May 28, 2010

Kansas dodges state pubcasting funding cut

Kansas Gov. Mark Parkinson yesterday (May 27) used a line-item veto to override state legislators on a proposed funding cut of around $1 million for public broadcasting, reports Channel 3, the Wichita NBC affiliate. "I know it's going to save programming and some of the work we do in the community, because that's a lot of money," said KPTS President and CEO Michele Gors Paris. In addition to affecting KPTS in Wichita, the cuts would have had an impact on Smokey Hills Public Television in Western Kansas and radio stations such as High Plains Public radio in Garden City.

WCMU pubcasting truck vandalized

A Central Michigan University Public Broadcasting truck was vandalized between 5 p.m. Tuesday (May 25) and 8 a.m. Wednesday. The driver and passenger side windows were shattered, reports Central Michigan Live. CMU Police Officer Bill Martinez said landscaping stones around the PBS affiliate building in Mount Pleasant, Mich., are somtimes used for similar vandalism. As the news website notes, Martinez mentioned the building's proximity to local bars as a "contributing factor." Damage is estimated at $400.

May 27, 2010

New York Times journalist selected to head Upper Midwest Local Journalism Center

New York Times senior business correspondent Micheline Maynard will oversee the Upper Midwest Local Journalism Center, one of seven around the country funded by CPB (Current, April 5, 2010). Michigan Radio, WBEZ FM-Chicago and Cleveland's ideastream (90.3 WCPN and WVIZ/PBS) are collaborating on the coverage theme of "Changing Gears: Remaking the Manufacturing Belt," which traces the transformation of the region's industrial-based economy to one with a post-manufacturing focus. In addition to her newspaper work, she teaches college and has written four books, including 2009's The Selling of the American Economy: How Foreign Companies Are Remaking the American Dream (Random House). Maynard will be based in Chicago with three reporters and a new media staffer to produce enterprise radio feature reports, special programs for radio and television, and Web content. The stations announced Maynard's appointment as editor today (May 27).

May 26, 2010

Skoler to lead interactive media at PRI

Public radio news veteran Michael Skoler will join Public Radio International as v.p. of interactive media on June 1. Skoler, founding director of American Public Media's Center for Innovation in Journalism, established the Public Insight Journalism model for tapping listeners' expertise in news reporting. His earlier reporting career included stints at NPR as African bureau chief, science correspondent and science editor/producer.

At PRI Skoler will develop interactive strategies for PRI programs and spearhead new digital content initiatives. "I've learned that culture is even more important than strategy for success in today's networked media world," Skolar said in a statement. "PRI has both — a creative, risk-taking culture and clear-eyed strategy for creating value."

And this from Melinda Ward, PRI senior v.p. of content: "Michael is a true innovator, and his pioneering approach to interactive media and global journalism will thrive at PRI."

Images capture emotion of LZ Lambeau

Click here for Current's slideshow of LZ Lambeau photographs, shot by Senior Editor Dru Sefton. More coverage of the Wisconsin Public Television outreach in the next issue of Current, June 7.

S.F. news project launches as Bay Citizen

The Bay Citizen, the online news start-up in which KQED was to have been a founding partner, launches today with a top story on how San Francisco's wealthiest homeowners benefit from a property tax loophole written into California's Proposition 13. The public media group, formerly known as the Bay Area News Project, has recruited a team of 13 editor/writers and two interns; among them is Queena Kim, a Makers Quest 2.0 grant recipient and producer/reporter who left Pasadena's KPCC to join the launch team as community editor. Editor-in-chief Jon Weber plans to partner, not compete, with local bloggers and nontraditional news outlets, reports the San Francisco Bay Guardian. "We hope we can be a supporter of the local media ecosystem," Weber tells SFBG. So far, 14 indie publishers are on board. The BC offers to pay local bloggers $25 for each post that its editors link to and to work with them on long-form reporting. A media writer who intially slammed this payment scheme took a closer look and decided it's a good way for the online news service to build editorial relationships and good deal for writers after all.

May 25, 2010

LZ Lambeau outreach brings in more than 70,000 vets and supporters

Event organizers have announced the final count of visitors to LZ Lambeau, Wisconsin Public TV's massive "welcome home" for Vietnam vets last weekend. More than 70,000 people attended over the three days, and some 26,000 were present for the Saturday evening tribute event (above, Current image). Despite rain on Friday, 1,244 motorcycles completed the LZL Honor Ride from LaCrosse, Wisc., to Lambeau Field. A TV crew from PBS affiliate WGVU in Grand Rapids, Mich., was there capturing the happenings and getting tips for its LZ Michigan in July. "It's moving, and it impacts more than just, 'Here's a documentary,' or, 'Here's an event,'" Timothy Eernisse, development and marketing manager for WGVU, told the Green Bay ABC affiliate.

Get your Tweet on at Wednesday webinar

Curious about Tweeting and the Monday Public Media Chats? Get up to speed Wednesday (May 26) at a Peer Webinar sponsored by the National Center for Media Engagement and American Public Media. Learn how to Tweet and Twitter and engage in all those other birdlike social media techniques from Rob Bole, CPB's veep of digital media strategy; Katie Kemple, PR and social media consultant; Julia Schrenkler, interactive producer, digital media, Minnesota Public Radio; Jonathan Coffman, PBS product manager, social media; Adam Schweigert, director of new media at WFIU/WTIU in Bloomington, Ind.; and pubmedia consultant and prolific blogger John Proffitt. The one-hour webinar kicks off at 2 p.m. Eastern, register here.

APT appoints contracts manager

American Public Television's new contracts manager is entertainment attorney John Taxiarchis, said APT President Cynthia Fenneman in a statement today (May 25). Taxiarchis’ experience also includes intellectual property and new media, "both also important to APT," Fenneman said. Taxiarchis will report to David Fournier, APT finance and administration veep.

Now THAT is some goodbye

Gravity Medium blogger John Proffitt weighs in on the bridge-burning farewell letter from former WLIW/WNET producer Sam Toperoff, which is quite the buzz throughout the system.

Pubcaster's book chronicles deaths of characters that never were

Ever read Mr. Ed's obituary? How about the Flying Nun's? Barry Nelson, WGBH's director of on-air fundraising, has a new book out with those and more, co-authored with Tom Schecker. Mr. Ed: Dead! provides obits for everyone from Betty Crocker to Houlden Caulfield. Why? They each had a fictional life and deserve "an equally creative death," as the book's website says. "We think it's the perfect book for the public radio generation(s)," Nelson told Current, "filled with popular culture references and the kind of satirical humor they've been enjoying for years, such as The Onion and National Lampoon." Nelson said the book will be available as a thank-you gift for pledge campaigns. Nelson and Schecker's last book was War on Xmas: The Official Field Manual in 2006.

May 24, 2010

OMB cites $25 million to pubcasting as example of unnecessary spending

Millions of dollars in pubcasting funding through the Commerce Department and U.S. Department of Agriculture was cited Monday (May 24) as an instance of "programs that are heavily earmarked or not merit-based as well as those that are plainly wasteful and duplicative" by the Office of Management and Budget. Director Peter Orszog said in an OMB blog posting that President Barack Obama has sent to Capitol Hill the Reduce Unnecessary Spending Act of 2010, which Politico describes as "a line-item veto with a twist: The president would have a limited time after a bill is passed to submit a package of rescissions that must be considered by Congress in straight up or down votes." Orszog said the proposed Act "will empower the President and the Congress to eliminate unnecessary spending while discouraging waste in the first place." He noted in his post that Commerce was allocated $20 million and the USDA $5 million to fund public broadcasting, "even though this activity is ably supported through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting." Full text of the President's proposed legislation here.

UPDATE: CPB, PBS and APTS today (May 26) issued a statement in reaction to Orszag's blog posting. The organizations say that the Department of Commerce’s Public Telecommunications Facilities Program (PTFP) and the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utility Service (RUS) Digital Transition Grant Program "provide essential support that is not provided elsewhere through federal or state appropriations." A significant portion of PTPF funds go toward entities and activities ineligible for CPB support, the groups say, such as station and university distance learning projects. The RUS Digital Transition Grant Program provides ongoing resources to rural stations that have yet to fully convert all of their studio and production equipment to digital. "At present," the statement notes, "CPB does not have the funding or the mechanisms to support the extensive infrastructure investments that PTFP and the RUS Digital Transition Grant Program currently fund."

