Dec 31, 2011

Outlook grim for pubcasting in New Zealand

"2012 will be a make or break year for public broadcasting in New Zealand," according to the Spy Report, an Australian media news site. "New Zealand governments have never shown a strong commitment to public broadcasting, but 2011 has witnessed a remarkable dismantling of what little there was of public broadcasting on television."

On Dec. 23, it says, Stratos Television, the country's only national independent noncom channel, went dark; its c.e.o., Jim Blackman, cited "transmission costs coupled with the economic environment and general lack of support at all levels" as the cause. The noncom children's and family channel, TVNZ 6, ended broadcast on Feb. 28. And on April 6, broadcasting minister Jonathan Coleman announced that the government would end funding for TVNZ 7 and it would close in June 2012. "This decision leaves New Zealand as the only developed country without a broadly-targeted, state-funded broadcaster," Spy Report says.

Radio New Zealand also continues to struggle after the government froze funding several years ago.

Dec 30, 2011

Florida stations still struggling after May cut of state funding

The Tampa Bay Times is looking back at a rough year for pubcasters in the state, after Gov. Rick Scott's decision in May to veto nearly $4.8 million in state funding. Public TV stations lost more than $300,000 and each public radio station saw a $60,000 drop. All told, in the Tampa Bay area, WEDU, WMNF and WUSF radio and TV stations lost a total of around $1 million. "And while Tampa Bay area public broadcasting fans initially responded with a surge in donations," the paper noted, "as the year wore on, local stations found themselves increasingly challenged to find new, permanent solutions to the funding dilemma."

"The public, in times of emergency, comes through," said Rob Lorei, WMNF's news and public affairs director. "Now they don't have that sense of urgency." While the station's first pledge drive after the cuts brought in more money, October's fundraising fell $30,000 short.

Bob O'Rourke dies at 72; developed pubcasting science shows

Bob O'Rourke, a former vice president for public relations at the California Institute of Technology who helped develop several pubcasting science features, died Tuesday (Dec. 27) of complications following a lung transplant. He was 72.

O'Rourke conceived the idea for AirTalk: The CalTech Edition, a collaboration with local NPR member station KPCC in Pasadena, Calif., as well as The Loh Down on Science, "the fun way to get your daily dose of science in less than two minutes," hosted by Sandra Tsing Loh. He also was a driving force behind Curious, a four-part pubTV series from WNET that focused on the work of scientists at CalTech and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

"Bob O'Rourke's passing is a loss to Caltech that is incalculable," said Loh, a Caltech alumnus, in a statement from the university. "I feel his loss as deeply as I would the loss of a member of my own family. One of the wonderful things about Caltech is that it has always had a maverick, irreverent, and out-of-the-box spirit, and I think many of Bob O'Rourke's projects reflected this."

He had been diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis in 2006. During the last two years O'Rourke gave several media interviews about the disease, including on NPR, in the Los Angeles Times and on NBC's Today show.

O'Rourke, a native of Beverly, Mass., is survived by his wife, Sandy; four children, two stepchildren and eight grandchildren. He was preceded in death by a sister and two brothers.

A funeral Mass will be 2 p.m. Jan. 4 at Holy Family Church in South Pasadena. The family requests memorial donations to UCLA Medical Science Development (Attention: Nushie Gaharib; 10945 Le Conte Ave., Suite 3132, Los Angeles, Calif., 90095).

FCC reaffirms "tribal priority" for broadcast licenses

The Federal Communications on Wednesday (Dec. 28) issued an order reaffirming the "tribal priority" it created in 2009 to bolster Native American rights in broadcast licenses. In a concurring statement, retiring Commissioner Michael Copps called the order a “wonderful step” toward “bringing modern telecommunications to Indian Country.”

John Crigler, a longtime telecom attorney working with Native Public Media (NPM), told Current that the order recognizes "the inherent right of tribes to serve their own people, by recognizing that tribes and Alaska Native villages are political, not racial classifications."

Crigler said the FCC adopted a requirement that protects tribes from proposing a broadcast allocation, only to lose it to a non-tribal bidder at auction. Now, only a tribal entity may bid on a tribal priority allocation. Both the NPM and the National Congress of American Indians supported that concept. Crigler said a channel allocated under the tribal priority may be a awarded to a non-tribal entity only if the tribe that proposed the allocation did not concurrently submit an application and no other qualifying tribal entity bid on the channel in an auction. "Tribes therefore get 'two bites of the apple' before having to surrender a channel that serves tribal lands to a non-tribal entity," Crigler said.

UPDATE, Jan. 4: More details here, from the Telecommunications Law Resource Center.

Dec 29, 2011

KET to provide public-affairs programming to Kentucky pubradio stations

Kentucky Educational Television in Lexington begins programming partnerships with pubradio stations in the state in January, it said in a statement Wednesday (Dec. 28). Participating will be WEKU in Richmond and WKMS in Murray, with other pubcasters coming on soon. “Our partnership with Kentucky public radio stations will strengthen the public broadcasting service for Kentuckians by expanding access to trusted signature public affairs programming,” said Shae Hopkins, KET executive director. KET series and programs available to public radio stations for broadcast will include Kentucky Tonight, Comment on Kentucky, One to One with Bill Goodman, Connections with Renee Shaw, Education Matters, Jubilee, Legislative Update, candidate forums and election night coverage.

Reno's KNPB to drop 2.5 hours of children's shows, forgo after-school programs

KNPB, PBS in Reno, Nev., will end children's programming at 12:30 p.m. starting next week, cutting 2.5 hours from its nine-hour daily schedule of kids' shows, reports Technorati, noting that the change "will put KNPB tied in third place for the fewest hours of daily children's programs among 30 PBS affiliated stations surveyed in the western United States," after California stations KRCB in Rohnert Park and KCSM in San Mateo, which is currently for sale. The new schedule goes into effect Jan. 2, 2012.

In an email to Technorati, Kurt Mische, KNPB president, said that the changes "will allow us to serve a larger audience of viewers . . . and donors . . . who not only watch but help to financially support our important service."

KNPB is ending broadcast of The Electric Company, Cyberchase, Super Why! WordWorld and a second daily airing of Arthur. Earlier this year it cut Fetch! with Ruff Ruffman. In its place, the station said in a press release, will be "an expanded schedule of how-to, hobby and special interest programs" including Antiques Roadshow, Nova, Nature and This Old House.

"KNPB is seen by nearly 160,000 people in 71,000 households in central and northern Nevada and northeast California," Mische said in the press release. "While that is an atypically large audience for a PBS station, we had some days and times where our ratings were not as high as we like, meaning we had the opportunity to better serve our viewers."

Dec 28, 2011

Romney: Under his presidency, PBS would have advertisements

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, on the stump ahead of Iowa's Jan. 3 GOP caucuses, today (Dec. 28) told a crowd at a deli in Clinton, Iowa, that if elected, he would end public broadcasting funding, reports ABC News. "We subsidize PBS," he said. "Look, I’m going to stop that. I’m going to say, ‘PBS is going to have to have advertisements.' We’re not going to kill Big Bird, but Big Bird’s going to have to have advertisements, all right? And we’re going to have endowments for the arts and humanities but they’re going to be paid for by private charity, not by taxpayers — or by borrowers.”

Romney said something very similar in an op-ed in USA Today in November, promising to "enact deep reductions in the subsidies" for several entities including the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Funeral on Thursday for attorney Bob Woods, 80

Robert A. Woods, 80, a retired founding partner in the communications law firm of Schwartz, Woods & Miller, died Dec. 22 following a long illness. A funeral service will be held Thursday morning in Bethesda, Md.

The firm handled FCC and other matters for numerous public broadcasting stations as well as for common carriers and commercial broadcasters. Woods had served as outside general counsel for the National Association of Educational Broadcasters and the Joint Council on Educational Broadcasting, which advocated the commission’s reservation of channels for educational TV in the 1950s.

Woods and Louis Schwartz started the firm in 1970. Lawrence M. Miller later became a name partner. Woods left active practice in 2001, the firm said. Schwartz died in 2004.

A native of Beverly, Mass., Woods received bachelor’s and law degrees from Harvard University.

He is survived by his wife of 53 years, Betty, sons Lawrence A. and Randall D., daughter Diana S. Heinze, sister Mary Buck, and four grandchildren.

A funeral service is scheduled for 10 a.m., Thursday, Dec. 29, at Robert A. Pumphrey Funeral Home, Bethesda, Md.

Dec 25, 2011

Former WBAI talker Lynn Samuels found dead at 69

Progressive radio talk-show host Lynn Samuels, 69, who began her career on public radio, was found deceased in her apartment on Christmas Eve, the New York Daily News reports. When Samuels didn't show up for her Sirius XM show on Saturday (Dec. 24), reps for the satellite radio company asked the police to investigate. Officers found her body in the apartment in Queens. Samuels began her radio career in 1979 at Pacifica Radio's WBAI in New York City. In the 1980s she moved to WABC, where she was fired a total of three times — once for calling for the assassination of President George H.W. Bush on the air, according to The Right Perspective, a conservative webcast. She joined Sirius XM in 2003.

