's season opener on Sept. 26.

Site provides stations with H1N1 information, content

CPB and PRX are cooperating on an H1N1 website for stations, Local and national reports are available, as well as data from health organizations, content and widgets from websites within the system and a blog.

Commerce IG looking at broadband grant program

The Inspector General's Office of the Commerce Department is reviewing the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, according to Broadcasting and Cable. The investigation will focus mainly on efficiency and the online application process. Several pubstations have applied for grants, including Florida Public Broadcasting Service; it's asking for $22 million to connect public service entities into the Florida LambaRail high-speed network.

Sep 8, 2009

ITVS Community Cinema turns 5 years old

Community Cinema, a free monthly screening series in more than 50 cities nationwide, begins its fifth season this month. It shows Independent Lens films through partnerships with more than 2,500 local organizations such as the American Legion Auxiliary, Amnesty International and the Nature Conservancy. Since September 2005 more than 100,000 people have attended some 1,000 events, making it the biggest public outreach program in noncom or commercial TV, according to ITVS. Up first: D Tour, about an indie rocker's quest for a new kidney.

Neighborhood opens for fond farewells

Mister Rogers' Neighborhood of Make-Believe set will come alive for the first time since production ceased in 2001 during an open house Nov. 6-8 in Studio A at WQED in Pittsburgh. King Friday XIII's castle, X the Owl's tree and other set pieces from the longtime fave kids' show will be on display. Mr. McFeeley the Speedy Delivery Mailman will even be there (in real life, David Newell, still on the staff at Rogers' Family Communications). WQED said in a statement it will send invitations to pubTV stations nationwide for Mister Rogers’ fans to attend the event. This will be the last look at the sets, it added.

Sep 6, 2009

Going ga-ga for Kermit heads

Now here's a must-watch YouTube video: An interview on German TV of Lady Gaga dressed in a cape and hat made of dozens of Kermit frog bodies. Beneath the German voiceover the quirky pop phenom can be heard explaining, "I dress this way because my whole life is art." No reaction from Muppet Kermit thus far. And no word on whether he's pondering this outfit depicted in a photo of "Kermit's revenge."

Grover says shalom to Jerusalem

Madonna's current visit to Israel may be getting more press, but Grover will reach far more fans with his. The popular Sesame Street resident is traveling the country to update the 1986 Shalom Sesame, which has sold 1 million copies -- the No. 1 Jewish educational title, according to The Jerusalem Post. Grover has visited the Dead Sea, Caesarea, the Western Wall and even Mahane Yehuda, Jerusalem's largest shuk (outdoor market) to sample the goodies. Madonna may be visiting bigwigs including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but Grover gets to star in Shalom Sesame with stars including Jake Gyllenhaal and Debra Messing. It's scheduled for a 2010 release on Chanukah.

Sep 5, 2009

Pledges looking good at some stations

Some pledge drives are going pretty darned well, reports The Washington Post. At D.C.'s WAMU, donations are running 50 percent higher than last year and membership is up 53 percent. "We're getting astounding numbers," Walt Gillette, WAMU's director of individual giving, told the paper. Maryland Public Television in Baltimore saw a 3 percent increase over last year. WETA in Arlington, Va., is off 11 percent overall, but radio is up 2 percent. Colorado Public Radio, up 15 percent; KPBS in San Diego had a record number of donations over $1,200. How did your pledge go? Email Current Senior Editor Dru Sefton at

Sep 4, 2009

Backers ready to bid for WLIU

Next week, a group of supporters of WLIU on Long Island will detail their plan to buy the radio station from Long Island University, reports the local Sag Harbor Express. The news site adds that within the next two weeks the backers will offer $800,000 to take over; a source with the group told Current while that figure is "in the ballpark," it is not precise. More than 300 supporters in SPREE (Save Public Radio on the East End) include Loews Hotels Chairman Jonathan Tisch, publisher Jann Wenner, actor Alec Baldwin, singer Suzanne Vega and Congressman Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.). Here's Current's Aug. 24 story on the station and its challenges.

Sep 3, 2009

Viewers mourn "Reading Rainbow" in letters to ombudsman

Nearly 80 viewers wrote to PBS or ombudsman Michael Getler to lament the end of the long-running Reading Rainbow (Current, Aug. 6). Several of the letters Getler shared are quite emotional; one Portland, Ore., woman calls the show's demise "a crime against literacy."

Site offers comprehensive overview of Mount Wilson towers

Curious about the broadcasting tower site above Mount Wilson, threatened this week by Los Angeles wildfires? Tower aficionado Scott Fybush has two pages (here and here), complete with photos, detailing what area stations have equipment atop the mile-high mountain--which turns out to be many area broadcasters. Fybush is a radio transmission tower expert, as well as part-time pubcaster on WXXI in Rochester, N.Y. Latest on the fire: Broadcast engineers have begun returning to the mountain to assess equipment damage, according to Television Broadcast site.

NBC to reinvent "Prime Suspect"

NBC has ordered a two-hour pilot remake of the longtime Masterpiece staple "Prime Suspect," reveals The Hollywood Reporter. The popular ITV show starring Helen Mirren ran on PBS from 1992 through 2006 (Current, Nov. 6, 2006). The new one will be co-produced by ITV and Universal Media studios. "We want to carefully choose a couple of iconic titles this year to reinvent, and our intention is to create another classic television show from this brilliant original format," said Angela Bromstad, NBC and UMS president of primetime entertainment.

