Jul 19, 2010

UNC-TV reporter issues statement on Alcoa investigation controversy

The reporter behind the controversy over PBS affiliate UNC-TV releasing pre-broadcast footage and reporting docs to the North Carolina state legislature spoke out on Friday (July 16). In a statement, Eszter Vajda said: "This is why I became a journalist ... to bring information to the public that they don’t have, to arm them with information that sometimes is kept from them on purpose." She said the story, on Alcoa's request to renew its license on several hydroelectric dams, "deals with the relationship between big business, people and the environment."

After a state legislative committee investigating Alcoa's license renewal request declared UNC-TV a "state agency," Alcoa then demanded, via the state's open records laws, that the station furnish it all the reporter's materials on the story dating to January 2008. A station spokesman said its attorneys are currently reviewing the request. See the next Current, July 26, for more on this story.

Tribe donates $6 million to California affiliate for first 24-hour Native channel

KVCR-TV in San Bernardino, Calif., has received a $6 million donation from the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians to fund the nation's first full-time Native American channel, reports the Desert Sun newspaper. “We fully anticipate this channel to become a model for public television programming across the country,'' said Larry Ciecalone, president of the PBS affiliate. James Ramos, chairman of the San Manuel Band, said the channel supports the tribe's mission of "eradicating stereotypes that often stem from inaccurate depictions of American Indians in commercial television." He said content will be Native-produced film and television, providing potential work for actors and storytellers. The donation will come in three installments of $2 million over the first three years of the channel, called First Voices. Tribe and KVCR reps will sit on the channel's board. The San Manuel also gave $1.5 million to KVCR during the digital transition, which enabled the expansion from one to six channels. Launch date for First Voices is spring of 2011.

UPDATE: Loris Taylor, exec director of Native Public Media, told Current in a statement: "San Manuel Band of Mission Indian's investment into KVCR public television demonstrates how extra digital channels can be used to provide service to unserved populations. This will be the first TV channel to provide important Native American programming not only for San Manuel but other tribes in the area. A strong and healthy information ecology is critically important to the nation building efforts of Tribes and every time another facility is added to our pool of broadcast assets, our system grows stronger. Native Public Media is happy to extend its assistance to Chairman Ramos of San Manuel in this historic endeavor."

Fans wait for hours to meet "Red Green" in West Virginia hardware store

"The Red Green Show" fans Kerry Comerford and his longtime partner, Brooke Parker, left their home Berkeley Springs, W.Va., for their first overnight away in 25 years and drove five hours to meet their quirky pubTV fave character, currently on his "Wit & Wisdom" tour, in Charleston on Sunday (July 18). The two never get away as they have horses and other farm animals to tend. But that day they were among a massive crowd that waited at Zeeger Hardware in Charleston, Va., for hours to meet Steve Smith, the Canadian who plays the "handyman hero" on the show, reports the Charleston Daily Mail. As fan Bill Riffle of Charleston told the paper: "He's just like us. Who else but a West Virginian would be a member of the Possum Lodge?" The show ended its original run in 2006 butis in syndication on several PBS affiliates. And its fans are famous for their devotion: Comerford and Parker brought items to give to Smith, including an honorary degree penned on a roll of single-ply toilet paper signed by folks in line. The newspaper said the roll, or "scroll" as Parker called it, "conferred the degree of 'Philosopher Emeritus of West Virginia' upon Red Green."

Production U to teach high-schoolers TV content skills

Production U, a new two-week media camp for high-school students, kicks off Aug. 2 off at PBS 39 in Bethehem, Pa., reports Lehigh Valley Live. "In public television, a huge mission of ours is to educate people," said Amy Burkett, station senior veep of production. "The thing I'm most passionate about is television and I want to share that passion and education with the next generation of television producers." The students will shadow producers, as well as write, shoot, edit and act in a 15-minute teen-oriented newscast to be shown online. A second session begins Aug. 16. (Image: PBS 39)

Knight-Batten Awards for innovations in journalism

ProPublica, The Takeaway and Ushahidi Haiti, a crowdsourcing crisis map created in response to the massive earthquake in January, each received 2010 Knight-Batten Awards of Special Distinction. The awards, selected by an advisory board, honor innovative journalistic collaborations that "foster unique levels of digital engagement," according to J-Lab, which administers the awards. ProPublica was lauded for advancing the craft and practice of crowdsourcing; the Takeaway for its use of text-messaging to collect tips from residents in a Detroit neighborhood; and Ushahidi Haiti for its rapid and multi-layered efforts responding to disaster-relief needs in Haiti. Cash prizes of $1,000 go to winners of Special Distinction Awards; the Grand Prize of $10,000 went to Sunlight Live. Notable Entries also cited by the judges for innovation were from NPR, PBS NewsHour, New Hampshire Public Radio and WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show, among others.

PEG channel conference shows move toward "community media centers"

An often-overlooked corner of the evolving pubmedia ecosystem hides PEG access (public access, educational, government) channels. But the recent conference of the Alliance for Community Media PEG advocacy group revealed the trend that more of the channels are transforming into "community media centers" to further their public-service mission, write Bill Densmore and Colin Rhinesmith at the New America Foundation blog Sustaining Democracy in a Digital Age. The support once required from the cable industry is fading away; cities including Los Angeles and Las Vegas have totally pulled the plug. But the Web offers low-cost (or free) ways to deliver information to Web-savvy citizens, PEG supporters say.

Part of the discussion at the confab focused on that growing use of online media -- and the concern it raises regarding audiences with no access to the Web. One solution may be inspired by Access Sacramento's "hyperlocal news bureaus" in libraries and other community spaces to serve as a bridge between those online and those yet to be trained. “We are proposing that we create stories of a neighborhood nature that would be relevant," said Ron Cooper of Access Sacramento at the conference. "We are training folks and providing them with the lowest-possible learning threshold for loading digital content of any kind whatsoever."

Cooper said he encountered reluctance among the city's cable regulators who oversee the PEG channel's $400,000 annual budget: Why should they pay for a website? He overcame that by pointing out that this would reach new audiences and the video training would create “new fresh programming that will run on the cable channels and complete the loop of why are we spending money on a website.” In a nutshell: “It creates programming for the access channels."

Dayton-Cincinnati merger results in five full-time job cuts

Five staffers have been due to the ongoing merger between PBS affiliates CET in Cincinnati and ThinkTV in Dayton, Ohio, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. The two have been operating together since 2008 as Public Media Connect Inc., headed by president David Fogarty. "We're going through changes with staff realignments and technical operations," in both cities, he told the newspaper. CET's signal is now being sent from Dayton. All channel monitoring and program traffic are done there for both. One master control operator from each station, two producers and an educational services staffer lost jobs. Fogarty said they're also cutting some part-time and contract personnel.

KQED expands local news for radio, Web audiences

San Francisco's KQED is adding weekday newscasts to its FM station and as on-demand audio on its website, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. "These will be the first local news-only reports on KQED-FM in several years and will air on the half hour from 6:04 a.m. to noon and at 4:33 p.m. The two minutes of air time will be subtracted from the NPR newscasts that precede them," the Chronicle reports. The expanded news service launched this morning; a blog reporting breaking news, News Fix, rolls out next month.