Head of PBS engineering will oversee team on next-gen broadcast TV for ATSC

Jim Kutzner, PBS chief engineer, is chairing the next-generation broadcast TV team of the Advanced Television Systems Committee, Television Broadcast reports. It's one of three working teams, the other two probing the feasibility and market requirements for 3DTV, and broadcast Internet TV. Kutzner's group will look at tech that might be used to "define a future terrestrial broadcast digital television standard,” according to the ATSC. The organization sets the tech standards for American broadcast television. It held its annual meeting last week in Pentagon City, Va., where the latest initiatives were announced.

McCartney to receive Gershwin Prize at "In Performance at the White House" concert

The third Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song will go to Sir Paul McCartney at a special concert in the East Room of the White House on June 2, the Librarian of Congress James Billington announced May 24. The show will recorded by WETA as one of the “In Performance at the White House” series, to air on PBS July 28 (check local listings). The concert will feature tributes to McCartney by stars including Stevie Wonder, Faith Hill, Jonas Brothers, Dave Grohl, Jack White, Elvis Costello, Emmylou Harris, Herbie Hancock and Corinne Bailey, as well as remarks by Jerry Seinfeld. The Gershwin Prize was created by the Library of Congress to honor artists "whose creative output transcends distinctions between musical styles and idioms, bringing diverse listeners together, and fostering mutual understanding and appreciation."

Louisiana's KEDU launches urgent fundraising appeal

To meet its CPB grant requirements, KEDM in Monroe, La., has scheduled an emergency fundraising drive for June 2 -4. CPB Community Service Grant criteria calls for the university-owned station to raise 48 cents for every potential listener in its service area, or $152,000 annually, G.M. Joel Willer tells the local News Star. “We have been really falling short for some time and it’s finally catching up to us." The station needs to raise $45,000 if it is to meet CPB's standard. KEDU licensee, the University of Louisiana at Monroe, has stipulated that programs will be cut if the station doesn't raise at least $30,000. KEDM is the only public radio service to the region; News Star readers complain about a recent decline in program quality and an agenda to turn KEDU into a "[public relations] vehicle for the University."

Is pubcasting open enough to new media?

Pubcasting blogger John Proffitt today tackles "Closed vs. Open: Why Public Media Struggles With New Media." The two types "are philosophically different, possibly opposed. One embraces community, drawing in participation and 'hosting' conversation and engagement. The other treats the public as a media receiver. Sure, there are some middle grounds here, but this is a big difference that has powered, silently, a lot of conversations in which I’ve participated, without realizing it. No wonder we struggle with this. No wonder there’s both dismissal of the new as irrelevant to the mission and nevertheless pitched battles over who will control the social network engagements, who gets or shares in the online revenue, and how and when content will or won’t appear online. We’ve been experiencing the 'misery and failure' of a closed system trying to adopt an open one, not understanding why it’s not working." He's quoting journalism prof Jay Rosen, who says that "Open systems don’t work like closed systems; if you expect them to you’ll get nothing but misery and failure."

Lasar: Local CABs don't necessarily represent the whole community

Matthew Lasar, a professor and media writer who authored a book on the history of Pacifica Radio, examines two of the "smaller recommendations" in Free Press's recent white paper on public broadcasting reforms, and cautions against its proposal to strengthen the role of local station Community Advisory Boards.

Free Press's ideas for "pumping up" CABs assume that "there is an almost Rousseauean entity out there called 'the public' or 'the community' that, when consulted, will always serve up selfless suggestions about how to make a community or public radio station better....Lots of people who attend public media board meetings go there for self-interested reasons. They want some portion of the station's resources. They want a show on the station. Or they want access to the station’s air time."

CABs have an important role to play in reaching public media's under-served constituencies and providing input on programs, Lasar acknowledges, but: "These sort of boards can pressure stations to disconnect from their listeners by capitulating to small factions who have little interest in anything besides their own narrow agenda."

Lasar examined Free Press's proposals for financing a public media trust fund last week on Ars Technica. Current's summary of the paper, New Public Media: A Call for Action, with a link to the full report, is here.

May 22, 2010

Wisconsin PTV "welcome home" for Vietnam vets draws over 25,000

More than 25,000 Wisconsin veterans and their supporters journeyed to the LZ Lambeau outreach May 21-23 in Green Bay, Wisc., organized by Wisconsin Public Television, the state Department of Veterans Affairs, the Wisconsin Historical Society and many vets' groups. The gathering was meant as a "welcome home" for Vietnam-era military members (image: Current). The highlight was an evening show inside legendary Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers, with music performances and preview segments of WPT's documentary on veterans from the state. A moving "Missing Man Table Ceremony" honored POWs and MIAs, and 1,244 empty chairs nearly filled the football field, one for each military member and civilian from Wisconsin killed or missing in action in Southeast Asia. Bryce Kirchoff of the National Center for Media Engagement told Current at Lambeau that two more states are planning "LZ" (military lingo for "landing zone") events. NCME invites stations to get a wrap-up report from WPT and tips for planning their own LZ during a Peer Webinar at 2 p.m. Eastern on June 23. More event coverage and photos in the next issue of Current, June 7.

May 21, 2010

NPR Mobile is a big hit with users, but Sutton foresees fallout for newsmags

Two different takes on NPR's mobile strategy began circulating on the Web yesterday: MobileActive reports on how NPR's work in the mobile space is attracting an audience with different usage habits than visitors to; and pubradio fundraising consultant John Sutton writes that NPR's aggressive push into mobile distribution could eventually undercut the dues-based business model that sustains its newsmagazines.

KUT to manage Cactus Cafe music venue

Austin's KUT will begin booking acts for the Cactus Cafe, a music venue and bar in the University of Texas's student union, in August. The partnership, announced after months of discussions about how to keep the Cafe open, puts KUT in charge of scheduling performances 200 nights per year and devising a business plan that will make the money-losing venue self-sustaining. That will include some mix of live broadcasts from the club, sponsorship sales, improved box office operations and sales of downloadable podcasts; managers of the Texas Union will oversee bar operations separately. "We believe the Cactus Cafe plays an essential role in the Austin music experience and are committed to preserving and sharing that experience with the UT campus and beyond," said Stewart Vanderwilt, KUT director. The Horn, UT's student newspaper, questioned whether this new arrangement has the broad support among student leaders that campus officials claim for it. One unanswered query from those who have campaigned to save the cafe (here and here) is whether KUT will hire longtime Cactus manager Griff Luneberg to run the cafe.

Visitors get behind-the-scenes peek at Austin City Limits construction

Pubcasters including WNET President Neil Shapiro and Malcolm Brett, PBS Board member and director of broadcasting and media innovations for Wisconsin Public Television, donned hardhats and jaunty reflector vests for a May 19 tour of the spiffy new Austin City Limits theater construction in Austin (background, Current, July 20, 2009). Leading the group through the maze of building material was Bill Stotesbery, g.m. of KLRU. It's part of a $300 million downtown redevelopment just across from city hall. The 2,500-seat venue is on schedule for a December opening, and funding work is going well. Above, that's the stage to the right and seating to the left.

May 20, 2010

Veterans for Peace says Wisconsin PTV outreach "militaristic"

A veterans' group is complaining that Wisconsin Public Television's LZ Lambeau outreach event this weekend "has become a pro-war exhibition aimed at getting kids into the military," writes the Green Bay Press Gazette. Veterans for Peace will conduct its own workshops and discussions on recruiting, combat stress and ongoing international conflicts as the massive event takes place in Lambeau Field (Current, July 6, 2009). WPT envisions the weekend as a tribute to Vietnam-era veterans who never received a proper welcome home. But the Veterans for Peace website calls the happening "a militaristic fair." LZ Lambeau Project Manager Don Jones told the Press Gazette he welcomes Veterans for Peace participation, and there will be space at Lambeau Field for all veterans' groups to distribute literature.

Idaho PTV wilderness filming banned for being "commercial"

A forest supervisor's decision to stop Idaho Public Television from filming in a wilderness area has sparked a U.S. Forest Service investigation, reports the Associated Press. Even Gov. Butch Otter called the ban an "ill-advised decision." IPTV has been filming in the 2.3-million acre Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area for more than 30 years but this year was told the shoot is considered commercial, and therefore prohibited. "If Ansel Adams were alive today and wanted to bring his camera into the Frank Church wilderness, would the Forest Service let him?" said IPTV g.m. Peter Morrill. The station wanted to send one cameraman to film students doing conservation work for its Outdoor Idaho.

UPDATE: Good news for IPTV. On May 21, the Forest Service issued this statement: "After careful review, the U.S. Forest Service has moved to allow filming by an Idaho Public Television crew in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. Nationally, we want to improve access, and increase public understanding of the importance of national forests, grasslands and wilderness areas. One of the ways we can do this is through the media. An assessment of current policy will be completed soon that will address the need for media related activities on National Forest System land."