Dec 24, 2011

Eight minutes of annoying Christmas music — you're welcome.

And now for an annual seasonal treat, a few ho-ho-ho-horrible holiday tunes courtesy of the ever-amusing Annoying Music Show from Chicago Public Radio.

Dec 22, 2011

Man injured, two charged in BASE jump attempt from MPT tower

A man attempting to parachute off the Maryland Public Television tower in Crownsville, Md., was injured after his chute didn't properly open, reports local ABC station WJLA. Robert Scott Morgan, 25, of Fairfax, Va., was hospitalized. Morgan and Sean Michael Bullington, 34, of Draper, Utah, were charged with trespassing.

This was the second BASE (buildings, antennas, spans and earth) jump incident recently in the area. Five persons were charged with trespassing at WETA's radio tower in Arlington, Va., Dec. 14.

Judy Jankowski dies at 61; former g.m. of WDUQ, KKJZ

Judy Jankowski, who held top management positions at several public broadcasting stations, died Dec. 17 at Kindred Hospital in Westminster, Calif. She was 61.

She started her long pubcasting career as a traffic manager at WOUB in Athens, Ohio. She worked as general manager of WDUQ in Pittsburgh, Pa., from the mid-1980s until 1994; she retired as general manager of KKJZ in Long Beach, Calif., in 2005. She also held executive positions at stations in Birmingham, Ala., and Houston.

"I first knew Judy when we both worked in Texas in the early 1980's, and from then on she was a friend, colleague and collaborator," said Scott Hanley, another former g.m. at WDUQ. "Her energy, enthusiasm and determination was ever-present."

Jankowski was born Oct. 1, 1950, to Henry and Stella Marie Jankowski. She received a bachelor’s degree from Elmira College in Elmira, N.Y., and a master's in broadcast management from Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.

"Judy had a big heart and was known for her warm, friendly smile," her family said in a statement. "She was a voracious reader and usually had a novel within her reach. She also enjoyed knitting, making baby blankets and other items for her many family members, including cousins and their children, who she all loved dearly. She was proud of her Polish heritage, and worked to keep customs and ethnic traditions alive in celebrating holidays by making a wide variety of polish foods from family recipes handed down through the generations."

The family suggests memorials to the National Kidney Foundation.

Dec 21, 2011

Virginia Gov. McDonnell proposes to zero-out state aid to pubcasting

After using a line-item veto this spring to trim state funding for Virginia's public broadcasting stations, Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell has proposed to completely eliminate the subsidies. McDonnell's first biennial budget, unveiled on Dec. 19, would cut $3.6 million in annual appropriations for Virginia's public television and radio stations and their educational telecommunications services. The total reduction over two years, 2013-14, would be $7.2 million.

David Mullins, president of WVPT in Harrisonburg, plans to appeal to state lawmakers to reject McDonnell's proposal. "[W]e will make our case with the General Assembly for funding the unique and valued services WVPT and our public broadcasting partners throughout Virginia provide,” he said in a statement provided to the Washington Post. “We understand that in this environment, the Governor has some tough decisions to make. However, this complete elimination of funding will have a direct impact on teachers, students and schools.”

In budget wrangling earlier this year, McDonnell proposed to cut state aid to pubcasters by 50 percent, but the 2012 budget later approved by Virginia lawmakers preserved most of the funding. That's when Gov. McDonnell used his veto pen to reduce pubcasting funds even more.

When the General Assembly convenes its next legislative session in January, lawmakers can amend or completely ignore Gov. McDonnell's proposal; but, as the Washington Post reports, McDonnell's chances for influencing the budget process have improved.

Board unanimously agrees to merger between Milwaukee pubTV and Friends group

The Milwaukee Area Technical College Board of Directors voted Tuesday (Dec. 20) 7-0 to place the fundraising operations of the MPTV Friends group under the management of Milwaukee Public Television. The Journal Sentinel reports that the Friends group has raised $100 million over several decades to support public TV stations WMVS-TV (Channel 10) and WMVT-TV (Channel 36). Ellis Bromberg, general manager of Milwaukee Public Television, refers to the agreement as a "merger"; a former Friends board member and president, John Bernaden, calls it a "hostile takeover." The agreement now proceeds to the Friends board.

PBS NewsHour tops international and government TV coverage in new Pew analysis

PBS NewsHour gave viewers more than one-third more coverage of international events over the last year than other TV outlets, including cable, morning and network evening news, according to "The Year in the News," the annual analysis by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism. The report says that 39 percent of time on the NewsHour was spent on foreign events and U.S. foreign policy, compared with 28 percent on television in general, 23 percent on cable news programs, 24 percent on network morning news shows and 24 percent on network evening broadcasts. NewsHour also spent a third more time covering government than its direct competitors, commercial network evening newscasts (12 percent vs. 9 percent).

You heart NPR? Check this out

In case you haven't seen it yet, "Hey girl. I heart NPR" on Tumblr is pretty amusing, with its hunky-dude photos and accompanying come-on lines like, "Wait, wait . . . don't tell me you're busy Friday night."

Vision and risk necessary for pubmedia in 2012, observers say

What's the most important innovation necessary for public media in the new year?

That's what pubmedia thinker/blogger/advocate Amanda Hirsch wanted to know, so she asked around. "According to some," she writes on the Integrated Media Association blog, "what's needed more than anything — more than any individual innovative approach — is a shared, collective vision of where public media needs to go next."

She said several respondents agreed with Ian Hill, community manager at KQED, who said, "I think what's still needed most is a change in the culture so that innovation and risk-taking are supported and encouraged."

Longtime Wisconsin Public Radio host announces retirement

Jean Feraca, an on-air host on Wisconsin Public Radio since 1983, told listeners on Tuesday (Dec. 20) that she's retiring in March 2012. Feraca declined to talk further with a reporter from the State Journal newspaper, saying only, "I lost everybody in my team earlier this year, and it's been difficult," referring to two producers who moved on from the station.

In her letter, Feraca jokes about her small stature, saying that listeners often say they thought she was taller — to which she replies, "I'm bigger on the radio."

"And this is true," she writes. "I am bigger on the radio. We are all bigger on the radio. There is something about this exercise of opening up a microphone, day after day, year after year, over the thousands of radio hours we have shared together, that calls us to be bigger, that requires it. Thank you listeners, not only for listening, but for making me bigger."

Silver Batons for pubTV science docs, radio investigative reporting

Pubcasters won three of the 2012 duPont-Columbia Silver Baton Awards announced this morning by Columbia University: Nova, the PBS science series produced at WGBH in Boston, won for "Japan's Killer Quake"; WNYC reporter Alisa Chang, for her two-part investigative series on the New York Police Department, "Alleged Illegal Searches by the NYPD"; and Detroit Public Television, for "Beyond the Light Switch," a documentary series produced and directed by Ed Moore and reported by David Biello of the Scientific American. The duPont jury presented a Finalist Award to WNYC's Radio Rookies for "Coming Up in 2011," a collection of "unflinching self-portraits" by teenagers from Staten Island.

Dec 20, 2011

PBS NewsHour hires CQ Roll Call's Bellantoni as political editor

PBS NewsHour has a new political editor. Christina Bellantoni of CQ Roll Call takes her post on Jan. 2, 2012, to oversee all political coverage on air and online, including political analysis, elections and personalities. NewsHour's previous political editor, David Chalain, departed to lead the Washington bureau of Yahoo News in November.

Bellantoni has spent more than a decade covering national political and business news in Washington, D.C., and California. She has worked as associate politics editor at CQ Roll Call since October 2010, appearing as a political analyst on Hardball, Countdown, On the Record w/ Greta Van Susteren, Reliable Sources, TopLine, The Rachel Maddow Show and The Daily Rundown. Bellantoni also was a senior reporter-blogger at Talking Points Memo's Washington bureau, covering the White House and national politics from October 2009 through October 2010. Before joining TPM, she was a White House correspondent for The Washington Times. She was also an Institute of Politics Fellow at the Kennedy School, Harvard University, in fall 2011. (Image: NewsHour)

Dec 19, 2011

Once again, WHYY's Satullo and cartooning partner produce serialized holiday tale

Don't miss Whiteout Christmas, this year's annual seasonal story by WHYY's Chris Satullo and Tony Auth, the Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. They've created a serialized, illustrated Christmas story together nearly every year since 1996. The first 12 appeared in the newspaper; since 2009, they've been online at and, as well as broadcast on WHYY-FM as radio plays. Four of the stories also were collected in their 2004 book, A Christmas Quartet.

This year's radio version — starring Satullo, Auth and a slew of WHYY staffers — will be broadcast on 90.9 FM in Philadelphia at 8 p.m. Eastern Friday, 1 p.m. Saturday and 4 p.m. Christmas Day.

WXXI merging with Rochester's historic Little Theatre

WXXI in Rochester, N.Y., is acquiring the city's Little Theatre as a subsidiary, it announced Monday (Dec. 19). The merger, effective January 2012, "strengthens WXXI’s roots in the cultural life of the community, while helping to assure the future of Rochester’s independent film house," said WXXI President Norm Silverstein in a statement.

