Nov 22, 2010

Documentaries on PBS short-listed for Oscar nominations

Three PBS documentaries are on the short list for Oscars, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced. "Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould" premieres Dec. 27 on American Masters, "Waste Land” will air on Independent Lens in April 2011, and  “William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe” ran on P.O.V. this June. The Academy Awards nominations will be announced at 8:30 a.m. Eastern on Jan. 25, 2011, live from Los Angeles.

CORRECTION: Make that four PBS docs in the running for the coveted Oscar. Cynthia Lopez notes that P.O.V.'s "Enemies of the People" is also short-listed; that'll air next year.

Fight over NPR funding: is it a "culture war," or principled debate?

What's really at stake in the battle over federal funding to NPR, and how can the field's advocates make the best case for continued support? Public broadcasters began speaking out last week in friendly venues, testing their message points and strategizing about whether and how to mount a more aggressive campaign to enlist broad public support.

At yesterday's Public Media Camp in Washington, D.C., attendees discussed the political attack with Jay Rosen, press critic and j-school professor at New York University, who participated via Skype in a session on the response to the "culture war." Rosen, who described himself as sympathetic to the fight to preserve federal funding, called for a blogger -- one who works independently and outside of NPR and PBS -- to report on the debate, critique press coverage of it, and call out the "most outrageous statements" from the field's partisan critics. "A blogger's job is to intervene in public debate and make it smarter," Rosen said.

It's unclear what role, if any, NPR can play in marshalling support through its social media networks. Ethics guidelines prohibit NPR's social media team from enlisting NPR Facebook fans and Twitter followers to the political cause of preserving federal aid, said Andy Carvin, senior social media strategist, although the network's leadership is reconsidering these rules as part of the broader review of its standards and practices. Carvin moves between NPR's newsroom and its digital media division, and, under the current policy, has to follow NPR's news ethics rules in managing the social media desk. "Everyone realizes we're sitting on a gold mine of support," he said.

Carvin and other pubmedia staffers in the session were mindful of how easily such a manuever could backfire, although no one in the room seemed to remember the drubbing that public broadcasting took in 1999, after revelations that WGBH in Boston had swapped donor lists with the Democratic Party. Others proposed creative and traditional approaches that would be less overtly political and divisive.

"You need a grassroots movement catalyzed by the people," said Peter Corbett, interactive strategist and an organizer of Public Media Camp. Mounting a partisan offense will backfire, he said, proposing an "I ♥ NPR" social media campaign that allows advocates in the audience to identify themselves -- and each other -- and organically builds a network of political support.

Public stations must step up to make the case, as they have in past fights over CPB, said Maxie Jackson, president of the National Federation of Community Broadcasters, in part because of the damage already done by NPR's dismissal of former news analyst Juan Williams. "You've got to take NPR off the table," Jackson said. A front-and-center role by NPR would be "poisonous at this point," he said, especially given NPR's bad track record with audience and workforce diversity. Matt Thompson of NPR's Argo Network produced a live blog of the session, which was inspired by a MediaShift article by Jessica Clark of American University's Center for Social Media.

So far, NPR is taking the high road in responding to attacks by Fox News and Republican congressional leaders, observes Los Angeles Times media critic James Rainey, in an analysis of the opening salvo of the political campaign to "defund NPR."

"Moving NPR to the top of the GOP cut list has much more to do with symbolism and bowing to an emboldened political base than with good government, impartial media or serving the average citizen," Rainey writes. "After all, the audience for public radio has grown 60 percent over the last decade. Forty million listeners now tune in each week."

Rainey reports that small, rural stations -- not big-city outlets like KCRW and KPCC in Los Angeles -- will be hardest-hit if the energized GOP delivers on its threat to end federal support of the field, quoting KCRW General Manager Jennifer Ferro: "When they talk about killing the Corporation for Public Broadcasting allocation to NPR, they are talking about taking it away from the people who already have the weakest voice," she says.

In a Nov. 18 speech at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School of Communications, NPR President Vivian Schiller made the case for public radio by describing how NPR's journalists in Baghdad and Afghanistan risk their lives to report from war zones. "I worry it is way too easy to forget the dangers and sacrifices real journalists make at a time when we all refer to news stories as 'content,' when the work of field reporters is sliced and diced into a zillion cyber pieces, when news is something we aggregate, Tweet and blog upon," Schiller said during her Loper Lecture in Public Service Journalism. NPR is among the very few news organizations that continues to invest in "the hard work of boots-on-the-ground reporting while at the same time driving innovation and opening ourselves to new audiences," she said.

"Much of the commercial media is fleeing the reporting business," Schiller said. "Foreign reporting, investigative reporting, arts reporting and expert local reporting are perhaps most in danger. We know this, it isn't new. But in the end, it is what all the debates about economic models are all about."

"We at NPR are doing everything in our power to increase our newsgathering capacity and to help our member stations do the same," Schiller said. "In some ways, that is our most important job right now."

Pubstations need simple apps, too

Public media needs coding collaborators. That's what pubcaster Barrett Golding of Hearing Voices writes in today's (Nov. 22) Hacks/Hackers blog. Large pubradio stations have ambitious Internet projects going, but they also have the staff and cash to do so. Mid-to-small stations and independents need simpler, smaller apps. Golding has two examples of pubmedia-specific API how-tos that could cheaply and immediately help hundreds of sites.

New NBR owner agreed to leave instructional content field in 2000, New York Times reports

In a followup to a Current investigation (Aug. 23 and Sept. 7), the New York Times reports today (Nov. 22) that Mykalai Kontilai, the new owner of Nightly Business Report, agreed to leave the instructional programming business in 2000 and paid $250,000 as part of the settlement of a fraud suit. Kontilai confirms making the payment but denies agreeing to step out of the field.

Ronald Reed, former president of AGC/United Learning, an educational content provider that has since become part of Discovery, told the newspaper: "We felt, from our point of view, that it would be best not to have him in the industry," after discovering "what we considered to be inappropriate business practices." Reed added that he was surprised to learn five years later that Kontilai was still in the business. He declined further comment, citing a privacy agreement.

Atalaya Capital Management, a New York investment company, provided financing for the show's purchase, which Kontilai said was "well over a million dollars." Atalaya's other investments include Creative Loafing, an alternative weekly newspaper chain.

In his more than 10 years of distributing educational video to public television stations," the newspaper added, "Mr. Kontilai, 41, left a trail of ill will and claims of hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid debts. Stations ended contracts early with a company he ran but did not own, citing unfulfilled obligations."

The newspaper cited more than a dozen people who have done business with Kontilai, who each questioned "whether his new endeavors would end with the same sort of problems that plagued his previous public television efforts."