NewsHour's Crystal retiring in August

Lester Crystal, the president of MacNeil/Lehrer Productions, is retiring on Aug. 31, the production company of PBS NewsHour said in a statement. He will continue as a senior advisor through the end of the year. Crystal was hired in 1983 to transition the show from the half-hour MacNeil/Lehrer Report to the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour. He became president of the production company in 2005. In a statement to staff, founders Robert MacNeil and Jim Lehrer said that NewsHour "would never have been launched and sustained as successfully as it has been, and become the institution in the nation’s journalism that it has, without Les.” Crystal oversees corporate and foundation funding for the show, and development of documentary programs and projects. Under his leadership since 2005, foundation support for the show has tripled to more than $7 million annually. Before his work at NewsHour, Crystal produced convention and election night coverage for eight national elections, from 1976 to 2004, for NBC and PBS. He also accompanied President Richard Nixon on his 1972 visit to China (above, NewsHour image) as chief producer of European news for NBC. In the statement, Crystal told staff: "I am very proud of my contributions to the launch of the Newshour as the country’s first hourlong daily television news broadcast and its continued success as a mainstay of serious journalism."

World project to kick off July 1

CPB President Pat Harrison announced a July 1 launch of the multiplatform World content project (Current, Sept. 8, 2009), and told station execs May 20 in Austin that CPB would cover their fees for the first year of carriage. The long-awaited project will use emerging media to draw in producers and news consumers of more widely varied ethnic and cultural backgrounds, as well as a younger crowd. The work is being developed by partners including WGBH, ITVS, the Bay Area Video Coalition, NPR and members of the Minority Consortia. One of the first projects is "The Skin You're In," incorporating content from stations, viewers and users about everything from genetics to tattoos, to explore the the idea of identity. Al Letson, host of pubradio's State of the Re:Union, will also be a video blogger for World. He finds the project valuable because it reaches out to people "who have been on the sidelines, and this brings them to the forefront. It lets a community station interact with the rest of the world through this online portal."

Tony Cox signs off as consortium's midday talker ends production

Tony Cox, host of the talk show produced by the African-American Public Radio Consortium, says farewell to listeners in a post announcing an official end to the short-lived program. "I had big hopes for this show. And everything I could possibly have asked for came true. . . except the money." Upfront with Tony Cox began airing repeats earlier this year while producers tried to raise money; with no funders on board they called it quits as of May 14. It was the second of two midday programs that AAPRC put into production last year. Michael Eric Dyson, host of the first show, received a $505,000 CPB grant to relaunch his program as a production of WEAA in Baltimore. Dyson's new broadcast now airs on WEAA weekdays at 9 a.m. It's slated for national launch "soon."

"Cove-like" pubaffairs site coming soon to stations from PBS

Starting this fall, Frontline will be more aggressive with viewer engagement on the Web, Executive Producer David Fanning said during yesterday's panel on PBS's news and public affairs initiative, moderated by NewsHour's Hari Sreenivasan. "A narrative bright line runs through the mists of material," Fanning said. "The idea is to say, here it is, but you don't have to stay up three nights to figure it out." Documents will be posted and Frontline journalists will point site visitors to the most important facts. "The Cigarette Papers" in 1998 provides a good example: "Five thousand pages of a drama in three acts starting in 1952," Fanning said. "That is the kind of work public media can do, and now no one else does. It's a great space we can occupy while the rest of the world reduces news to small bits." Frontline is also putting up video before stories air. The audience Tweeted questions to the panel (first up, "Where did Hari get his shirt?") and in lieu of spoken introductions each member's Twitter page was displayed on the screen—except for Fanning, who does not Tweet. Also on stage was Christine Montgomery, managing editor of PBS Interactive, who said that the news initiative will provide a website, apps and other tools for stations. "It's very Cove-like," she said, referring to the PBS video player. "You can create a place for local and national content to live together, all around news."

Lasar analyzes prospects for Free Press crusade to fund public media

Free Press's proposals to expand federal subsidies for public media may be one of many "long shot crusades" launched by the progressive media reform group, writes Matthew Lasar in Ars Technica, but one thing is certain--commercial broadcasters and electronics manufacturers "will protest these ideas early, often, and very loudly if any of them actually surface in a Congressional bill." Lasar believes that Free Press raises important questions about how to fund the journalism that is vital to democracy, and media reformers are better advocates for a new funding mechanism than public broadcasters themselves. "Public television in particular has sunk into a comfortable malaise of genteel poverty and compromise with the very commercial practices it was originally designed to transcend."

May 19, 2010

Evans joins ranks of pubradio station chiefs

Pubradio programming veteran Jody Evans will sign on as executive director of Western North Carolina Public Radio in June. Evans, former p.d. of Austin's KUT and Vermont Public Radio, was appointed after a national search for a new manager at the Asheville-based public radio outlet known as the "Mountain Air Network." "Jody has experience building a statewide public radio organization in Vermont and has a passion for strengthening community-based programming," said WNCPR Board Chair Lach Zemp. Evans directed programming at VPR when it split its network to offer two distinct services--all-news and all-classical. WNCPR also broadcasts two different program streams: classical music and news on WCQS 88.1 and its network of FM translators, and all-news on WYQS 90.5.

Frontline will go year-round with $6 million grant from CPB

CPB is providing Frontline with a $6 million grant to allow it to produce programs year-round, according to the New York Times. The show is also strengthening its cooperation with journalism schools and nonprofit news orgs, including the Center for Investigative Reporting and ProPublica, e.p. David Fanning told the paper. More of its original reporting will go onto the Web, and more content will be shared with pubTV and pubradio stations. And “Frontline/World," its international coverage partnership with KQED in San Francisco and WGBH in Boston, will move entirely online.

Meacham could join Stewart in Clinton's lap, Shales retorts

In an online chat yesterday, Washington Post TV critic Tom Shales responded to complaints about a remark in his vividly critical May 11 review of Need to Know's premiere that co-host Alison Stewart "looked as though she would have been much more comfortable in [Bill] Clinton's lap" during an interview with the former president. Shales said that he only meant that Stewart seemed too cozy with Clinton. "I perhaps should have said that cohost Jon Meacham looked as though he wanted to broadcast from Clinton's lap, too. They were both too soft on Bill, but then he brings that out in journalists — of both sexes. . . " (Video of whole interview.) On MSNBC, Keith Olbermann named Shales "the World Person in the World," leading Rupert Murdoch's New York Post to point out that Stewart's husband is a top MSNBC exec. Stewart herself told TVNewser that Shales' remark was a "crude, crass and sexist ... suggestive insinuation."   

Shales' review was more than suggestive about the show's first episode. He called it "a monstrosity."
Viewers quoted by PBS ombudsman Michael Getler last week were mostly disappointed, especially those comparing Need to Know with the previous occupant of the time slot, Bill Moyers, who retired in April. Marty Kaplan commented on Huffington Post:"Need to Know positions itself as an antidote to the poisonous advocacy of cable news. What it succumbs to instead is the on-the-one-hand/on-the-other-hand pathology that makes mainstream news so impotent."

All eating green eggs and ham, no doubt

Coming to you from Austin, a whole bunch of PBSers and station folks disguised as Cats in their Hats at breakfast today. Ironically, Martin Short (just left of center), the voice of the lead character in this fall's "Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That" on PBS, appears to be the only one in the entire hall without one. Kate Klimo, longtime editor of Theodor Seuss Geisel, told the crowd in the later PBS Kids session that Audrey Geisel "maintains close personal contact with her husband in the hereafter," and told Klimo that it was "PBS or nothing" for a Cat in the Hat animated series. "Because, you see, Dr. Seuss had very high standards," Klimo said. "For him PBS represented everything good about children's TV." (Image: PBS)

Blogosphere blow-out preventer backfires on Ifill

As blogosphere spats go, this one is rather perplexing. Washington Week in Review's Gwen Ifill doesn't name the "journalism professor from New York University" and "self-appointed media critic" who recently described her show as the quintessential example of everything that is wrong with political journalism. Ifill would have preferred to ignore the Washington Post opinion piece by this nobody, she acknowledges in a reply posted May 13 on WWR's website: "Fighting against blogs is a lot like trying to stop oil escaping from a blowout preventer – it can go on forever. Hitting that 'send' key can get you in deep," she writes. Ifill defends her political roundtable show as a refuge from cable TV news nets, a show for people who "want more light than heat; who do not turn their televisions on to watch yet one more group of pundits race past explanation to battle."