The Little Theatre, built in 1928, is a nonprofit multicultural gathering place, screening more than 100 films per year and hosting several annual community film festivals. It also provides local artists a place to share their work.

The affiliation will "enable the two organizations to work more efficiently by pooling resources and strengths in a number of areas including back-office operation and improved fundraising capabilities," the statement said.

A Task Force from each organization consulted with the New York Council of Nonprofits on the agreement. The Little Theatre will become a subsidiary corporation of WXXI, and will continue to exist as a separate legal entity. Each will maintain separate memberships and donor files, although some joint membership opportunities may be developed. And five members of the Little Theatre Film Society will sit on WXXI's Board of Trustees.

Influential pubradio producer Dave Creagh dies at 60

Dave Creagh, an early All Things Considered executive producer who went on to lead other programs and major-market stations over his influential 22-year pubradio career, died Friday (Dec. 16) at home in Blowing Rock, N.C., following a short illness associated with treatment of a cancer diagnosis he received in November. He was 60.

Creagh  was hired at NPR on Jan. 2, 1969 — even predating its first broadcast in April 1971. He served on NPR's Board of Directors. He directed ATC and became its executive producer during NPR's formative years, from 1971 to 1981. In the 1980s he managed CPB’s Satellite Program Development Fund, which provided seed money for programs to be distributed over the new Public Radio Satellite System.

Creagh produced jazz programming with pianist Billy Taylor as host and managed KLON-FM, the Los Angeles-area jazz station in Long Beach now known as KKJZ. He built and managed Baltimore’s WJHU-FM, then licensed to Johns Hopkins University; started and directed the radio doc anthology Soundprint while at WJHU and became e.p. of Monitor Radio, the daily news service of the Christian Science Monitor, an early alternative to NPR news programming.

“In the days when we often began ATC unsure of exactly how it would end 90 minutes later, Dave’s was the steady hand on the tiller,” recalled Rick Lewis, who was a newscaster in NPR’s early days and then succeeded Creagh in other jobs. “There might have been pandemonium behind the scenes, but the precision of NPR’s sound was already emerging."

"I always thought of Dave as modern day Tom Sawyer," said Ernest Sanchez, a longtime public broadcasting attorney and a friend of Creagh's for more than 35 years. "When there was serious work to be done, Dave was capable of recruiting anyone to help with the work, and convincing them they would have fun. And Dave always delivered on the fun, along with serious, imaginative results."

"He appreciated the art of radio," independent pubradio producer Jay Allison told Current. "He was open to the new, and he encouraged talented young producers and their unlikely ideas. Not every skilled manager is willing to take that risk. We all still benefit from the people and ideas Dave ushered into public radio."

As executive producer for Monitor Radio in the 1990s, Creagh hired Sue Schardt, now executive director of Association of Independents in Radio. The NPR competitor, operated as a public service by the Church of Christ, Scientist, "did a lot of groundbreaking work," Schardt said: The first to produce a 4 p.m. news magazine for public radio. The first to produce a midday report at noon, 5 a.m. newscast, and a 24/7 newscast. "We were the upstart, the underdog," she said. "And Dave was the one always pushing the envelope, looking at ways to carve a path forward, to get resources to do more and better."

In the mid-1990’s, Creagh also helped launch and later served as senior vice president at the nonprofit Alliance for Public Broadcasting, a pioneer in transaction-based fundraising for the system. “We’ve lost a valuable man, a formidable professional, a fine mind, great heart and a honed wit," said Creagh's close friend and colleague Walt McRee, founder and president of the alliance, which was active until 2008. "Dave had a journalist’s mind and a broadcaster’s heart and was dedicated to straight talk and loyalty to friends and family.”

He was born Sept. 25, 1951, in Washington, D.C., the son of Nelda and Edward Creagh, a well-known correspondent with The Associated Press during the 1940s and '50s. He graduated from Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, Md., in 1969, and the University of Maryland in 1972.

During his time at NPR, his marriage to fellow staffer Katherine Roe "was one of NPR's first matrimonial unions," the family said in a statement. He is survived by two children, Mary Dolores Creagh and Charles Randall Creagh of Boston; one sister, Elizabeth (Creagh) Martin of Virginia; and a number of nieces and nephews.

Current is working on a full obituary.

Dec 17, 2011

WNET owed $500,000 by Vine Talk production company, paper says

A couple big show-biz names are owed money for their participation in the pubTV program Vine Talk, the New York Times is reporting. Actor Stanley Tucci serves as host of the wine gabfest, sipping and chatting with celebs such as writer Nora Ephron and actors John Lithgow and Rosie Perez. The show is produced by Jersey Wooly Productions at WNET's Lincoln Center studio, although, the newspaper reports, the station has not yet been paid $500,000 for this first season. Joe Locarro, the program’s director and an executive producer, said he was owed “in the six figures.” Tucci declined to comment through his publicist, “on the advice of counsel.” Tucci's partner in Olive Productions, actor Steve Buscemi, said through a spokesperson that the two have withdrawn from the project.

Bruce Marcus, Jersey Wooly c.e.o. and a former s.v.p. at Chicago's WTTW, declined to tell the Times how much money was outstanding. "We’re still in the process of Season 1 and still bringing money into the project," he said. "We do have payables still getting paid, slowly but surely. There’s no doubt the economy has impacted our ability to bring in money over the past year.”

Dec 16, 2011

Five charged with trespassing after climbing WETA tower to parachute

Five persons were charged with trespassing late Wednesday night (Dec. 14) after they climbed WETA's 500-foot radio tower in Arlington, Va., in an attempt to BASE jump from the structure using parachutes. One, Kristin Stewart, 48, was injured after her parachute became snared in a tree. "Every single one of them has been charged with trespassing because they climbed the tower without the permission of WETA," Crystal Nosal of Arlington County police told a local NBC reporter. BASE stands for buildings, antennas, spans (bridges) and earth, which represent common locations for the jumps.

WETA spokesperson Mary Stewart told Current that the station will be sending a crew to inspect the tower for any damage. 

Final omnibus bill doesn't ban CPB funding NPR, as had been proposed

A legislative rider to the omnibus spending bill concerning CPB funding is not included in the final budget agreement, according to a statement from House Appropriations Committee Ranking Democratic Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.). House Republicans originally proposed a rider to block CPB from funding NPR. As of 11 a.m. Eastern Friday (Dec. 16), text of the entire 1,200-page legislation still had not been made available online.

"Aristocratic crowd" turns out for Downton Abbey preview

Masterpiece and Vanity Fair celebrated the upcoming second season of Downton Abbey with an "aristocratic crowd" of A-list guests at New York's Museum of Modern Art this week, reports the New York Post. Guests included Princess Firyal of Jordan, British Ambassador Sir Nigel and wife Lady Julia Sheinwald, philanthropists J. Pepe Fanjul and Lewis Cullman, financier D. Dixon Boardman, fashion designer Carolina Herrera and husband Reinaldo, Jimmy Choo Chief Creative Officer Tamara Mellon and filmmaker Angela Ismailos. Quipped VF Editor Graydon Carter: “The great thing is that this is a PBS night, but it’s not a fundraiser.”

Wittstock says CNC kept working in good faith to avoid collapse of news bureau

The head of the closed Capitol News Connection bureau in Washington, Melinda Wittstock, apologized yesterday to former pubradio clients of the news service Dec. 12 and asserted that CNC was seeking only a 24 percent subsidy from CPB for 2012, and much less in 2013. CPB radio chief Bruce Theriault said that CNC asked for 100 percent support from CPB (Current, Dec. 12).

An email identified as Wittstock's was leaked to Current today.

Everyone —

Many of you will have read the article in Current today about the very painful demise of CNC.

Confidentially, I would like to correct some inaccuracies in the piece.

1. Bruce Theriault said CNC asked CPB for "100% funding" going forward. This is false. CPB asked us for a business plan to make CNC sustainable. We needed two years of funding that represented no more than 24% and 8% of our budget respectively in 2012 and 2013. Our profound issue was cash flow, or lack of it. Further as we progressed with promising talks with several buyers, we required more time to close deals - even a tiny CPB grant would have made that possible.

2. On July 13 CPB told us funding would be "a challenge" (not that it wasn't going to happen). This came after we had signed stations, a deliverable of our contract with CPB. At that time, we asked if CPB would be amenable to considering funding if we could find a buyer. The answer was "yes": we started looking for a buyer. On August 24, the prospect of funding from CPB did indeed look dimmer, but we also were making significant progress on talks with several potential buyers and another six figure grant was in prospect (that ultimately did not work out).

3. At no time did Bruce Theriault confront me "point blank" about anything.

At all times we worked in good faith with all our stations and maintained in our nine years a record of honesty and transparency that all good journalists have in common.

I believed we would make it — just as I had believed (and done) many other times in CNC's challenging funding history. My apologies to all of our station news directors, including Dan, were fulsome and sincere.

One note: I did not speak to Current about our CPB grant or Jim Russell because of confidentiality and non-disclosure clauses in our respective contracts.

