May 31, 2012

Now on PBS Digital: The National Film Society, all two of them

The National Film Society, the quirky duo that hosted PBS's first Online Film Festival, now will have their own video creations featured on the PBS Digital Studios YouTube channel. Don't miss their video announcement, during which they get a crash course in becoming pubcasters — complete with learning the lingo ("Check your local listings") and drills to memorize station call letters (hey, nice shoutout to KUFM-TV in Missoula!).

Get the lowdown on WETA UK

Curious about WETA UK, the new all-Brit, all-the-time channel? Then check out its section on the station's new blog, Programmer's Choice. Entries are aimed at viewers (as well as pubcasters) wondering how and why the Arlington, Va., station decided to drop its WETA How-To (Create) to launch the nation's only British multicast channel.

Kevin Harris, station manager, explains in one post that while writing a white paper on the future of WETA's multicast offerings, he and programmer Bryant Wilson discovered not only that those channels are popular within the Washington, D.C., market, but also that that the cable network BBC America was underserving the local audience. "There isn’t a show on BBC America that comes close to matching the large audiences that regularly watch British programs on WETA TV26," Harris writes. "Doc Martin, Keeping Up Appearances, Sherlock Holmes and Masterpiece literally dwarf all of the programs on BBC America." 

"There was an opportunity for a public television British broadcast channel in the D.C. area," Harris writes. "One of our WETA digital channels should play this role." The main channel and WETA HD had to stay. Ditto for WETA Kids, due to the station's 50-plus years of commitment to educational programming. So, WETA How-To (Create) had to go — although viewers will still be able to find those shows on the main channel on Saturdays.

WETA UK premieres this weekend. Harris tells Current that WETA staffers will celebrate the launch with tea and scones.

May 30, 2012

WGBH and its largest union reach contract agreement

WGBH has reached an agreement with its largest union, the Boston Globe is reporting. The contract terms are the same as March 2011, which the union had initially rejected.

The agreement allows the pubcaster to assign individual employees to work across multiple platforms and to outsource work. “We have so many producers in house, but there are times when working with an outside producer makes sense, maybe for a particular project, or in terms of cost efficiencies,” said Jeanne Hopkins, WGBH spokesperson.

The Association of Employees of the Educational Foundation, Communications Workers of America, Local 1300, represents 250 production workers, editors, producers, writers, and marketing staffers. Its website says 63 percent of members approved the contract.

WGBH employs a total of about 850.

Marketplace raises pay rates for freelancers

American Public Media’s Marketplace announced today that it is raising its pay rates for freelancers and other outside contributors by 8 percent to 20 percent. The programs, which include Marketplace, Marketplace Morning Report, Marketplace Tech Report and Marketplace Money, will also adopt the tiered freelance payment structure devised by the Association of Independents in Radio, which takes into account the journalist’s experience and the level of effort a piece requires. Contributors will negotiate these factors with the show when accepting assignments.

Earlier this year, NPR also adopted the tiered payment structure and raised its pay rates as well.

LinkAsia melds citizen journalism, official news for digital/broadcast presentation

LinkAsia, a weekly digital/broadcast hybrid news show from nonprofit Link TV, curates stories from citizen journalists as well as packages of official news from commercial and state-run networks including CCTV in China, NHK in Japan, MBC in Korea, NDTV in India and VTV4 in Vietnam. Overseeing the year-old program is George Lewinski, former senior editor at PRI's The World and foreign editor at NPR's Marketplace.

"A show that started out as a weekly chronicle of politics and business in Asia, created for a U.S. audience — fed from syndicated news packages from Asian nations — is a full, nuanced ongoing examination of life as it is experienced by people who live there, juxtaposed with the 'official portrait' of that life by the region's official media organizations," writes Caty Borum Chattoo, a LinkAsia studio producer, on MediaShift. "It's the gap between the two that has created and supported the most valuable reporting and analysis — and the digital tools that allow us to continue to follow the long tail of the story after it may have faded from immediacy."

PBS NewsHour receives $3.55 million from four foundations

Four foundations are giving PBS NewsHour a total of $3.55 million for on-air and online coverage of the 2012 presidential election, the economy, international developments, and health, science, education and arts news. Participants in the multi-foundation initiative announced today (May 30) are Carnegie Corporation of New York, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

“It’s especially encouraging to have this special general support from some of the nation’s leading foundations,” said Bo Jones, president of MacNeil/Lehrer Productions. “It is key to supporting the program’s infrastructure and ability to grow.”