The critic that Ifill chose not to name is Jay Rosen, a leading advocate for public journalism who blogs, tweets, and is often called upon to share his opinions on the future of journalism.

Rosen aimed his WashPo critique not at the tone of the banter around Ifill's Friday night PBS mainstay, but at the political journalists she brings in to distill the week's news. Ifill and her regular panelists are "pros" who have mastered the game of professional politics, and therein lies the problem, Rosen writes: "They're in the same business as the people they cover--the game of professional politics, also called the permanent campaign. As lifers in this game, they share a sensibility with their subjects: that in politics savviness is next to godliness, and everything's really about the next election."

After Rosen expressed ambivalence about responding to Ifill, pubcasting social media advocate John Proffitt took up the cause for him. By not taking Rosen's criticism seriously or acknowledging his expertise on the subject of political journalism, Ifill demonstrated that Rosen was right all along, Proffitt writes on his blog. "Dismissing his argument simply reinforces his point: that this program, the host and its guests are beltway insiders talking shop rather than helping the public hold politicians to account in meaningful, public-service ways....[T]he demonization of Rosen is breathtakingly ignorant and/or deliberately dismissive at a level unbecoming of a PBS-sanctioned 'journalism” host.'"

Cooney, Fanning honored in Austin

Children's television pioneer and Sesame Street creator Joan Ganz Cooney is the recipient of this year's Be More Award from PBS. She accepted her honor at the PBS National Meeting, continuing in Austin. From the podium, PBS President Paula Kerger said Cooney's work from 1968 to 1990 at her Children's Television Workshop makes her "one of the single greatest educators of children in the world." Former Be More winners include Bill Moyers and Neil DeGrasse Tyson.

Frontline's David Fanning received the 38th annual Ralph Lowell Award from CPB last night in Austin. The prestigious honor has been presented since 1975 (when Cooney won) for outstanding contributions to public television. Fanning began his career in journalism at a newspaper in his native South Africa before beginning his career in pubTV in 1973. Other Lowell Award winners include Julia Child in 1998; Newton Minow, 1982; and Fred Rogers, 1975.

Study of 21 pubTV stations shows median of 57 underwriters

A 7 a.m. session with an overflow crowd? The results of the 2010 Local Underwriting Category Study lured folks in, coffee in hand, at the PBS Annual Meeting in Austin. The research was conducted by Enginuity Workshop, formerly Public Radio Partners. The workshop's Jim Taszarek said he believes this is the first such report for pubTV, although pubradio has compiled similar research for years.

Notable: Event revenue pulled in a half-million dollars at one station (the report didn't name stations but  linked to their data). Another sold $600,000 in sponsorships for high school sports broadcasts. Another drew $200,000 in pledge drive sponsorships.

The median number of underwriters per station was 57. Four stations — two large and two very small — had more than 100 each. Banks and credit unions were strong performers, providing 11 percent of support. But the largest category, 14 percent of revenue, was the catch-all "Other," which includes corporate and private foundations as well as sponsors unique to certain metro areas (such as oil companies in Houston).

The genres ranked by underwriting revenue: First, prime time. Then news and pubaffairs, kids and how-to.

Will there be a followup next year? "We're pushing for that," Taszarek said. "We gotta go deeper here. Do more case studies so we can say, here are 10 things that are working well, you can do these three and generate a few hundred thousand dollars more for your station."

The crowd was so engaged that the meeting ran long, and there was a request for Taszarek to facilitate ongoing discussion so stations could share what he called their "Aha!" moments of underwriting sales inspirations.

All stations were invited to participate in the study and 21 did: 10 from Markets 1-25; six from Markets 26-50; five from Markets 50+. Five are state networks. Data is based on fiscal 2009 net underwriting revenue excluding tradeouts.

Stations in the study: New Jersey Network; KETC in St. Louis; Chicago's WTTW; KVIE in Sacramento, Calif.; KCET in L.A.; Oregon Public Broadcasting; WHRO in Norfolk, Va.; WJCT, Jacksonville, Fla.; Austin's KLRU; KTXT in Lubbock, Texas; UNC-TV of North Carolina; Smoky Hills Public Television, Bunker Hill, Kan.; Georgia Public Broadcasting; WPBS, Watertown, N.Y.; WKNO in Memphis; Minnesota's Twin Cities Public Television; Rocky Mountain PBS in Denver; KUED, Salt Lake City; San Antonio's KLRN; WSRE in Pensacola, Fla.; and KHET, Honolulu.

May 18, 2010

APTS board forms CEO search committee

The Association of Public Television Stations (APTS) Board of Trustees has formed a CEO search committee to fill its top spot, vacated when Larry Sidman recently left after a year in the job (Current, March 14, 2010). Committee co-chairs are Polly Anderson, g.m. of KNME-TV, Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Elizabeth Christopherson, president of the Rita Allen Foundation, Princeton, N.J. Committee members: APTS Board Chairman Rod Bates, g.m., Nebraska Educational Telecommunication; DeAnne Hamilton, g.m. of WKAR, East Lansing, Mich.; John Harris III, president of Prairie Public Television, Fargo, N.D.; Skip Hinton, NETA president; Tom Karlo, g.m. of KPBS, San Diego; and Lonna Thompson, APTS acting president. The committee will develop a job description, set a timeline, and evaluate search firms. plans for online national fundraising heats up session in Austin

In a sometimes acrimonious session at the PBS national meeting in Austin, station reps and PBS execs faced off over the controversial topic of online national fundraising on

The session had been intended to introduce PBS's new development s.v.p. Brian Reddington and give an update on development work; he announced at the top of the meeting that there had been "a change in agenda to emphasize what we are doing to strengthen the stations' economic health."

Reddington provided a bit more information on one topic that station reps have been wondering (and talking and worrying) about, PBS's national online fundraising project. PBS has "engaged a strategic partner," M+R Strategic Services of Washington, D.C., which has helped develop fundraising for nonprofs including AARP, the Human Rights Campaign and Oxfam America. Many details -- including the all-important formula for how PBS will share online revenues and potential member emails with the stations -- are still being worked out. PBS hopes to launch the online donation campaign by this fall.

Reddington assured the audience that the effort will be coordinated with stations' own online and donor work. "I won't be going into your territory without your knowledge and consent," he said. "I won't be poaching and raiding your prospects." Which prompted the first question: What if a station says no to PBS? Will that be an issue? "I would want to know why," Reddington said. "I would envision getting a response that would generate some dialogue, and hopefully reach a decision that's beneficial for both of us." But what about overlap markets? How would revenue and email addresses from be shared? "That would just take more coordination," Reddington said.

COO Michael Jones stood up from the audience to reassure the crowd, as some folks shook their heads, murmured and waved their hands with more questions. Jones said he knew that the issue of PBS raising money is a touchy one. However, "we have to look at the reality of the situation. . . . We need alternate plans to bring in revenue or we'll keep looking at tightening budgets, reducing staff and programming. I didn't come here to be part of an organization that is cutting itself into oblivion, to preside over a dying entity. Sure [national online fundraising] is a risk. And we may step on your toes a bit -- but it's not intentional. We want to increase revenues for the entire system." He added that PBS needs to recoup the cost of the effort, and there's been discussion of distributing "the majority" of the money to stations, along with email addresses of potential members in their areas gathered on

Jones said "we are committed to doing this in a transparent way." A station rep requested that the conversation be continued in an online venue; the PBS execs said they'd look into that suggestion.

Scholarship and studio named in honor of Smiley's producer, Sheryl Flowers

Tavis Smiley and Clark Atlanta University have donated $25,000 each to establish the Sheryl Flowers Scholarship at the university. Flowers, a Clark graduate who helped shape Smiley’s public radio talk shows, died of breast cancer last June at the age of 42. She was supervising producer of his daily NPR show starting in 2002 and e.p. of the two-hour weekly Public Radio International show that had its 5th anniversary in April. The PRI show is produced in a Los Angeles studio named for Flowers. The scholarship includes an internship with Clark’s WCLK-FM and with the Smiley show.

New standard proposed for mapping impactful public media: Zing!