CPB searching for grants consultant, PBCore 2.0 program manager

CPB is looking for:
-- A broadband grants consultant to assist stations applying to the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Rural Utilities Service. Details here.
-- A PBCore 2.0 development project manager. The manager for the 12-month assignment will report directly to CPB's veep of digital media strategy. Details here.

KPBS receives $2.5 million gift

KPBS will create an interactive newsroom for multimedia and multi-platform projects with a $2.5 million gift announced today. The donation came from Irwin Jacobs, co-founder and former chairman of Qualcomm, and his wife Joan, longtime supporters of the San Diego station. Right now reporters, writers, producers and support staff work throughout the building. “It was time we created a physical environment where all news and content producers can work collaboratively,” said Tom Karlo, KPBS general manager.

Sep 2, 2009

How do you connect better with your music community?

Laura Fedele and Jim O'Hara from WFUV in New York City have been working on that with their "independent, emerging music" online and HD Radio channel ( and will report on best practices and best pitfalls at a webinar Sept. 16 (3-4 p.m., Eastern) organized by Public Media Innovation. Capacity is limited, reservation required. Listeners' computers must run Windows 2000, XP and newer versions or Mac OS 10.4 (Tiger) or newer.

Progress on Mt. Wilson, still ablaze

Firefighters have made "significant progress" in containing wildfires on Mt. Wilson, the Los Angeles Times is reporting, but "they are still concerned about the massive blaze's fast-moving southeastern flank." To protect the historic Mt. Wilson observatory and broadcast transmission facilities on the peak, fire crews have been dumping water and flame-resistant gel on the area. An AP story on reports that 150 firefighters and engines were stationed at the peak last night to defend the towers. KPCC, one of six pubcasters with transmitters on the mountain, created this special website for wildfire coverage. The Pasadena-based news station has arranged for a backup transmitter with the help of KUSC-FM, which broadcasts from Mt. Lookout.

Ted Kennedy, Chappaquiddick and public broadcasting

A comment on WAMU about Sen. Ted Kennedy enjoying jokes about the notorious Chappaquiddick incident is generating a lot of press, particularly on conservative news sites. Edward Klein, biographer of the senator who died last week, told Diane Rehm's guest host Katty Kay that one of Kennedy's "favorite topics of humor was, indeed, Chappaquiddick." He added as an explanation: "Not that he didn't feel remorse about the death of Mary Jo Kopechne but that he still always saw the other side of everything and the ridiculous side of things, too." NPR ombudsman Alicia Shepard writes about Kennedy coverage in her latest column, noting that of 23 NPR stories on Kennedy's death, "only one mentioned the name Mary Jo Kopechne and 5 mentioned Chappaquiddick."

FCC details rules for wildfire assistance

The FCC has announced guidelines for special procedures to assist licensees impacted by the ongoing California wildfires (PDF).

Sep 1, 2009

Florida pubcasters apply for $22 million broadband grant

The 20 stations comprising Florida Public Broadcasting Service have applied for a $22 million grant through stimulus funds from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration's $4.7 billion Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, reports The Tampa Bay Business Journal. The funding would be used to build on the stations' coverage of the state to create a broadband network linking schools, public safety and health care facilities and other critical institutions. The new high-speed network would link to Florida LambdaRail, which already connects research institutions. The grant should be awarded by September 2010.

Burns' doc inspires $500,000 grant from National Park Foundation

The National Park Foundation is providing half a million dollars to establish a nationwide grant program to reach underserved visitors, it announced yesterday. The foundation said it was "inspired" to do so by Ken Burns' documentary The National Parks: America's Best Idea, which premieres Sept. 27 on PBS. Thirty-five parks nationwide will use the funds to develop outreach strategies and engagement programs for folks who don't usually visit the parks--primarily people of color, according to the foundation's press release.

WGBH tells paper more reductions coming

More cutbacks are on the way at WGBH, The Boston Globe reports, although station management declined to offer specifics. The station, which produces more than a third of PBS's primetime lineup, continues to struggle. “We’re making a lot of difficult choices,’’ chief exec Jonathan C. Abbott told the paper. The paper points out the station has a nearly $7 million shortfall to correct; see Current's Aug. 3 story for details on that. WGBH also had layoffs in December (Current, Dec. 22, 2008) amounting to 2 percent of its workforce.

KCET revs up wildfire news coverage, advises over-the-air viewers to watch online

"Right now the fire is the boss," a supervisor for the U.S. Forest Service tells an LA Times correspondent in this report on fire fighters' efforts to protect the communications center on Mt. Wilson. Meanwhile, KCET-TV in Los Angeles, one of six pubcasters with transmitters on the site, has distinguished itself among LA's TV outlets by ramping up its news coverage of the wildfires in the Angeles National Forest, according to the blog LA Observed. Yesterday the station began airing reports on the fire every half hour; SoCal Connected, KCET's local public affairs series, created a special website for wildfire news. The site includes a video anchored by KCET President Al Jerome, who warns viewers that the station may lose its broadcast signal. Classical KUSC, which also has a transmitter on Mt. Wilson, has begun broadcasting from a back-up transmitter on Lookout Mountain in the Hollywood Hills. UPDATE: With help from KUSC, Pasadena's KPCC-FM has made back-up plans to switch to a transmitter at the same location if necessary. The transmitter will operate at relatively low power and height, KPCC says in a news release, but will cover a significant portion of the station's normal broadcast area in Los Angeles and Orange County. Engineers from both KUSC and KPCC worked overnight to set up the transmitter. KPCC is also bringing in reporters from Minnesota Public Radio, its parent station in the American Public Media Group, and San Diego's KPBS, as it expands its wildfire coverage.