The funds will enable NewsHour reporters to report from the field on issues critical in the election, such as jobs, the economy, immigration, education, the environment, and foreign policy, as well as file reports examining the changing nature of the American electorate. Support also will go to the PBS NewsHour Digital Election Data Center, which will give web viewers the same professional analytical tools that the NewsHour’s political unit will use.

PBS tops 13 media organizations in engagement via Pinterest

An analysis from the Poynter Institute reveals that PBS and USA Today are the two media organizations that most effectively engage with readers via the visually oriented social network site Pinterest. Reporter Susanna Speier examined 13 local and national news organizations — including the Los Angeles Times, NBC News and Newsweek/The Daily Beast — to compared their average repin to pin ratios, which are similar to retweets and tweets on Twitter. The highest overall repin to pin ratio was PBS; on average, a pin on PBS was repinned six times. USA Today had an average of 4.4 repins; Newsweek/The Daily Beast, 4.3; and the Wall Street Journal, 4.2. The remaining news organizations had average ratios between 1.1 and 2.2 repins per pin.

Kevin Dando, PBS's digital director, told Speier that online referrals from Pinterest are not yet a realistic goal. “We are focused on engagement,” he said. “We know the clickthroughs will come and the way to get them is through engagement.”

Transcript of Jason Seiken's speech to PBS Annual Meeting now online

Now on, text of the May 15 speech at the PBS Annual Meeting in Denver by Jason Seiken, head of PBS Interactive, which one g.m. called a "seminal moment" in public broadcasting. Three dozen general managers are coalescing around Seiken's ideas to transform each station into the YouTube of their local community, allowing public television to serve "millions more people with billions more videos."

May 29, 2012

NCME and iMA sponsoring Public Media Innovators audio webinar on Wednesday

Here's a look at "What ‹audio› means for public radio," from Matthew Tift of Wisconsin Public Radio. Tift is on the panel for the first-ever Public Media Innovators webinar, at 2 p.m. Eastern Wednesday (May 30) from the National Center for Media Engagement and the Integrated Media Association. Subjects will include PBS's COVE 2.0, the pros and cons of the PRX HTML5 jplayer for audio, and NPR's experiment in continuous listening, Infinite Player.

NBC, noncom reporting relationships "still in infancy" but producing stories

The collaborations between several NBC owned-and-operated stations and nonprofit news enterprises, part of Comcast's deal to takeover NBCUniversal (Current, Jan. 17), are generating "important stories they've broken together," reports TVNewsCheck.

KNBC Los Angeles and noncom KPPC-FM together revealed that a teacher arrested for sexually abusing students was paid to retire by the local school district. The nonprofit newsroom ProPublica provided data for stories on NBC stations in New York, Dallas, San Francisco, San Diego and Hartford, Conn., on federal stimulus money. And in Philadelphia, WCAU and noncom WHYY regularly share Web content such as political and cultural reporting and weather.

"The feel of the partnership is really good," Chris Satullo, WHYY's executive news director, told the media website. "I just don’t know if the output is where we want it to be.”

But as WCAU spokeswoman Kathleen Burke noted, the the relationship is “still in its infancy.”

WPR site will enable listeners to "see" Bach piece as it is performed

Wisconsin Public Radio has developed a website to accompany its upcoming broadcast of the "Open Goldberg Variations," which is the "first fan-funded, open source, and completely free recording" of Bach's "Goldberg Variations," according to the Boing Boing website.

WPR's site will display the score, enabling listeners to "see" the music as it plays from 12:30 to 2 p.m. Central June 24, "a first-ever event, proving bleeding edge technologies," said Robert Douglass, who launched the Kickstarter project behind the production.

Partnering with WPR is MuseScore, a free music composition and notation software.

Family of WRVO's Chris Ulanowski publicly discusses his suicide

The family of Chris Ulanowski, the longtime news director of WRVO-FM in Oswego, N.Y., is speaking out about his suicide in a story in the Post-Standard at the one-year anniversary of his death.

"Most people didn’t know that the confident professional they heard on the air struggled with a severe mental illness called borderline personality disorder," the newspaper noted, "which causes unstable moods, behaviors and personal relationships. One in 10 people who have it commit suicide — more than 50 times the rate in the general population — and more than half attempt suicide at least once."

Sale approval delay by FCC hinders fundraising efforts at KUSF-FM

The FCC has yet to approve the sale of University of San Francisco's KUSF-FM, which was announced 16 months ago, reports the Bay Citizen. “It’s extremely unusual,” said Michael Couzens, an Oakland, Calif., communications attorney and former FCC staffer. “The mentality of the staff is shaped by the fact that commercial entities lose their financing if they dink and dunk around for months and years.”