If you have any questions or you want any further update I am happy to talk. And once more, I am very sorry for what happened. I tried my best and it wasn't good enough.


Dec 15, 2011

Masterpiece scores five Golden Globe nods

"Downton Abbey" on Masterpiece provided PBS with four Golden Globe nominations, announced today (Dec. 15), with a fifth from Masterpiece's "Page Eight."

"Downton" nods came for mini-series or motion picture made for television; actress in a TV mini-series (Elizabeth McGovern); actor in a TV mini-series (Hugh Bonneville); and supporting actress in a TV mini-series (Maggie Smith). Another name called for actor in a TV mini-series was Bill Nighy for "Page Eight."

A full list of nominees is here. The prestigious awards, from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, will be presented in televised ceremonies Jan. 15.

Attention RSS readers

Visit Current's website for the story of one former Antiques Roadshow appraiser who is blowing the whistle on what he alleges is unfair treatment of its 200-some appraisers. Producing station WGBH is currently conducting an internal review of his concerns, which he detailed in an 11-page complaint.

Omnibus to give CPB $445 million, requests report on weaning off federal funding

The Fiscal Year 2012 Final Consolidated Appropriations Bill package, which the House probably will vote on this Friday (Dec. 16), contains a fiscal 2014 advance appropriation for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting of $445 million, according to a summary of the legislation from the House Appropriations Committee (PDF). That's $50 million below CPB's request (PDF) and $6 million below the administration's proposal. In addition, the bill (H.R. 3671) would require CPB to compile a report on alternative funding sources for pubcasting stations in lieu of federal money. Full text of the 1,200-page legislation is not yet available online. The GOP House majority is expected to bring up the bill Friday, according to the website of House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). The omnibus spending package encompasses the nine remaining spending bills for 2012.

It's a public radio miracle on WXXI

A 10-year-old girl's recent letter to WXXI in Rochester, N.Y., has inspired its newsroom to present a special series of positive local stories. The weeklong radio project, titled "Liza's Letter," kicks off Dec. 26 during Morning Edition. "The reason why I want happy news," Liza wrote, "is that every morning on the radio they're talking about sad things, crimes, murders, car crashes, terrible storms, sometimes it depresses people who listen to it. So it would make me happy to hear good news, and would lighten other people up, too."

"I know you are busy," she concluded in her letter, "but it would really really be a big favor."

And a P.S. "If you said yes, would I get an interview?"

Yes, Liza, there is a Santa Claus . . . er, news director. So listeners will get to meet Liza and her sister Hannah (above, reading Liza's letter at the station), and hear several inspiring stories, including about a barbershop where haircuts and healthcare mix, and the softer side of one of Rochester’s toughest hockey players.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good news story! (Image: WXXI)

Crowdsourcing? Let iMA know

The Integrated Media Association is compiling a directory of public media crowdsourced projects. Examples include WDET's investigation into illegal trucking in neighborhoods of Detroit's Mexicantown, WNYC's map of plowed streets during a December 2010 blizzard, and WFIU's tips for green living based on suggestions from viewers and listeners. Watch iMA's Facebook page for details.

Knight gives $4.6 million for new local reporting partnership in Georgia

Georgia Public Broadcasting is part of a $4.6 million Knight Foundation project to strengthen local reporting that's being announced today (Dec. 15). The Center for Collaborative Journalism at Mercer University in Macon, Ga., will bring together professional journalists from the local Telegraph newspaper and GPB Media staffers to help Mercer students learn and employ digital-age storytelling skills, the partners said in a statement. Plans are for the joint newsroom to also launch community engagement projects that will involve local residents in choosing issues to cover. Also, GPB Macon Radio will expand its news staff in Central Georgia over several years.

The center will reside in Mercer Village, a new mixed-use development on campus where ground was broken today. The first floor of the development, nearly 12,000 square feet, will house faculty offices, classrooms and labs for Mercer’s Journalism and Media Studies Department; offices for The Telegraph’s editors; and an open newsroom that will be shared by the newspaper, the journalism department and GPB Media. The pubcaster’s Macon radio and television studios are nearby.

“Journalism and news delivery must stay relevant to changing communities," said Alberto Ibargüen, president of the Knight Foundation. "To succeed, we need to let the technology take us to new places and experiment with new forms of collaboration."

Taking part in the groundbreaking Thursday, from left: Mercer President Bill Underwood; Larry Brumley, Mercer's s.v.p. for marketing communications; George McCanless, publisher of The Telegraph; Beverly Knight Olson, Knight trustee and longtime Macon civic leader; Teya Ryan, GPB president; David Hudson, Mercer Board of Trustees chair; Beverly Blake, Knight program director for Macon; Anders Gyllenhaal, v.p. of news for McClatchy and member of Mercer’s National Journalism Advisory Board; and Jon Hoban, v.p. of radio for GPB. (Image: Cheryl Alford, GPB)

National ratings for PBS Kids' shows up "dramatically," Sponsorship Group says

The Sponsorship Group for Public Television (SGPTV) is reporting that Nielsen National Television Index ratings for PBS Kids programs "have risen dramatically" over last season, and two new corporate sponsors have signed on.

The group says that children's shows have posted national ratings gains in nearly every demographic, including a 30 percent hike for kids ages 6 to 8. Curious George is the No. 1 program on any network for kids ages 2 to 5, and SuperWhy is No. 1 for kids under 3 — PBS Kids also holds the 2, 3, 4 and 5 spots for that demographic.

In September, Stride Rite came on as a corporate underwriter for Curious George; and Age of Learning Inc., a Glendale, Calif.-based firm supporting early childhood learning, has been underwriting SuperWhy and Wild Kratts since November.

Dec 14, 2011

Attention, RSS readers

Don't miss Current's inside look at the demise of Capitol News Connection, which reveals pitfalls for entrepreneurial nonprofit news operations, especially on the frontier where for-profit investment and technical innovation might bring a big upside but carry no guarantees. Like numerous small nonprofits these days, CNC's end was marked by debt, disputes over broken financial commitments, and a gaping hole in news coverage for stations that supported the D.C.-based news service until the end.

Susan Soto dies; longtime KAET-TV employee in Phoenix

Susan Soto, a former staffer of KAET-TV in Phoenix for nearly 21 years, died Dec. 11. She first worked as an advertising specialist, according to the station, now called Eight, Arizona PBS. Her role grew to include public relations and special events. "One memorable “Are You Being Served?” event required her to 'mind' the notorious [actor] John Inman, find a tiara and wrangle a Mrs. Slocombe look-alike contest," the station said in a statement.

Soto also "was one of the first people at Eight to recognize the potential of the Internet," the station said. On her own time, she learned the early technology and went on to earn a master’s degree in educational technology. She oversaw development and management of the station’s Emmy award-winning website and launched Eight early into social media via Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

"As the station grew and the media environment changed, so did Susan," the station said. "She was a significant contributor to the station’s success and held firm to her belief in the importance of public television."

Donations in her memory may be made to Hospice of the Valley in Phoenix; cards may be sent to her brother, Ralph Soto, 1915 Corliss Court, McLean, Va., 22101-5504.

Knight provides second $1.5 million grant to NPR for digital news training

The Knight Foundation has awarded NPR with a $1.5 million grant to expand its digital training in pubradio newsrooms, it announced today (Dec. 14). A statement said the support will provide for development of a training program for more than 70 local pubradio stations.

The $1.5 million investment bolsters a Knight grant in 2007, which trained hundreds of NPR journalists in the use of digital platforms and reporting techniques. Knight cited an independent review that found that the $1.5 million grant in 2007 resulted in “a positive shift in individual and institutional attitudes toward digital news.”

The Knight Foundation has invested $5.4 million in NPR since 1992.

BBC World channel coming to Comcast

BBC World, the British broadcaster's 24-hour international news channel, will be available via Comcast by the end of the year in several major American markets. In preparation for its foray into the marketplace, the New York Times notes, the BBC added about a dozen staff members to its Washington bureau — including former NPR News head Dick Meyer to oversee news coverage in the Americas.

BBC Director of Global News Peter Horrocks called the agreement an "important breakthrough."

The channel will be available to Comcast Xfinity subscribers in Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, Minneapolis, Indianapolis, Portland, Michigan, western New England and Northern California, with other markets coming next year.

The network's BBC World News 30-minute program airs in most of the top 30 pubcasting markets.

Former WGBH needlepoint personality Erica Wilson dies at 83

Erica Wilson, who helped popularize needlepoint arts in the 1970s through her show on PBS, died Tuesday (Dec. 13) at age 83, reports the New York Times.  According to producing station WGBH's archives, Erica ran 1971-73. "Erica Wilson, noted American authority on needlework, invites the viewer to explore the exciting possibilities of indulging his creative and artistic talents," the description notes. "In this series of color videotaped 15-minute programs she illustrates the wide vocabulary of stitches used in many types of embroidery including traditional crewel, needlepoint, bargello, and crewel point. As well as demonstrating these stitches, Erica gives professional hints on creating useful and decorative objects. She encourages personalizing an original or derived design through the selection of motif, materials, stitch, color, texture, and size." The show was later recognized as one of the first "how-to personality" programs from the Boston station.