How do you define success for a media project that reaches beyond broadcast and tries to engage audiences Web 2.0-style? In an evaluation of its Makers Quest 2.0 initiative, the Association for Independents in Radio, Inc., and American University's Center for Social Media assert the time has come to break from the ratings-based methodologies developed for public radio by researcher David Giovannoni in the influential CPB-backed study Audience 88. "Looking forward, we must recognize as a point of departure that the current system puts highest value on media that attract and hold the greatest number of individuals in one place for the longest amount of time," write co-authors of "Spreading the Zing: Reimagining Public Media through Makers Quest 2.0," a report released early this month. "In the new public media world, and as we seek new ways to understand and define effective public media 2.0, this emphasis on the core listening audience becomes obsolete; we now must consider the core audience as just one element in a larger ecology."

AIR's Sue Schardt and CSM's Jessica Clark adapted assessment tools from the center's 2009 white paper Public Media 2.0, and developed five standards for evaluating Makers Quest projects. Their "elements of impact" are reach, inclusion, innovation, engagement and "zing," a quality melding the extent to which media craftsmanship inspires people to act or participate. Most MQ2 projects achieved success on at least one of the proposed criteria; one, Mapping Main Street, came the closest to meeting all of CSM's standards for high-impact public media. Details on how and why this project succeeded begin on page 12 of "Spreading the Zing" (PDF link above); a 5-minute video presentation, produced for the FCC's recent Future of Public Media Summit, includes insights from producer Kara Oehler and Schardt.

APM reassigns American RadioWorks doc unit

American Public Media is cutting production of American RadioWorks, the investigative documentary series that won a duPont-Columbia Silver Baton in January. MinnPost's David Brauer reports that Executive Editor and host Stephen Smith and some members of his team will remain at APM to produce coverage of higher education and sustainability, which are priority editorial topics for APM. "Some of this work will appear as ARW docs, some will be shorter in nature and appear in regular programs such as Marketplace or as specials," writes Judy McAlpine, senior v.p. of national content, in a memo to staff. "Along with the documentary work, we will continue to build out smaller features and online content as part of these projects. As a result of this realignment, ARW will no longer be a stand-alone editorial team. Work will now be integrated into these two editorial projects. This will mean a change in some positions and reduction of others but we are doing everything we can to find other opportunities within our company for affected staff." McAlpine tells Brauer that APM is trying to reassign journalists such as Catherine Winter, a "familiar voice to MPR listeners" who edited ARW's duPont-winning documentary. "We want to keep the talented people we have,” she says.

Clarification and update: The headline on this post has been revised because APM is not disbanding the ARW team. Spokeswoman Jackie Cartier says ARW will continue to produce stand-alone long-form docs for national distribution; topics have been narrowed to education and sustainability issues related to global climate change. Producers aim to deliver three full-length docs per year on education, with significant online coverage and shorter features to be presented within daily programs; plans for sustainability coverage are in the works. In addition, the coming fall season will include reporting on civil rights.

Edwardson dies; helped create Florida's WUFT-FM

Mickie Edwardson, who helped found University of Florida's pubradio WUFT-FM in 1981, died May 15 at age 80 following complications from an accident, according to the Gainesville Sun. Edwardson began as a producer-director at WUFT-TV soon after its launch in 1958. When the station announced a format change to news in August 2009, she told Current (July 6, 2009) she was concerned for the students. “I’m worried that the new shows won’t provide the educational component that the current programs provide,” said Edwardson, who at the time of her death was a retired journalism professor and still produced opera specials during WUFT pledge drives. “I taught for 38 years in that college, and I think we do a good job of training students. They’re adding talk programs that to a great extent duplicate what people can otherwise get” from cable TV news channels, she said. She was preceded in death by her husband, John Edwardson, a professor in the university's agronomy department. A memorial service is planned for 10 a.m. Sunday at on campus in Gainesville.

Kerger opens Austin meeting with vision for pubmedia, and tale of Hippie Jack

Tiny WCTE, Upper Cumberland Public TV in Cookeville, Tenn., got a shout-out from PBS President Paula Kerger in her opening remarks at the PBS Annual Meeting in Austin. "It isn't only the smallest station in Cookeville, it's the only station," Kerger said. It's an area rich in music, culture, character -- and characters. During a recent visit Kerger met Hippie Jack, who arrived there to start a commune in the 1960s and never left. Now he works with the station, including pledge shows, and 130 PBS affiliates nationwide carry his "Jammin' at Hippie Jack's" music festival. It's a good example of keeping viewers engaged with the arts, one of three of Kerger's visions for pubcasting: To reimagine children's media, reinvent journalism and reconnect all Americans with arts and culture. More on those as the confab continues through Thursday. Oh, and Kerger and Hippie Jack have struck up a friendship and now keep in touch via Twitter.

May 17, 2010

Detroit PubTV's Hamilton moves to Michigan day school

Detroit Public Television senior development veep Kelley Hamilton is moving to the University Liggett School, an independent day school in Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich., to head up a $10 million endowment campaign, according to Crain's Detroit Business. While at DPT, she helped the station wrap up a $22 million push last year. Hamilton had been with the station since 1996.

PTPA meeting under way in Austin

Pubcasters are streaming into Austin for the big PBS Showcase/Development Extravaganza/Annual Meeting/Networking-a-palooza. First up, PTPA meeting. A Twitter Critter from the latest incarnation of Public Media Digest is currently Tweeting, follow along here. Current will be blogging here Monday evening through Thursday afternoon so check back often.

WHYY opening $12 million Public Media Commons

A $12 million capital improvement project is nearly complete at dual-licensee WHYY in Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Inquirer says. The Dorrance H. Hamilton Public Media Commons adds 8,000 square feet to WHYY's 60,000 square feet of studio and office space. The biggest part is the 4,100-square-foot Lincoln Financial Digital Education Studio, which doubles as a studio and auditorium. Two new media training rooms provide would-be filmmakers with classes in audio, video, digital editing and studio lighting. WHYY President William J. Marrazzo told the paper that a primary goal is to get more station members and community residents -- both young and older -- into pubcasting via digital production. Its first event is the station's annual President's Dinner tonight, where radio personality Carl Kasell will receive WHYY's Lifelong Learning Award.

May 15, 2010

WWOZ mounts Gulf Aid concert

WWOZ in New Orleans will broadcast live on May 16 from Gulf Aid, a benefit concert to provide financial relief to Gulf Coast fishermen affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Performers scheduled to appear on two different stages at Mardi Gras World River City include Allen Toussaint, Kermit Ruffins, Ani DiFranco, Lenny Kravitz, Soul Rebels Brass Band, and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band with Mos Def and Terence Blanchard. The concert, a ticketed event that kicks off at noon CT tomorrow, is the brainchild of Susan Nash, a public relations rep who has promoted Louisiania's seafood industry; WWOZ recruited musicians to the cause and partnered with business sponsors to present the concert and establish the nonprofit Gulf Relief Foundation to process donations and distribute funds to fishermen and wetland recovery efforts. 'OZ is the first broadcast station to receive an FCC waiver to fundraise for disaster relief related to the spill, according to David Freedman, g.m.

May 14, 2010

Indie pubTV channel devotes June to gay programming

MiND, the recent web-and-broadcast reincarnation of Philadelphia's pubstation WYBE (Current, April 21, 2008) is devoting the month of June to special programming for and about the local LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community, reports the Philadelphia Gay News. Five-minute, viewer-created pieces dominate the indie pubchannel's format. MiND is soliciting those short video submissions from the gay community for special one-hour shows on June 23 and June 26 on its Channel 35, as well as a presentation June 30 at the Piazza at Schmidt’s, a popular open air plaza in the city. MiND reformatted earlier this year to focus on a different theme each month, such as Earth Day in April and volunteerism in May.

Go forth and fail -- but be sure to share your experience later

"We don't celebrate failure and we should," writes the thought-provoking pubmedia guru Rob Bole in his Public Purpose Media blog. "We always blame a lack of communication of successes, but I am beginning to believe it might be a lack of communication about failures that is the true culprit."

May 13, 2010

Pending Kansas budget may slice pubcasting dollars by more than 50 percent

More than half of the state public broadcasting grants in Kansas will be gone if Gov. Mark Parkinson signs the 2011 budget just okayed by the legislature, reports the Wichita Eagle. The proposal cuts $900,000 of the $1.6 million in funding. If the governor approves, "2011's operating budget for most public broadcasting stations in Kansas looks grim," noted the paper. Especially hard hit would be Smoky Hills Public Television in Bunker Hill, which receives 15 percent of its budget from the state. At High Plains Public Radio in Garden City, a 10 percent cut. Wichita's KPTS counts on 12 percent of its $2.7 budget from the state. If the governor signs the budget, cuts take effect July 1. "That gives us just six weeks to come up with the funds," said Lynn Meredith, Smoky Hills PubTV CEO. "Some of the programs require 90 days' notice and expect payment even if we no longer show them."