And because the deal isn't finalized, federal rules prohibit KDFC from airing pledge drives, "a huge loss as it attempts to remake itself as a nonprofit," Bay Citizen notes.

“The KUSF delay has definitely impacted us, and we hope the FCC will come to a decision soon,” said Brenda Barnes, president of classical music giant KUSC. Licensee University of Southern California spent more than $6 million to purchase two frequencies: KUSF, as well as Christian music outlet KNDL, previously licensed to Howell Mountain Broadcasting Co.(Current, Jan. 24, 2011).

May 25, 2012

Design adapts new KPCC website to multiple mobile devices, the website for the Pasadena, Calif., pubradio station, has relaunched with a responsive web design that automatically adapts to viewing on smartphones, tablets and desktops — an especially useful feature for the 17 percent of its audience that accesses the content on mobile devices.

The site also features a new section specifically for video reports, a daily rotation of featured comments, and redesigned navigation and audio player.

"Content silos are one of the toughest problems many news organizations face," wrote Sean Dillingham, the station's senior user experience designer, in a post announcing the redesign. "KPCC was/is no different: we produce radio stories, blog posts, program segments, events, videos, and more. But by conceiving a base set of attributes and behavior common across all content, we were able to model our data in such a way that makes it possible, for example, to build a homepage that is able to feature any content type in any place where content can be featured (leads, offleads, 'in case you missed it' buckets, etc.)."

Sesame Workshop lays off "approximately a dozen" staffers

Sesame Workshop, parent company of Sesame Street, has laid off around 12 people, the entertainment news website Deadline Hollywood is reporting.

"So far the big cuts have been in the Digital Media department," the site said.

The Workshop declined to answer specific questions on the layoffs from Current, but emailed this statement: "As a result of our FY13 strategic planning process, we have shifted some resources to better align with our strategic priorities and new opportunities. Unfortunately, this has resulted in the elimination of approximately a dozen positions."

Gary Knell, Workshop c.e.o. for almost 12 years, announced last fall that he would take the helm at NPR in January (Current, Oct. 17, 2011).

May 24, 2012

Groups ask PBS, WGBH to end sponsorship relationship with Chick-fil-A

Three high-profile organizations have announced a campaign to urge PBS and WGBH to drop the sponsor Chick-fil-A from the children's show Martha Speaks.

In a joint statement Wednesday (May 23), the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Public Citizen and Corporate Accountability International said that in 2011, 56 million Chick-fil-A Kids’ Meals were distributed in Martha Speaks co-branded bags, and those meals "can contain as much as 670 calories, 29 grams of fat, and 25 grams of sugar." The groups also said the Chick-fil-A sponsorship "marks the first time advertising before and after a PBS children’s show has run simultaneously with an in-restaurant promotion."

They posted an online petition, addressed to PBS President Paula Kerger and WGBH President Jon Abbott, that as of Thursday afternoon had 1,980 signatures.

A case study from the Sponsorship Group for Public Television (PDF) details the "unique partnership ... between popular PBS Kids series Martha Speaks and quick service restaurant chain Chick-fil-A," which it says runs through December 2014.

PBS and WGBH provided this statement to Current in response:

"PBS and WGBH are committed to improving children’s literacy through the curriculum-based content in programs such as Martha Speaks, an award-winning series proven to boost literacy skills. In seeking funders to support the costs of producing our high-quality children’s programs we are grateful to have partners who also support our educational efforts and mission of extending learning to children wherever they may be. Chick-fil-A does this through its sponsorship of Martha Speaks. As part of Chick-fil-A’s support of the series, they have distributed more than 4 million books, as well as 4.5 million printed pieces that feature educational activities and content from the series to promote parent-child interaction. The brief on-air messages for Chick-fil-A comply with PBS’s strict guidelines for sponsors of children’s programs — the message is in support of educational programming on PBS and is aimed at parents, not children. In addition, there is no call to action and no product is shown."

WXXI news director hangs 300 feet in the air for "Audio Postcard"

Julie Philipp, news director at WXXI in Rochester, N.Y., got out from behind her desk last week — to dangle off the side of a downtown building for an "Audio Postcard."

The adventure was part of the local Boy Scout Council's 21 Stories for Scouts fundraising event. Participants collecting more than $1,000 get to rappel down 309 feet, or 21 stories, from the roof of the First Federal Building.