House spectrum bill passes; FCC's Genachowski has concerns

The GOP version of spectrum auction legislation passed the House on Tuesday (Dec. 13) as part of the payroll tax extension package, but that looks destined for a presidential veto. Meanwhile, reports Broadcasting & Cable, Federal Communications Commission Chair Julius Genachowski said he is concerned with parts of the bill that could "tie the agency's hands in ways that could be counterproductive." He didn't reveal which sections, but the proposed legislation would limit the FCC's ability to decide who gets to bid on spectrum.

Media Ratings Council chair says Nielsen "still trying to figure out diary markets"

In part one of a three-part look at audience measurement ratings, TVNewsCheck interviews the chair of the Media Rating Council, Billy McDowell, who says of Nielsen diaries: "They’re still trying to figure out the diary markets. They’re working on a lot of improvements, some that we have suggested, some they’re doing entirely on their own. I know that sample size is an issue there as well. They have been public about their set-top box initiatives and we will see where it all goes."

Part two examines Rentrak's growing influence in the ratings game, and part three focuses on a two-year-old dispute over local broadcasters wanting credit for viewing of programs recorded on DVRs.

Dec 13, 2011

Is MPTV-Friends merger really "amicable"?

Milwaukee magazine takes an in-depth look at the tumultuous history leading up to the proposed merger between Milwaukee Public Television and its Friends group. In a nutshell: The Milwaukee Area Technical College, which runs channels 10 and 36, "has been at odds with the Friends group for more than a decade and wants to crush it." Indeed, Current covered the controversy in October and November 1999.

Ellis Bromberg, MPTV general manager, told the local Journal Sentinel that the merger negotiations are “amicable talks.” Friends board president David Stroik declined to comment — "but there is good reason for this," Milwaukee magazine says. "The proposed agreement has a gag order: 'Neither MATC nor the Friends shall issue any press release (or make any other public announcement) related to this Agreement. … Neither party shall make any critical, negative, or disparaging public statement or announcement about the other party, its personnel, operations, activities, conduct of its activities or management.'"

Dec 12, 2011

MPTV Friends, Milwaukee station appear close to merger

Milwaukee Public Television is in "the final stages of merger talks" with the fundraising group MPTV Friends, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Over the years the nonprofit has raised around $100 million for public television in the city. Ellis Bromberg, MPTV g.m., told the paper the talks are "amicable," adding, "I think both sides believe that this is the best in the long run for our station and our donors. We think so, and so do the Friends."

Under the agreement expected to be announced soon, more than half the Friends' 19 employees would become MPTV staffers in its development department, and the others may receive severance. Assets of the Friends, worth more than $3 million, would become the property of MPTV. The Great TV Auction, the Friends' group's biggest fundraiser and arguably the largest pubTV auction in the country, would continue.

Merger talks began earlier this year, after MPTV's attorney Steven Biskupic wrote a letter to the Friends group saying that the relationship between the two entities could be in violation of IRS and other federal law (PDF), and asking Friends to stop using several Milwaukee Public Television trademarks. The letter also stated that although the Friends group raised $5.8 million in 2010 for the station, it only forwarded $2 million to MPTV.

The president of the Friends Board of Directors, Dave Stroik, declined to discuss the talks. He has called a board meeting for Tuesday (Dec. 13).

Blogging voyage to continue for most of NPR's Argo stations

Ten of the 12 public radio stations participating in the NPR-led Argo Project intend to continue reporting on their specialized topics when the blogging pilot ends this month. "[F]or some stations, it’s been an eye-opening experience in how original, web-native publishing can expand audiences in ways that repurposed radio content might not on its own," reports Andrew Phelps of Nieman Lab. "At four of the 12 stations, their Argo blog drew monthly audiences bigger than every other part of their news sites combined." Blogs published by California stations KQED and KPBS were top performers in the Argo Network, and both intend to keep reporting next year.

The Argo Project launched in 2010 as a demonstration and proving ground for NPR's strategy to help stations expand their digital reporting capacity. CPB and the Knight Foundation provided grants totaling $3 million for the two-year experiment.

Dec 11, 2011

Four shows on PBS are faves among most conservative and liberal TV viewers

Viewers on each end of the political spectrum, conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats, have favorite PBS shows, according to a yearlong study by the Experian Simmons consumer research firm. It wanted to see what programs indexed highest and lowest among those viewers. Masterpiece was the third-highest indexing show among liberal Democrats, behind only The Daily Show and Colbert Report, says the Washington Post, which noted, "Masterpiece indexes at a whopping 234, which means a Masterpiece viewer is 134 percent more likely to be a liberal Democrat than the average adult viewer."

Three shows on PBS also rank in the conservative Republican index: This Old House, New Yankee Workshop and Antiques Roadshow.

And Frontline is No. 10 among news shows for liberal Democrats.

Here are the complete lists from Experian Simmons.

Dec 9, 2011

NJTV selects four colleges as satellite bureaus

NJTV will use four "content bureaus" located at universities across New Jersey, the pubcasting network announced today (Dec. 9). Brookdale Community College, Rowan University, Richard Stockton College of New Jersey and William Paterson University be equipped with robotic cameras, provide student footage and interviews, and serve as a remote location for NJTV reporters, reports NJBIZ.

Spectrum compensation included in GOP House legislation

A provision to give the Federal Communications Commission authority to compensate broadcasters for giving up spectrum was included in a House Republican end-of-the-year legislation package released today (Dec. 8), reports Broadcasting & Cable. It provides up to $3 billion for relocation expenses to broadcasters for being moved to another channel or sharing channels after spectrum repacking, and gives the FCC until 2021 to reclaim and auction the spectrum, a necessary move as the increase in wireless devices demand more bandwidth. 

LPB selects 16 programs for Public Media Content Fund grants

Latino Public Broadcasting today (Dec. 9) announced 16 newly funded programs as part of its 2011 Public Media Content Fund for Latino-themed broadcast, new media and community engagement projects. Films include Children of Giant by producer/director Hector Galan, which exposes the events and emotions that transformed small town Marfa, Texas, site of George Steven’s epic film Giant, during and beyond Anglo-Latino segregation; Farewell, Ferris Wheel from producer/director Jamie Sisley, a look at the American carnivals that are endangered by immigration restrictions on workers; and Tales From a Ghetto Klown, producer/director Benjamin DeJesus, which profiles actor and playwright John Leguizamo and his unorthodox rise to fame. Here is a list of all the winners.

KUAC-TV in Fairbanks to leave AlaskaOne partnership after 16 years

A proposed merger of Alaska pubcasting stations not only fell apart over the summer, but also has now created a larger rift: KUAC-TV in Fairbanks, which participated in the AlaskaOne consortium with Juneau and Bethel stations since 1995, will withdraw from that as of July 1, 2012, according to a press release from KUAC licensee University of Alaska Fairbanks. "Interior Alaska’s public television station is returning to its roots," the statement said.

The Alaska Public Broadcasting Service, corporate entity for AlaskaOne, last month approved a motion to merge its centralized feed with Anchorage-based KAKM, run by Alaska Public Telecommunications Inc. Keith Martin, KUAC g.m., cast the dissenting vote. “Our priority has always been to meet the needs of our constituents through our broadcasting mission. Becoming independent from AlaskaOne allows for a new future for KUAC TV,” Martin said in the statement. “We need to get back to that local connection.”

"Since AlaskaOne was established in 1995, financial and manpower responsibilities have slowly shifted to KUAC," the statement said.

Recent merger discussions prompted development of a new centralcasting entity based in Anchorage, which KUAC will not participate in "due to its potential to cause financial harm to KUAC," the statement said.

Dec 8, 2011

PRX gets some fuel to incubate public-media journalism tools

With $2.5 million from the Knight Foundation, Public Radio Exchange will rev up a new Public Media Accelerator next year to assist new public-media journalism projects with seed money, mentoring and help in finding funds and investors.

Knight stresses the mentoring. After experience with more than 200 media projects, Knight has found that the most successful have been “nurtured through outside advice and expertise,” said foundation veep Michael Maness.

PRX hasn’t set priorities for projects, chief exec Jake Shapiro told Current, but he expects they will tend to develop software tools, especially mobile apps.

Shapiro sees benefits for public media organizations that get their hands geeky with the tech side, as PRX did, instead of outsourcing the work, he wrote on PBS MediaShift’s Idea Lab. He warns that public media has a developer gap, citing a “loose estimate” of just 100 full-time coders in a public broadcasting workforce of perhaps 15,000.

In-house web/mobile developers, he writes, will be vital human assets who can “inform strategic decision-making, provide a reality check in the midst of tech churn and hype, keep vendors and contractors honest, connect with other communities of interest, and attract new talent seeking experience and mentorship.” For a field that pioneered in broadcast technology, Shapiro wonders, “Is it OK to outsource the infrastructure for our own connection to the public?”

Knight announced the PRX grant Wednesday (Dec. 8). The Public Media Accelerator’s freshly coded site, doesn’t have much to say yet, but Shapiro says PRX will name a director and advisory board early in the year and discuss detailed plans at the Integrated Media Association event during South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive in March.