Proffitt leaves KETC after two months

Pubcaster/blogger John Proffitt (see item below), who departed Alaska for KETC in March, has left the St. Louis station. He'd worked there as director of digital engagement, "but from the get-go I had several intuitions things weren’t quite right, at least for me."

Mobile DTV is DOA, pubcasting blogger opines

"I have nothing technically against mobile DTV," writes pubcaster John Proffitt on his Gravity Medium blog. "It’s a significant achievement in that sense. But I can’t see how it makes it big in this mediasphere. The stars are aligned against it. It’s Dead On Arrival." People out-and-about use video in limited ways, he says. Spectrum savings are meaningless. Technology is changing to quickly for mobile DTV to keep up. After making his argument he adds: "Given this analysis, all I can do is hope public TV people out there avoid spending too much time or money on this distraction." Meanwhile, the Open Mobile Video Coalition, which includes public broadcasters, launched its consumer trial earlier this month in Washington, D.C. WHUT at Howard University is one of nine area stations offering viewers a chance to get a look at broadcasts on a variety of mobile devices. Meanwhile, WGBH's mobile DTV is now up and running (Current, March 26); it's the first pubcasting station to offer the service.

May 12, 2010

PubTV tops cable, broadcast networks for Daytime Emmy nods

Public television has 52 Daytime Emmy nominations, more than any other broadcast or cable network. Nominees for the 37th annual honors were announced today by the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Perennial fave Sesame Street was the most nominated children’s show with 14 nods, and swept the outstanding performer in a children’s series category. Others with multiple nominations: The Electric Company, eight; Design Squad, four; Fetch! With Ruff Ruffman, three; WordGirl, three; Between the Lions, two; Sid the Science Kid, two; APT’s Avec Eric, two, and Biz Kid$, two. Last year, PBS programs had 47 nominees and 13 wins. The honors will be presented on June 27 (9:00-11:00 live p.m. ET/delayed PT) from the Las Vegas Hilton on CBS. Here is the full list of nominees.

May 11, 2010

That PBS cap must be aerodynamic

This just in: Photographic evidence of PBS President Paula Kerger with her jaunty PBS hat powering toward the finish line of the Kinetic Sprint triathlon in Spotsylvania, Va., last weekend. Her strongest event was the 18-mile bike ride, in which she finished 41st of 252 women with a time of 1:11:18. Kerger also swam 750 meters and ran 5k. All in one day. In 2:14:38, actually. And what did you do last Sunday?

Get out the duct tape, Red Green may be heading your way

Steve Smith, who plays the title character in The Red Green Show, never expected it to last more than one season. And here it is, Season 15 and still popular on pubcasting stations nationwide, the longest running Canadian program in American TV history. "We did the show just to make ourselves laugh," he tells the Woodinville Weekly in Washington State. The show’s success "has been a total shock and surprise to us. Even when we stopped doing it five years ago we thought it would just die, but it kept on being renewed." Although production ended after 300 episodes, his character lives on in a one-man traveling show he calls "The Wit and Wisdom Tour." He recently sold out in Cedarburg, Wisc., and Boise. "It’s a labor of love, not work. I’m glad to be there."

Washington Post's Shales skewers debut of Need to Know

Tom Shales, the Washington Post's vaunted TV columnist, is one of the few (if only) mainstream media writers so far to critique WNET's new pubaffairs show Need to Know. And to say that he does not care for the show is a huge understatement. Excerpts:

-- "PBS promises that this dreadful Need to Know show, which supplements vacuous televised drivel with fancily designed Web-page graphics, 'empowers audiences to "tune in" anytime and anywhere.' Meaning that you are free to supplement inadequate broadcast material with unsatisfying Internet material whenever you inexplicably get the urge. Oh boy, what a boon!"

-- The show ". . . arguably has to be seen to be believed, but you're probably better off basking in benign and, in this case, nutritious ignorance."

-- Co-anchor Jon Meacham " . . . looked forlorn, as if having been left out in the rain," and partner Alison Stewart "looked as though she would have been much more comfortable in Clinton's lap," after the former president appeared earlier in a "fawning, fatuous interview."

Perhaps other TV writers are giving the show some time to coalesce, as PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler suggests to viewers.

May 10, 2010

Summit takes up proposals for pubcasting reform

A white paper on the future of public media will help shape the discussion at the Free Press Summit, which kicks off at 10 a.m. on May 11 at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. The paper analyzes several options for financing a trust fund that would increase the field's funding six-fold and eventually end its reliance on congressional appropriations. It also calls for changes in the system for appointing the board of directors of Corporation for Public Broadcasting and proposes new standards of community service at CPB-funded stations. For a live webcast of the first four hours of the summit, tune your browser here.


In case you missed it, Saturday Night Live managed to parody both PBS and NPR programming within the first 30 minutes of last weekend's show, which was hosted by actress Betty White, still hilarious at 88 years old. Opening the show was a Lawrence Welk sketch (complete with PBS logo in the bottom corner of the screen) and later came a new "Delicious Dish" segment, a cooking show a la those smooth-talking NPR hosts.

Three icon series post double-digit increases in Nielsen ratings

The first-quarter Nielsen numbers that arrived recently at WGBH were surprising -- in a very positive way. Antiques Roadshow, Masterpiece and Nova each posted double-digit increases in audience numbers over this same time last year, according to the Sponsoring Group for Public Television, sales org for the shows. In a statement the group noted that the three shows "were up in desirable demos, significantly outperforming key competitive cable networks." Roadshow had total audience growth of 18 percent, including increases of 17 percent in adults 35 to 64 and 7 percent in adults 25 to 54. For Masterpiece, total audience grew 31 percent, increased 25 percent among adults 35 to 64 and 20 percent in adults 25 to 54. And for Nova, total audience swelled 17 percent as well as 9 percent among adults 35 to 64. The shows also lured in more viewers compared with leading cable networks. For adults 25 to 54, Roadshow and Nova beat those numbers for A&E, History, Discovery Channel and FOX News. Masterpiece bested primetime cable averages for Discovery Channel, Fox News, Lifetime and Bravo. "Too soon to know if it’s a trend, but we certainly hope so!," WGBH Marketing Director Roberta Haber told Current. Why the bump? "It's hard to say," Haber said. "We’d like to think it’s because viewers are returning to quality programming."

Need to Know creates need to vent for these pubcasting viewers

Lots of correspondence to the PBS ombudsman on the Need to Know debut, and "almost all" of it about the weekly pubaffairs show were "pretty grim," reports Michael Getler. Among viewer comments: "I had to write someone because I am so upset that I am shaking." "The new program Need to Know should be retitled: Got to Go. It is pablum." "Watching Need to Know was like having someone snatch your NY Times and give you back USA Today. Getler cautioned viewers, "This is the first program and lots of series get off to rocky starts in the eyes of some people. So let's give it a chance to evolve."

Kerger conquers chilly, windy triathlon

How about spending a Sunday swimming 750 meters (half a mile), biking 18 miles and running 5K (3 miles)? That's just was PBS President Paula Kerger did yesterday in the 751-participant Kinetic Sprint triathlon in Spotsylvania, Va. She set the land speed record for PBS presidents with a time of 2:14:38. PBS spokeswoman Stephanie Aaronson told Current that Kerger has been in training since last September, learning a lot from friends who compete in such events and running two charity races to ramp up. Finding time to train was a challenge: get to office before 7 a.m., catch up on e-mails from night before, head to the gym and then back to the office. Race day was chilly (low-mid 50s) and windy (gusts t0 30 mph). That made the water portion of the race particularly challenging, with each leg against the current. Spotting her in the crowd was tough for husband Joe so Kerger wore a pink PBS hat. Crossing the finish line brought Kerger an "enormous sense of accomplishment," Aaronson said, and Kerger is now eyeing the D.C. Triathlon on June 20.

New Salt Lake City g.m. has grizzly reputation

When Mike Dunn takes the helm today at University of Utah's KUED, he'll probably be the first pubcasting g.m. ever to have survived an attack by a 400-pound grizzly bear. Dunn still has small scars on the corner of his mouth and near his wrist from the 1994 attack at Grand Teton National Park; the big scars "are on my back where you can see the claw marks," he told the Salt Lake City Tribune. The head of the search committee had asked Dunn if he was "tough enough" for the job, to which he replied, "Well, you know, I did survive a bear attack." Dunn has never run a station but has been active at the Salt Lake City PBS affiliate for 28 years, hosting pledge drives and serving on its board of directors. He also produced documentaries for KUED through his Dunn Communications advertising firm. He was inspired to go into advertising decades ago by watching adman Darrin Stevens on the 1964-72 sitcom Bewitched. "Isn't it funny how TV molds you?" Dunn mused.