The council invites members of the media to participate the day before. "I thought it would be a unique way for WXXI News to highlight the commitment we’ve made to covering issues related to at-risk youth in our community," Philipp told Current."I first offered the opportunity to my newsroom staff members, but none of them seemed very eager to try." Philipp was up to the challenge, and fearless of heights, because she's also done indoor rock climbing, downhill skiing and mountain climbing.

Because this particular audio postcard would be even more exciting with video, two videographers used small Canon HD camcorders, one above and one below, and Philipp wore a digital camera on her helmet — provided by Eastman Kodak, headquartered across the street from WXXI. The helmet cam footage was transferred to a camcorder for editing by WXXI's Martin Kaufman.

The station has been creating "Audio Postcards" for several years, Philipp said. "It's a great way to capitalize on the strengths of public radio: sound, storytelling, and a personal connection with the listener." (Photo: WXXI)

APM's "Saint Paul Sunday" signing off in June after 32-year run

Broadcasts of Saint Paul Sunday, a weekly classical pubradio offering from American Public Media, are ending after 32 years. The last new episode was produced in 2007.

APM notified client stations that the last show would air June 24. In its memo, APM said the program was launched in 1980 "on a very simple premise: we wanted to give listeners intimate access to how music was created at the very highest level." Host Bill McGlaughlin introduced listeners to "the classical world's absolute top talent," APM said, including Renée Fleming, the Emerson String Quartet, Chanticleer and Anne-Sophie Mutter. The program earned a George Foster Peabody Award in 1995.

"But after several years of repeats, APM has made the difficult decision to celebrate Saint Paul Sunday's successes and sunset it this summer," the memo said. "Thank you to all stations who have carried the program over the years and brought these world class artists and their stories into your listeners' lives."

Currently, according to APM, 83 stations air the show.

In a 1999 commentary in Current, former PRI President Stephen L. Sayler identified Saint Paul Sunday Morning as one of the titles that "helped extend listening to public radio beyond drivetime."

Romney again calls federal support of PBS "unnecessary," suggests advertising

In an interview with Time magazine, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney once again targets PBS for funding elimination. His comments echo previous statements last December.

"I’ve laid out a whole series of areas that I will reduce spending," the former Massachusetts governor tells Time reporter Mark Halperin. "And I’m going to eliminate some programs that I think are duplicative and unnecessary. I’ve talked about Amtrak subsidies, subsidies to PBS, subsidies to the endowment for the arts, to the endowment for the humanities."

"I like PBS," Romney says. "I’d like my grandkids to be able to watch PBS. But I’m not willing to borrow money from China, and make my kids have to pay the interest on that, and my grandkids, over generations, as opposed to saying to PBS, look, you’re going to have to raise more money from charitable contributions or from advertising."

At last week's PBS Annual Meeting in Denver, APTS President Pat Butler said he hopes to meet with Romney soon. "Massachusetts was never a funder of public television," Butler said, so Romney "operates from lack of experience with the public broadcasting system. He's a smart, decent guy, I think he’ll listen to reason. It's important to get the facts in front of him." 

The entire transcript of the Time interview is here.

May 23, 2012

Ciecalone resigns from KVCR after investigation

KVCR President Larry Ciecalone, who had been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation in March, has resigned, reports the Press-Enterprise in Riverside, Calif. Ciecalone has led the dual licensee serving San Bernardino and Riverside counties since 2003. His resignation is effective May 31. In late March, Ciecalone had been placed on leave pending investigation of an undisclosed matter. "No reason was given for Ciecalone’s paid leave last March, nor his reasons for resigning," the newspaper noted.

May 22, 2012

Young game developers honored at 2012 National STEM Video Game Challenge

WASHINGTON — A competition that gives middle- and high-school students a taste of what it takes to develop educational video games awarded more than $80,000 in prizes to top contestants in the second annual STEM Video Game Challenge.

In a crowded auditorium full of proud parents and jubilant children, a series of distinguished speakers congratulated winners during the May 21 awards ceremony and spoke about their personal connections to video games and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education.

Youth winners await their turn on stage.
"Everybody should be proud of these young people," said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), who serves on the "E-Tech Caucus" in Congress, which advocates for educational software. "I also think all of these young people are going to end up with really good jobs."

The competition was designed to interest students in STEM education through video gaming. Last year's inaugural competition drew roughly 600 entries. This year saw a sixfold increase, with over 3,700 entries from across the country.