For now, the project’s team includes Shapiro, founding head of PRX; John Bracken, Knight’s director of media innovation and former MacArthur Foundation program officer; and Maness, Knight’s v.p. of innovation and design.

The project will tweet from @PublicMediaX.

Dec 7, 2011

KCSM-TV in San Mateo, Calif., goes up for sale

As expected, the San Mateo (Calif.) Community College announced today (Dec. 7) it is seeking a buyer for public broadcaster KCSM-TV. In June, the board said the sale was due to the station's projected $800,000 structural deficit. Independent Public Media, a nonprofit consortium headed by WYBE founder John Schwarz and Ken Devine, former WNET executive, has already signaled its interest (Current, Oct. 17). Parties may find information and download bid packets from the college district's purchasing page online. Bids may be filed through Feb. 14, 2012.

Dec 6, 2011

PBS to produce public TV track at 2012 PMDMC

Next year's Public Media Development and Marketing Conference, the annual event organized by pubradio's Development Exchange, will include a new track for pubTV professionals, produced by PBS, on pledge practices, fundraising and community engagement around children’s programming, and television-specific research. DEI and PBS announced the collaboration in a statement today (Dec. 6). "For the first time, the whole public media family will have the opportunity to focus together on the very best fundraising ideas and practices," said DEI President Doug Eichten. The partnership "demonstrates the spirit of institutional collaboration that is critical at the national and station levels," said PBS President Paula Kerger. The 2012 PMDMC takes place July 12-14 at the Seattle Sheraton.

CPB supports more Latino-focused programming in Los Angeles

CPB announced today that it has awarded Southern California Public Radio in Los Angeles $1.8 million to support the One Nation Media Project, which will focus on reporting and programming for and about Latinos and other people of color in the Los Angeles area.

As one element of the project, SCPR will expand The Madeleine Brand Show, its locally produced morning newsmagazine, into a national two-hour show “with a focus on the Latino and other ethnic communities/interests/issues,” according to an SCPR job listing. In addition, SCPR will launch “three distinct online channels,” says the CPB release, each hosted by a dedicated journalist. The channels will cover emerging communities, public education and criminal justice.

The grant will also support a series of live events that will explore issues affecting Los Angeles. SCPR is holding the first event tonight. All in the Familia: L.A. Latino Business in the 21st Century will feature a conversation about how the involvement of younger generations is changing the city’s Latino-owned mom-and-pop businesses.

SCPR, a sister organization to Minnesota’s American Public Media, has explored expanding service to Latinos with CPB backing in the past. In 2006 it conducted research that informed the creation of the now-defunct L.A. Public Media (Current, July 20, 2009). The broadcaster considered collaborating with Fresno-based Radio Bilingüe as the service developed but eventually withdrew from the project.

WHYY and KPCC new journalism partners with NBC

Pubcasting stations WHYY and KPCC are two new noncom partners with NBC, effective immediately. The network is making good on its promise to join forces with nonprofit news organizations, made as part of NBC Universal's merger with Comcast approved by the Federal Communications Commission in January. The New York Times is reporting that NBC stations in Chicago, Philadelphia and Los Angeles will partner with noncom outlets in those cities, and all 10 NBC stations will collaborate with ProPublica, the investigative journalism organization.

NBC in Chicago will work with The Chicago Reporter blog and magazine. In Philadelphia, NBC is partnering with with NPR station WHYY and its community site NewsWorks. In Los Angeles, the collaboration is with pubradio KPCC.

In selecting partners, “we cast a wide net,” Valari Staab, president of the NBC-owned television stations, told the Times. She said the local stations “looked for what organizations we thought could contribute unique content we couldn’t otherwise have.”

Dec 5, 2011

NET starting classical radio programming partnership with KVNO soon

NET (Nebraska Educational Telecommunications) is exploring a partnership with KVNO/Classical 90.7 at University of Nebraska at Omaha, reports the Lincoln Journal-Star. "This is not a wholesale swap or merger here," NET General Manager Rod Bates told the paper. "That would be too dramatic. We're trying to build a relationship."

First up is a programming collaboration. Afternoon Concerts and Classics by Request, both hosted by NET Radio personality Lora Black, will be simulcast on NET Radio and KVNO beginning early next year. KVNO will then provide NET Radio with its overnight classical music production; NET Radio currently subscribes to a service for overnight shows.

Bates said NET Radio and KVNO are assembling a committee to study the cooperative plan. "If this works, I could see us doing more things in the future," Bates said. He and university chancellor John Christensen hope the collaboration leads to reductions in programming costs and increases in fundraising revenue for both stations.

Dec 4, 2011

Acorn TV gives subscribers their Brit fix

Acorn Media, a leading U.S. distributor of British programming on DVD, now is offering a streaming video Web site of classic British shows — a genre once considered just PBS's territory. For $24.99 a year, subscribers to Acorn TV get full seasons of 10 shows at a time, rotating every week, reports the Washington Post. "Acorn TV is similar to Netflix streaming," the paper notes, "but with more-plentiful pleasing accents and less rage from customers about confusing practices." The service launched in July and expanded in September.

Acorn Media Group started in 1984 as Atlas Video in the suburban Washington, D.C., basement of founder Peter Edwards, a communications consultant who had also worked at NBC News. John Lorenz, a former longtime director of program business affairs at PBS, joined Atlas in 1994 as executive vice president; that year, the firm changed its name to Acorn. The company, still based in the Silver Spring, Md., now also has offices in London and Sydney, plus a catalog distribution center in Stillwater, Minn.

Acorn is also considering producing original programming, the Post said. It acquired the rights to the popular detective drama Foyle’s War, so it can produce new seasons of the series.

Dec 3, 2011

Keillor un-retires from "Prairie Home Companion" yet again

Well, American Public Media's former president Bill Kling was right — Garrison Keillor wasn't serious about retiring in spring 2013, as Keillor had announced earlier this year. Keillor told the Sioux City Journal on Dec. 1 that he "thought about" leaving his hosting duties at A Prairie Home Companion, "and then it panicked me . . . which got me to rethinking the whole brilliant idea. The show is going well. I love doing it. Why quit?"

Keillor has become notorious for startling fans of the popular show by talking about leaving, then changing his mind. In March, Kling had dismissed Keillor's statement as a publicity stunt, intended to tease supporters and bring new contributors into the Prairie Home Companion talent mix. "He throws things out there to see what the reaction would be," Kling told Current.

Iowa Public Television's Mike Newell dies at 66

Mike Newell, a longtime producer at Iowa Public Television, died Thursday night (Dec. 1) at Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines, after suffering a heart attack the previous week and undergoing surgery on Nov. 29, reports the Des Moines Register. He was 66.

"Iowa Public Television's public affairs series Iowa Press lost its leader this week when longtime coordinating producer Mike Newell passed away," the station said on its website. "For the past 20 years, Mike's hands were at the helm of this program, steering a steady course through the sometimes murky waters of public policy and politics. While you never heard his voice on Iowa Press, he was undoubtedly the heart and soul of the program."

Newell had worked full time for the pubTV station since 2003, according to the Register, and freelanced for the network since the 1980s, producing stories for its rural business program, Market to Market.

Newell had a mild heart attack at age 49, which prompted a change in his daily schedule. Until then, he told a Register columnist after that health crisis, Newell would awaken at at 3:40 a.m. and to the office by 5. “I’d have three cups of coffee and three cigarettes before I put my underwear on,” Newell said; he'd work until after midnight, and do it all again the next day.

He is survived by his wife Chris and two daughters. Visitation will be 4 to 8 p.m. Monday at Dunn’s Funeral Home (2121 Grand Ave., Des Moines) and a funeral service will be at 11 a.m. Tuesday at St. Augustine’s Catholic Church.

Dec 2, 2011

Watchdogs themselves are moving into the sunshine

Nonprofit newsrooms, often critical of lobbies and political players that hide their funding sources, increasingly are open about their own fiscal support. Of 60 nonprofit news orgs, surveyed last year and again this year, the number disclosing their major donors grew from 47 to 53 (from 78 percent to 88 percent), American University's Investigative Reporting Workshop said this week. The IRW survey doesn't include public broadcasters.

Its authors speculated that the gain may be related to the adoption in January of formal membership standards, including donor transparency, by the Investigative News Network, a consortium of news orgs. INN requires member news orgs to disclose donations above $1,000. The INN Board adopted its disclosure policy weeks after IRW raised the issue in its first News Ecosystem survey last fall.

The new survey, published Nov. 30, found these news watchdogs keeping mum about their own funding: Chicago Innocence Project, Christian Science Monitor, High Country News, Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, Michigan News Center, Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting, Mother Jones, The Alicia Patterson Foundation, and The Texas Observer.

Of the 75 local and national groups surveyed by IRW, the slice that have ethics/editorial policies has grown from half to two-thirds.

IRW's updated News Ecosystem survey this fall expanded its sample of news orgs to 75 and found 85 perecent of them disclosing donors.