May 7, 2010

Isay's StoryCorps spreading motherly love, Web 2.0-style

It's been a big week for indie producer Dave Isay and his team at StoryCorps. In an May 5 appearance on Colbert Report promoting his new book, Isay defined the essence of motherhood as a combination of "fierce devotion, love and, you know, wisdom." He also went along with Colbert's joke demanding a follow-up on MILFs. The first StoryCorps animated short went viral on the Internet, previewing the series to air this summer on PBS's P.O.V. and on public TV stations as interstitial spots. The sneak-peak video, also tied to the Mother's Day theme, is "Q&A," one of the most popular StoryCorps audio interviews. It brings visual life to a loving conversation between 12-year-old Joshua Littman, a boy with Asperger Syndrome, and his mother Sarah. And finally, the StoryCorps iPhone app went live in Apple's App Store. It allows iPhone users to listen to the story of the week, share stories on social networks and prepare for and record StoryCorps interviews with their iPhones.

Robert Siegel left his head and his heart on the dance floor

We don't want to spoil this video for you, so all we'll say is you'll go gaga over this one from NPR. Robert Siegel is definitely a highlight, but we like those "Directors" too. Stay tuned to the Current blog as your Friendly Pubcasting Reporters track down the back story on this.

UPDATE: Tamar Charney, program director at Michigan Radio in Ann Arbor, reports the video "has been quite a hit with our Facebook fans. After we mentioned the spoof on-air our FB fans number started ticking up!"

Reporting from the Dorkosphere, Your Intrepid Reporters now have the full story.

Shereen Marisol Meraji, an online/on-air producer for All Things Considered, told Current that the idea was hatched after staffers watched the now-viral 82nd Airborne Division's rendition of Lady Gaga's "Telephone" video. "Theo [Balcomb, fellow producer] said, 'Hey, wouldn't it be fun to do a spoof video here?' I said,'Dude, that is brilliant and we are so doing that.' " That was Wednesday, May 5. The two teamed up with colleague Justine Kenin for the shoot.

Next step, talent. "We thought about who we could get that would be down for it, the younger, on-air talent. Ari Shapiro, Guy Raz, Korva Coleman -- she's notorious for being cool. So I sent out first a blast email to the pretty cool people, the relaxed people. They wrote back and said, sure." And of course producers signed on as backup dancers.

Then came the even bigger names. "I was kind of scared of Nina [Totenberg], but I knew we had to open with her. So I had one of the producers who has worked with her, like, 30 years, and he went and asked her. She's awesome in that hot-pink dress and her signature pearls." Not to mention her "Justice Gaga" lines. Approaching Siegel was even more intimidating. "I was so nervous. I work with him every day, and we have a good relationship, but he's known to be a real newsman -- but he's also very funny! I figured, I’d gotten everyone else, so I said, 'Hey Robert, you won’t have to dance or sing, you can just be you.' And I let the idea simmer. Then later a producer working with him on another piece said, 'Get in here with your camera, he'll do it at exactly 3:06.' "

The Directors (still our fave) from All Things Considered "would not dance," Meraji said. "I was doing these little movements for them and Brendan [Banaszak] said, 'I'm not going to bounce around like that.' " So Banaszak and Greg Dixon improvised their own movements -- a homage to pubradio directors everywhere.

Everything but the backup producer dancers was done in one take. "We shot and edited on Thursday, and I wanted [Senior Veep for News] Ellen Weiss to see it." Weiss encouraged Meraji to post it on NPR's Facebook page. By 1:30 p.m. Friday, 908 fans had clicked "Like" and 238 left comments, and the YouTube count was still ticking upwards of 32,000. Maraji thought it might be a hit, among a certain audience. "I was thinking it would go viral in the Dorkosphere. Nerdy people will like it."

Online scavenger hunt grows Arizona PubMedia's Facebook fan base

Looking for a way to boost participation in your station's Facebook fan page? Arizona Public Media's page, which had stalled at 555, picked up 100 new fans in just six days in March, as well as pulled them into PlayPBS, its local version of the COVE player -- all with an online scavenger hunt offering free tickets to a David Sedaris performance. Station spokesperson Steve Delgado told Current the idea bubbled up during publicity brainstorming between the underwriting and promotions folks and Sedaris's team. At the same time, the station was planning a PlayPBS soft roll-out and wanted a few hundred visitors to try it out. So an item ran on the Facebook page announcing that fans would have exclusive access to the new PlayPBS. And, as a bonus, they'd be eligible for six pairs of Sedaris tickets. All they had to do was answer questions by watching certain videos. Example: In the Masterpiece presentation of "The 39 Steps," how do the Nazi spies make their escape? (In a submarine!) The fan posting the first correct answer received the tickets. The station had a lot of fun with the contest: They'd advise when fans were getting "warm" or "cold." When one answered correctly ("Shrimp etouffee") the response was, "BAM! WE HAVE A WINNA!" Delgado said the fan base has steadily grown since then to 961. And perhaps best of all: Sedaris complimented the contest onstage.

NPR News app among the most highly rated by iPad users

The application that NPR created for the launch of Apple's iPad has received the highest user ratings among the apps offered by major American news organizations, according to this analysis by Newsosaur Alan Mutter. NPR's app ranks sixth among the top ten news applications in terms of downloads, but iPad users give the content and experience an average rating of 3.5 stars, higher than apps created by USA Today (3.0), the New York Times (2.5) and the Wall Street Journal (2.5). The BBC and France 24, the international news channel funded by the French government, received user ratings of 3.5 and 4.0, respectively, and Mutter believes that the rich-media iPad experience offered by broadcasters has an advantage over newsprint publishers. Mutter warns not to judge publishers by their inaugural iPad applications: they didn't have much time to design for the new platform, and they didn't want to invest heavily in a device that might turn out to be a "dud." He adds: "If the first month is any indication, however, the iPad could be a bigger hit than the iPhone. Apple said it sold 1 million units in the first 30 days, as compared with the 74 days it took to sell the first million iPhones. And a new study shows iPad users are twice as likely to be interested in general, financial and sports news than the average American. Now that it looks as though publishers are playing with live ammo, they need to get serious about planning iPad strategies."

OPB finishes up American Archive prototype

The prototype for the American Archive is complete, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting (background: Current, May 14, 2007 and April 13, 2009). CPB commissioned the project in January 2009 to determine how best to preserve and archive the historic video and audio stored throughout the pubcasting system. The first phase (25 stations took part) was an inventory, the second (22 stations) concentrated on restoring, digitizing and cataloging more than 5,700 sound and video items totaling more than 2,300 hours of broadcast material. The prototype will be unveiled at the PBS Annual Meeting this month in Austin, Texas. At this point, the prototype is just for demonstration as rights clearances are still pending.

May 6, 2010

Democracy Now! sues over 2008 arrests

Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman and two of her producers filed a federal lawsuit over their arrests during the 2008 Republican National Convention. The journalists were among some 40 reporters arrested as they covered street protests outside the convention hall in St. Paul, Minn., and they allege that authorities violated their First Amendment rights to gather news independently. They also seek compensatory and punitive monetary damages for medical expenses and lost equipment, according to the Associated Press. Defendants in Goodman vs. St. Paul include the cities and police departments of St. Paul and Minneapolis, the Ramsey County Sheriff and unidentified Secret Service personnel. “We shouldn’t have to get a record to put things on the record," Goodman said. "This is not only a violation of freedom of the press but a violation of the public’s right to know. When journalists are arrested, that has a chilling effect on the functioning of a democratic society.” The Center for Constitutional Rights and co-counsel De Leon & Nestor and Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, are representing the Democracy Now! team in the suit.

WNET Lincoln Center Studio gets $15 million contribution

In an email to employees, WNET today announced a $15 million gift for its new Lincoln Center Studio, which will be named for donors James S. and Merryl H. Tisch. James Tisch, president and CEO of Loews, is the chairman of's Board of Trustees. This is the largest individual contribution in WNET's nearly 50-year history. "When we decided to invest in the new studio, one of our main goals was to bring in a major philanthropic partner to help us leverage these studios to our best advantage as leaders in public television programming," WNET President Neal Shapiro told staffers.

