Jun 17, 2009

Tampa's WEDU and WUSF "fight bitterly," paper reports

How's this for a scary headline? "Behind calm veneer, PBS stations fight bitterly." It's WEDU vs. WUSF in the Tampa Tribune's story. What's the fight about? Oh, just "viewers, sponsors, programs and even their very existence on cable TV channel lineups," according to the Tribune. It quotes Shelly Palmer, New York chapter president of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, as saying: "What you're seeing in Tampa is the first border skirmish in what will literally be a death match between cable companies and local stations across America."

Dish Network entering new carriage talks, rep tells congresswoman

A representative of Dish Network told Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) yesterday that the satcaster is planning new talks with noncom TV stations on multicast or HD signal carriage, reports Broadcasting & Cable. Cable operators and DirecTV already have such deals. Eshoo introduced a bill that would force such carriage, citing public interest. Jeffrey Davis, spokesman for the Association of Public Television Stations, told Current in a statement that Dish Network, for the most part, is not carrying local public television stations in HD in any markets except Hawaii and Alaska, where carriage is federally mandated. The statement added: "It is our sincere hope that Dish and public television can reach a private agreement. However, in the absence of such an agreement and the unwillingness of Dish to engage in meaningful negotiations, we are encouraging Congress to step in to correct this market failure and ensure that Americans have full access to high quality programming created by local public television stations." (See Current's Jan. 21, 2008, story for more on the issue.)

State budget woes force WQLN cuts

Facing a loss of $800,000 in Pennsylvania state funding, or about 25 percent of its budget, WQLN Public Media is terminating staff and making other budget cuts. Affected are WQLN-TV and WQLN-FM. Five jobs have been eliminated; among those are the program director and engineering director. The three remaining top managers will get salary cuts. President and g.m. Dwight Miller will lose 10 percent, the others 5 percent. There's a hiring and salary freeze, and the remaining 25 staffers will take two weeks of unpaid leave. Also, PRI's Marketplace will be dropped from WQLN-FM. Miller told Current that the governor's office has received more than 7,000 emails from across the state. "Clearly the public is making its voice heard, but no one in the capital seems to be listening," he said. The Republican-controlled Senate's proposed budget also contains no money for pubcasting; the Democratic-controlled House has yet to put forth its numbers, Miller said. The governor and Senate are $3 billion apart so negotiations may continue for months, he added. WQLN's cutbacks come after schoolchildren rallied on May 27 to draw attention to WQLN's problems.

CPB to invest in local news collaboratives for pubradio

CPB is offering grants to public radio stations to expand local news gathering and digital platform reporting capabilities. In a request for proposals issued June 11, CPB solicited proposals from groups of 3-6 stations to collaborate in creating multimedia coverage on a single news topic of strong local interest. The concept is similar to the content verticals proposed for NPR's Argo Project. Successful proposals for the local journalism centers will describe plans to employ multi-disciplinary teams of journalists, including editors to ensure quality standards, reporters who are comfortable reporting on multiple platforms, and facilitators working with social media and other engagement tools. "We want to make sure that this is not only a conspicuous play on volume of coverage but also quality," said Bruce Theriault, senior v.p. of radio. "Producers of media today can't exclusively have a one-platform mentality." Like NPR's Argo Project, the CPB initiative provides a mechanism for pubradio to engage audiences looking for new sources of local coverage. The RFP, which has a July 16 submission deadline, also is the first to respond to recommendations of the CPB-backed Grow the Audience project, which called for pubradio to strengthen its news gathering capacity on several fronts.