Though nonprofit newsrooms such as ProPublica and the Center for Public Integrity may break more significant stories than their staff size would suggest, they have just 1,300 employees altogether. The one in the survey with a large audience through legacy media, Consumer Reports magazine, employs almost half of them — 600. The magazine's budget is equal to almost a third of the total, $43 million out of $135 million.

The report on the study was written by Charles Lewis and graduate assistants Brittney Butts and Kate Musselwhite. Lewis is director of AU/IRW. He is also connected with a number of the groups surveyed and was founder of the Center for Public Integrity. IRW produced three pieces for Frontline in the past two years, including the regional-airline expose "Flying Cheap" and the immigration doc "Lost in Detention." Disclosure: Current and IRW are both units of AU's School of Communication.

OPB terminates longtime "Oregon Art Beat" host and producer

Oregon Public Broadcasting has fired KC Cowan from Oregon Art Beat. She was the original host of the show and worked on it for 10 years, according to Portland's Willamette Week, most recently as a producer and writer for the web. "I'm deeply saddened that my relationship with OPB has come to an end," Cowan told WW in an email. Dave Davis, OPB's v.p. for television production, told the publication, "She no longer works here, we wish her well, and we thank her for the great work she did on Oregon Art Beat. Beyond that, we can't say anything else. This is a personnel issue, and it's obviously a sensitive matter."

Dec 1, 2011

NPR and Minnesota Public Radio win EPPY Awards for websites

NPR took four honors, and Minnesota Public Radio received one, in the 16th annual EPPY Awards, announced Wednesday (Nov. 30) by Editor & Publisher. The international awards recognize the best media-affilated websites in 43 categories. won for journalism website with more than 1 million unique monthly visitors. NPR's "Wanna Live Forever? Become A Noun" by Adam Cole and Robert Krulwich on Morning Edition also was awarded best animation on a website with more than 1 million unique monthly visitors. The enterprise/investigative video with more than 1 million unique monthly visitors was went to NPR for "Brain Wars: How The Military Is Failing Its Wounded", an investigation with ProPublica. And NPR's Monkey See won for entertainment blog with 250,000 to 1 million unique monthly visitors. Minnesota Public Radio News scored for local radio-affiliated website with 250,000 to 1 million unique monthly visitors. Here's a complete list of winners.

Republican spectrum auction bill moves on from House subcommittee

The House Communications Subcommittee today (Dec. 1) approved a GOP spectrum auction bill that would give the Federal Communications Commission authority to conduct auctions and share proceeds with participating broadcasters, reports TVNewsCheck. The measure passed 17-6.

An end to federal aid would undermine pubradio journalism, Cochran advises

In an op-ed pegged to Gary Knell's first day on the job as president of NPR, journalist and author Barbara Cochran urges the veteran pubcasting exec to ignore those who say public radio should shield itself from political pressures by giving up federal funding.

Such a move would make a small dent in NPR's budget — the news organization derives only 2 percent of its revenues from the congressional appropriations provided to CPB — but would do "tremendous damage" to local stations, writes Cochran, former president of the Radio and Television Digital News Association, for Huffington Post. Nearly all of the $100 million in federal funding distributed to public radio goes to 400 stations, and outlets in small markets and rural areas depend on this aid to continue operating.

"[L]ocal public radio stations are an important part of the nation's journalism ecosystem and could play an even bigger role," Cochran writes. "Their success is built on their partnership with NPR, especially its most popular news programs. Morning Edition and All Things Considered, which have powered NPR's phenomenal audience growth to 30 million listeners each week, contain breaks for local station material. This has allowed local public radio stations to build a strong news identity without requiring a large staff. Now is the time to build on that strength, not undermine it."

Cochran, a former NPR News v.p. who holds an endowed chair for the University of Missouri's Journalism School, wrote the December 2010 Aspen Institute white paper on pubcasting's potential to fill the gap in local news and information, Rethinking Public Media: More Local, More Inclusive, More Interactive.

"Ebert Presents" goes on hiatus due to funding challenges

Roger Ebert has pulled the plug on his movie review show, for now. "At the end of December, our public television program Ebert Presents At The Movies will go on hiatus," he wrote Wednesday (Nov. 30) on his blog, "while we find necessary funding. This move is necessary to allow the public television stations that carry our show to plan their programs for the beginning of the new year. We held off as long as possible but we had to give notice today." Ebert said he hopes the hiatus will be brief, and the show is considering a Kickstarter campaign.

PBS SoCal to challenge KCET in Los Angeles programming

The Los Angeles Business Journal (no link available) is reporting that KOCE soon will begin programming for Los Angeles audiences, taking on KCET, which went independent from PBS in January. "We need to convince people in L.A. and surrounding regions that we're not just concerned about Orange County," PBS SoCal/KOCE President Mel Rogers told the publication. The station is renaming its public affairs show Inside OC as SoCal Insider for the new season in January. "The move will allow KOCE to grow its audience without incurring the production costs of an entirely new program," the Journal notes.

BBC may be "the only news organization I would leave NPR for," Meyer says

In an interview with the Washington Post, Dick Meyer downplayed the management turmoil at NPR this year as a factor in his decision to leave his job as executive news editor. The offer to lead U.S. news operations for the BBC was too good to turn down, he explains. “I couldn’t ever think of saying no to an opportunity like this,” Meyer told the Post's Paul Farhi. “The BBC is the world’s dominant news organization. It has the same news values as NPR and a global footprint. . . . It might be the only news organization I would leave NPR for.”

As executive producer of BBC News, America, Meyer will oversee BBC World News America, a weeknightly newscast airing on public TV stations, and its website for U.S. audiences,

In a farewell memo to NPR staff, Meyer described highlights of his nearly four-year tenure as executive editor, including recruiting "remarkably talented people with fresh skills, eyes and ears into NPR's already remarkable newsroom" and learning from "some very gifted news leaders and executives."

"I am especially proud of the 'new' and all the progress made on the digital frontier," Meyer wrote, "of the integration of our newsrooms, of expanding our hard news capacity, of our investigative work, and of the important StateImpact project."

Meyer's exit, scheduled for Dec. 9, was announced on the eve of Gary Knell's arrival as NPR president and c.e.o. The job of senior v.p. of news, filled on an interim basis by Margaret Low Smith, has been open since Ellen Weiss resigned in January.

Nov 30, 2011

Pubmedia films score Sundance Film Fest spots

Six films funded by the Independent Television Service (ITVS) have been selected to screen at the  Sundance Film Festival, Jan. 19-29, 2012, in Park City, Utah. ITVS domestic co-productions claimed four of the 16 spots in the U.S. Documentary competition and two of the 12 spots in the World Documentary competition. The films are: DETROPIA by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, The House I Live In by Eugene Jarecki, The Invisible War by Kirby Dick, Love Free or Die: How the Bishop of New Hampshire is Changing the World by Macky Alston, 5 Broken Cameras by Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi, and Putin's Kiss by Lise Birk Pedersen.

UPDATE: Another pubmedia film of note that has been accepted at Sundance is Slavery by Another Name, produced and directed by Sam Pollard in partnership with tpt National Productions, which received funding through the CPB/PBS Diversity and Innovation Fund.

Penn State station hosting Town Hall on abuse allegations tonight

Penn State Public Broadcasting is producing and broadcasting a live Town Hall Forum at 6 p.m. Eastern tonight (Nov. 30) for students and university administration to discuss the ramifications of the sexual abuse allegations surrounding former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.  The Town Hall will air on WPSU's World multichannel with additional feeds provided by WPSU to the Pennsylvania Cable Network and the Campus Cable Network as well as online.

Kerger suggests "subscription model" for online access to some PBS content

PBS President Paula Kerger spent an hour on KQED's Forum program Wednesday (Nov. 30), taking listener questions on public broadcasting and its future. She revealed that to raise revenues, PBS is considering a "subscription model" that would enable paying subscribers to have access to "a larger library" of archived material, reports Adam Powell of the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy. Kerger said some new PBS programs might be available "for a fee," which she compared to PBS selling DVDs of shows. Listen to the audio here.

NPR's Dick Meyer departing for new post at BBC News, America

Dick Meyer, executive news editor at NPR, has accepted a new position as executive producer for BBC News, America. His last day at NPR is Dec. 9. A memo from Kinsey Wilson, NPR's senior v.p. and g.m. of digital media. and Margaret Low Smith, its acting senior v.p. for news, said Meyer was "instrumental in establishing as a serious force in digital journalism." Meyer joined NPR in March 2008 from He also produced political and investigative reports for the CBS Evening News, and is author of the book Why We Hate Us: American Discontent in the New Millennium

Pilot stations selected for Mobile Emergency Alert System project

Four public broadcasting stations will participate in a Mobile Emergency Alert System (M-EAS) pilot project funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and LG Electronics to assess the potential of sharing crisis information via Mobile Digital TV services. WGBH in Boston, Vegas PBS and two Alabama Public Television stations (WBIQ in Birmingham and WAIQ in Montgomery) will serve as test markets. "By using terrestrial over-the-air TV broadcasting, rather than cellular network connectivity, M-EAS is expected to meet critical needs for emergency alerts," a PBS announcement said. The goal is to prove the viability of M-EAS using existing standards, and to create a template for use by all broadcasters, public or commercial.