APTS grant center provides stations with help in finding funding

The APTS Grant Center website (password protected) is now up and running, provides funding opportunities and resources to help public broadcasting stations find and apply for grants, according to a statement from the Association for Public Television Stations. There are monthly APTS Grant Center conference calls and webcasts, and lists of personnel in funding agencies. The CPB-funded center is partnering with the Development Exchange Incorporated (DEI) on the foundation and radio components, providing profiles on national, local and regional foundations identified as potential station funders.

Powerful public broadcasting supporter retiring from House

Democratic Rep. David Obey, a longtime pubcasting champion and chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, is leaving Congress after this term. The Capital Times in his home state of Wisconsin called him Congress's "most powerful populist." In 2005, Obey co-sponsored an amendment to restore the $400 million CPB appropriation for the next year that that the Republican-led House Appropriations Committee wanted cut (Current, June 27, 2005). The previous month, he had joined fellow Democratic Rep. John Dingell of Michigan to complain about CPB Board Chair Kenneth Tomlinson's probe of alleged liberal bias in pubcasting (Current, May 16, 2005), saying, "the law says the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is supposed to keep its cotton-picking nose out of programming and out of politics.” In his announcement yesterday that he will not seek reelection, Obey said: "I am, frankly, weary of having to beg on a daily basis that both parties recognize that we do no favor for the country if we neglect to make the long-term investments in education, science, health, and energy that are necessary to modernize our economy and decline to raise the revenue needed to pay for those crucial investments. I do not want to be in a position as Chairman of the Appropriations Committee of producing and defending lowest common denominator legislation that is inadequate to that task and, given the mood of the country, that is what I would have to do if I stayed."

May 5, 2010

Popular Web TEDTalks coming to TV, including WPSU

Penn State's WPSU is one of dozens of TV stations worldwide participating in the new TED Open TV Project, bringing speeches and appearances from the world of technology, entertainment and design to viewers (a bit of TED history here). Those are called TEDTalks, and have received some 200 million Web views since postings began in 2006 with such speakers as Bill Gates, Frank Gehry, Jane Goodall, Al Gore, Billy Graham, Peter Gabriel, Quincy Jones and Bono. TEDTalks are the brainchild of the nonprofit Sapling Foundation, dedicated to "fostering the spread of great ideas." Now those speeches are coming from the Web to television. In a press release, the foundation said: "Built in response to strong demand from TV station managers around the world, TED's Open TV Project allows broadcasters to air TEDTalks for free, and encourages them to create custom programs for their communities."

Attention, indies: P.O.V. wants your entries

Big news in the indie production world, P.O.V.'s 2011 call for entries is now open. The pubcasting program is TV's longest-running showcase for independent nonfiction films, and many projects it has supported or aired have gone on to fame -- one good example is the recent Oscar nominee "Food, Inc." For filmmakers new to the application process, P.O.V. offers this handy video. For those who have applied before, good news: The form is much shorter this year, according to P.O.V.'s series producer Yance Ford. Log in here to apply.

Deadline pressures, not station relations, weighed heavily in bureau chief change

An NPR decision to change staffing arrangements for its western bureau chief has drawn objections from public radio station news directors and journalists. Two chiefs now share the job from two different cities--Kate Concannon in Seattle and Alisa Joyce-Barba from San Diego. NPR plans to hire a full-time bureau chief to work from its NPR West studios in Culver City, Calif. Public radio news consultant Michael Marcotte, a longtime advocate of expanding the bureau chief system, says the change will undercut the local/national news reporting relationships that NPR President Vivian Schiller says she wants to strengthen. "The bureau chiefs are the unsung heroes, the key linkages in the network-station editorial relationship, a relationship that must be tended and nourished," he writes. NPR news managers Steve Drummond and Philip Bruce explained the decision in a memo to stations: "A major reason is simply that this job-share no longer works. The razor-sharp deadlines of Newscast, Morning Edition and All Things Considered demand of us that we respond immediately to breaking news online and on-air. These pressures are intensified by the Western time zones and the vastness of the region. As NPR is increasingly a primary and immediate news source throughout this region, it’s clear that a part-time editing schedule with alternating days is no longer viable." Jonathan Ahl, president of Public Radio News Directors Inc. and news director at Iowa Public Radio, told Current that the bureau chief system is the "single greatest thing" to improve editorial relationships between NPR and its member stations and it needs to continue, if not expand. "Our chiefs know what we're working on, can get into editorial meetings and advocate for what's coming out of the region."

NPR, APT shows win coveted Beard Awards

NPR and APT both won James Beard Foundation Awards on Monday, known as "the Oscars of the food industry." The Kojo Nnamdi Show won for broadcast media; host is Nnamdi, producers are Tara Boyle, Michael Martinez, Ingalisa Schrobsdorff, Brendan Sweeney and Diane Vogel. For television show, on location, the winner is Chefs A'Field, "King of Alaska" (click on Episodes, then Episode 2) from presenting station KCTS in Seattle. Now in its fourth season, host is Rick Moonen, producers are Heidi Hanson and Chris Warner. WGBH is presenting station for Food Trip with Todd English, which won for television special; producers are English, Matt Cohen, Joel Coblenz and Gina Gargano. As the foundation website notes, "Nominees and winners are fĂȘted at a weekend of events in New York City that has become the social and gastronomic highlight of the year." A full list of winners here.

FCC looking at antenna structure regulations

The FCC on Monday released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) asking for comment on rules governing construction, marking and lighting of antenna structures. The FCC hopes the revisions will improve compliance and allow the agency to better enforce the regs. The proposed rules would also remove outdated and complicated requirements without compromising the FCC's responsibility to prevent antenna structures from being hazards to air navigation. A petition filed by the PCIA -- The Wireless Infrastructure Association back on Sept. 12, 2006, led to the proposal; it's being eyed now as part of an FCC biennial review of rules.

May 4, 2010

Taking NPR from airwaves to sketchpad

No, "Mornings with NPR" is not a new show, it's the name of an aspiring cartoonist's tribute blog to her fave pubradio show. Alex Olanow says two of her more enthusiastic fans are Morning Edition hosts Steve Inskeep and Renee Montagne, who once sent her a goody bag full of show swag: mugs, hats and, of course, that proverbial tote bag.

Leaked survey shows Canadian pubcasters in a snit over new "Hub" management

The Tyee, a British Columbian news and culture website, is reporting that a leaked survey of CBC journos tells "a mind-boggling tale of institutional incompetence. It's a surprisingly amusing story, with great literary potential ..." The main hubbub seems to be over the Hub, a layer of middle management that picks stories for cross-platform use. It's part of an effort to integrate national radio and local TV so one reporter can serve both. Nearly half of the journalists insist it's stopping them from getting a good story on the air, and, furthermore, they insist the Hub is a bunch of people "not qualified to be called junior reporters."

Fifty-six hours = $250,000

Good news from Wyoming Public Radio: It reached its spring pledge goal of $250,000 in just 56 hours of on-air fundraising, according to a statement from licensee University of Wyoming. Jon Schwartz, g.m., said the station's membership drives are consistently among the shortest in the country.

OPB contractor found dead at tower location

An Oregon Public Broadcasting contractor was found dead last weekend at its Stacker Butte, Wash., tower. Station spokesperson Becky Chinn told the Yakima Herald that his death appears to have been unrelated to his installation and maintenance work. She had no information on his age or hometown because he was not an employee. An autopsy is pending.

Webbys go to five pubcasting efforts

Muppets Studio won four Webby Awards -- a major coup for its hilarious "Queen and the Muppets: Bohemian Rhapsody" -- won two, and one each for PBS, Frontline/World and Sesame Street in the honors for online excellence announced today. (OK, so technically Muppets Studio isn't really a pubcaster, but those furry ones are definitely related to their Sesame Street cousins so we'll claim 'em.) Each category had two winners, one voted on by judges including domestic doyenne Martha Stewart, Simpsons creator Matt Groening, and media maven Arianna Huffington, and the other, People's Voice, selected by voters around the world. NPR's awards came for Best Practices (People's Voice) and Radio Podcasts (People's Voice). "Bohemian Rhapsody" was a dual winner in the Music and Viral categories, taking both a Webby and a People's Voice (the behind-the-scenes video of its creation is pretty fun, too). The Frontline/World site won a People's Voice in News and Politics Series for its Carbon Watch, and PBS in the Youth Website category for its PBS Kids. Sesame Street scored a Website Webby for Family and Parenting. Nearly 10,000 entries from all 50 states and more than 60 countries were considered. The Webby Awards have been presented since 1996 by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences. Here are full lists of website winners, honors for interactive advertising, the list for online film and video, and mobile. Webbys will be presented June 14 in New York City.