“With the Mobile EAS service," said John McCoskey, PBS's chief technology officer, "we’ll be able to send everything from AMBER alert photos to detailed maps with escape routes, live video, and extensive information that viewers will find invaluable in a disaster. This goes way beyond just a text message on a congested cell phone network. It’s harnessing the power of ‘one-to-many’ transmissions from a TV broadcaster to the viewing audience.”

Have a question for Gary Knell? Tweet it Thursday

Gary Knell, former head of Sesame Workshop and incoming NPR c.e.o., will be chatting live on Twitter from 3 to 3:30 p.m. Eastern Thursday (Dec. 1), his first day of work. Hashtag: #nprceo

Vogelzang to lead Maine Public Broadcasting

Veteran pubcasting exec Mark Vogelzang has been appointed president and c.e.o. of the Maine Public Broadcasting Network, operator of statewide public television and radio networks with a budget of about $10 million. He succeeds Jim Dowe, MPBN president since 2006, who is retiring next month.

The appointment, announced Nov. 29, comes as Vogelzang completes an interim appointment as g.m. of WBFO-FM, the university-owned NPR News station in Buffalo that's being sold to WNED, a community-licensed pubcasting operation that serves radio and TV audiences in Buffalo and Canada. The proposed $4 million sale has gained approval from New York state policy makers — including Attorney General Eric Schneiderman — and is now pending before the FCC.

When Vogelzang took over management of WBFO two years ago, his assignment was to lead the station and its university licensee through strategic planning. Merger talks with WNED later produced the sales agreement that was announced this summer.

MPBN Board Chair Henry "Hank" Schmelzer pointed to Vogelzang's experience an earlier job — as president of Vermont Public Radio — in describing his qualifications as MPBN president. "Mark's long tenure as the leader of a statewide public media network in northern New England with a roughly equal number of stations, individual donors and corporate supporters, combined with his deep knowledge of non-profit fundraising, makes him the ideal candidate to lead MPBN into the future."

As president of VPR from 1993 to 2006, Vogelzang led the public radio network through a $10 million endowment campaign and a signal expansion project that split NPR News and classical music programming on two separate radio networks. Vogelzang served on the NPR Board of Directors for seven years and was interim executive director of the NPR Foundation in 2009.

Wife of new judge in Penn State abuse case had links to school thru pubcasting board

WPSU-FM and WPSU-TV at Penn State University have been tangentially drawn into the ongoing child sex abuse case against former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. Last week, Pennsylvania court administrators who assigned Senior Judge John M. Cleland to handle the charges announced that Cleland had no known connections to the university — but his wife served for 15 years on the Penn State Public Broadcasting Board of Representatives, a volunteer panel advising the university on the operation of the stations, reports The Citizens' Voice newspaper in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Julie Cleland was on the board from 1995 through 2009, including as chairman and vice-chairman. The newspaper said Judge Cleland was unaware of the wording of the Nov. 22 announcement and disclosed his wife's involvement to state officials the next day. Thomas B. Darr, deputy court administrator for Pennsylvania, called Julie Cleland's link to the school via the stations "minimal and distant."

Penn State Public Broadcasting General Manager Ted Krichels agreed. "She's not on the board anymore and doesn't have any connection that I'm aware of with Penn State other than what she had through our board," Krichels said. "There is nothing, I think, that warrants further investigation."

Judge Cleland said he will alert prosecutors and Sandusky's attorney of his wife's Penn State connection "as his first order of business" Wednesday morning (Nov. 30) at a pre-trial conference, the paper said. If any attorneys object, Cleland told Darr he would consider removing himself from the case.

Nov 29, 2011

"Mama Jazz," longtime host of WMUB, dies

Phyllis Campbell, known to public radio listeners in southwestern Ohio as "Mama Jazz," has died at the age of 89, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. She hosted jazz programming on WMUB in Miami from 1979 to 2006 and became one of the station's most popular and distinctive personalities during 27 years on the air. "She was feisty as all get-out, passionately devoted to jazz, and unabashedly loyal to her legions of fans," Cleve Callison, former WMUB g.m., told the Enquirer.

Ready TV will be Arizona version of Create multicast channel

Arizona Public Media is launching a local version of the Create multicast lifestyle channel, to be called Ready TV, starting Dec. 1, reports the Green Valley News & Sun. "Ready TV is very similar to Create but it is programmed locally to accommodate the local Southern Arizona time zone," said Sue DeBenedette, marketing manager for AZPM. "With Create, it was programmed and scheduled on the East Coast, so that primetime shows did not air in primetime here in Southern Arizona. Scheduling it locally gives AZPM the freedom to program those shows that resonate strongly here in this market rather than being dictated to by a national feed." The 24-hour channel will include Julia Child shows, Austin City Limits, This Old House and Woodwright's Shop with Roy Underhill.

APM acquires Spot.Us, will merge it with Public Insight Network

American Public Media has acquired community news funding website Spot.Us, and will incorporate it into the Public Insight Network (PIN), APM announced today (Nov. 29). Spot.Us and PIN each "believe in the power of the independent voice in journalism," said Joaquin Alvarado, senior vice president of digital innovation at APM. Spot.Us, founded in 2008 with a seed grant from the Knight Foundation's Knight News Challenge, lets the public fund journalism that is then distributed by newsrooms nationwide; PIN provides journalists with more than 130,000 self-identified news sources through its unique database.

House GOP offers spectrum bill

House Republicans today (Nov. 29) released their spectrum incentive auction bill, reports Broadcasting & Cable. It was introduced by Communications Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and is set to be marked up and voted on in the committee Thursday. It would authorize the Federal Communications Commission to reclaim spectrum from broadcasters for auction and compensate them from the proceeds. It also would compensate broadcasters not giving up spectrum for the costs of moving to another channel or sharing channels with another broadcaster, as well as the cost to cable operators of carrying the new signals. A Senate version of a spectrum auction bill has already passed out of the Commerce Committee.

Nov 28, 2011

DiRienzo steps down as head of V-me

Carmen DiRienzo, founding president and c.e.o. of the Spanish-language public TV channel V-me, has resigned her posts, effective Dec. 31, the network announced today (Nov. 28). She will continue to serve on its Board of Directors. Alvaro Garnica will assume the new position of general manager, with overall responsibility for daily operations. He is g.m. of Plural Entertainment, which V-me describes as its "sister company and primary production partner." Garnica also spent nine years in programming at Grupo Prisa, a Spanish-language media conglomerate that purchased a significant stake in V-me Media Inc. in October 2009.

In today's announcement, DiRienzo said: “I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to lead a creative, dedicated team of professionals in such a worthwhile venture. V-me’s role in the Hispanic community is an important one and I am happy to continue to nurture it through my role on the Board of Directors.”

V-me launched in March 2007 as an initiative of WNET, where DiRienzo had been v.p. and managing director of corporate affairs. The 24-hour Spanish network is currently available in more than 10 million Hispanic homes via public TV stations' multicast DTV channels and carriage by cable systems and satellite TV providers.

Next Avenue hires staff nationwide for "virtual organization"

Next Avenue, which has been called “the biggest public media initiative being undertaken anywhere in public broadcasting," has hired a staff of eight and so far raised $6 million in foundation money for the web-based project designed to "hyper-serve" America's aging population. Staffers will be located in New York, St. Paul, Denver and Washington, D.C., creating "an interesting new model for a public television station — a virtual organization — as well as journalism hubs across the country," the initiative, based at Twin Cities Public Television, announced on Monday (Nov. 28).

The hires: Donna Sapolin will be Next Avenue's vice president, editorial director and general manager; she's former editor-in-chief of This Old House magazine and vice president/editorial director of Woman’s Day Special Interest Publications. Larry Carlat will be managing editor, he's a veteran editorial director and media exec who led creative web operations for several publications including Rolling Stone. Richard Eisenberg will be senior web editor for the Money & Security and Work & Purpose sections of the site; he spent 19 years at Money magazine as a writer and editor and created the Best Places to Live in America feature there, and most recently was front page finance programmer for Suzanne Gerber will be senior web editor for Living & Learning; she has worked as a senior editor at InStyle and Redbook magazines, as well as editor-in-chief of Vegetarian Times. Marilynn Larkin will be senior web editor, Health & Well-Being and Caregiving, she was a contributing editor to The Lancet and is author of five consumer health books. Judith Graham will be editor at large; she has worked as an investigative reporter at the Chicago Tribune and shared a Pulitzer Prize for explanatory journalism in 2001, as well as authored a monthly column on aging and a blog on consumer health. Carla Baranauckas will be copy editor, she has spent 21 years as an editor at the New York Times in sports, metro, national, regional arts and continuous news. Liza Hogan will be content partnership manager; she was a new media consultant in Chicago, where she taught online journalism and legal reporting at Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism and produced online features for

Two dozen public television stations have signed on as Next Avenue affiliates. The site is expected to launch in April 2012.