This video explains the genesis and inspiration for many of the winners, including:
  • Michael Feng, a high-schooler from Redwood City, Calif., who designed "Tales of Encephalia." The game's storyline presents scientific concepts to players while they investigate mysterious phenomenon, and topped two different categories; and 
  • Shashenk Mahesh, a middle-schooler from Gibsonton, Fla., who designed "Mission 17639: Planetcorp," which challenges players to explore the solar system. Its playing levels incorporate real planetary characteristics. Mahesh tapped his younger brother as a test player.
A complete list of the 28 middle school and high school winners, as well as videos of the award-winning games, are available here.

Zachary Levi, star of the NBC show Chuck, served as a guest judge for this year's challenge. In a video message to contestants, Levi declared his abiding love for video games and urged the crowd at the Smithsonian American Art Museum to "viva la nerd-volution."

The competition recognized additional winners in collegiate and educator categories. Details about those games can be seen here.

"Our overall goal is to grow the ecosystem of youth video game design with better tools, curriculum, and ideas," said Alan Gershenfeld, president and founder of E-Line Media, a main organizer of the challenge. "I think that the games of these winners speak for themselves."

The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop is E-Line's partner in organizing the STEM Challenge. Sponsors include the Entertainment Software Association, AMD Foundation, Microsoft's Xbox 360, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting/PBS KIDS Ready To Learn Initiative.

The winners of the 2012 STEM Video Game Challenge.

Judge dismisses part of broadcasters' suit against online TV streamer Aereo

A portion of a lawsuit brought by WNET, PBS and several other broadcasters against online television startup Aereo has been dismissed, reports Reuters. U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan in Manhattan turned down a claim of unfair competition but left intact a copyright infringement argument. Aereo, backed by billionaire media magnate Barry Diller, launched in New York City in March, charging subscribers $12 a month to stream over-the-air content to cellphones, tablet computers and other devices. Broadcasters filed the lawsuit that month.

"It's print as an accessory" — Voice of San Diego launches magazine

A Knight Foundation-backed magazine, in print and digital versions, is part of the Voice of San Diego's new membership program. Seem backwards? After all, Voice of San Diego is a web-based nonprofit news organization.

However, said Scott Lewis, c.e.o., said on the Knight website, "We put several stories out every day. Some longer and more in-depth than others. When we gather them all up over the course of a month, we have reason to be proud. At the same time, not everyone can keep up with the daily chaos of news, let alone read some of our longer pieces."

Lewis heard about MagCloud, a self-service publishing platform, and pitched the idea to Knight. Voice of San Diego designs and uploads the magazine each month, supporters buy it, MagCloud takes a cut and sends the rest of the money along.

"If we can generate enough support for it," Lewis said, "through sponsors who want to put messages in it, people who buy individual copies and members excited to have it, then we can keep uploading new editions. And then we get to have this great package of our content that we can take around and show people. They can fold it up and put in their bag."

Frontline and ProPublica team up for cell tower death story

Today, Frontline and nonprofit investigative newsroom ProPublica released their long-awaited collaboration on the issue of poor accountability and safety among cellphone carriers and the subcontractors they hire to maintain and build the nation's over 280,000 cell tower sites.

The investigation found that 50 cell tower climbers have died between 2003 and 2011. The ProPublica article details how lackluster safety regulations, the overbearing push for cell tower expansion, and a culture of recklessness have caused this boom in accidental fatalities. In addition, the investigation found that many cell phone carriers deliberately hide behind layers of subcontractors, thereby recusing themselves from most liability and preventing easy linkage between cell carriers and the deaths.

The Frontline version of the story will air at 10 p.m. Eastern tonight on most local PBS stations.

PRI receives $1.6 million grant from Gates Foundation for health coverage

Public Radio International has received a two-year, $1.6 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support reporting on health and development on its program PRI’s The World. The funds will help PRI “further extend the reach and impact of coverage around critical issues affecting the world’s poorest nations, such as maternal health and infant mortality; water, sanitation and hygiene; vaccines and immunization; infectious and chronic diseases; and food security and nutrition,” the producer said in a press release. The release also alludes to PRI’s development of “an ambitious strategic framework” to step up engagement on digital platforms around The World’s reporting. PRI has received funding from the Gates Foundation since 2004.

PRPD wants help in drafting a "Programmers Manifesto" for public radio

The Public Radio Program Directors Association is asking public radio programmers for help in developing a “Programmers Manifesto,” a collaborative project that will build on and update the organization’s work on defining public radio’s “Core Values” for today’s media environment.

In a blog post, PRPD says the project is inspired by The Cluetrain Manifesto, a landmark 1999 work about the Web’s disruptive effect on traditional business models and practices. PRPD members are asked to “document and share their beliefs and aspirations for serving significant audiences on line, on the air, during fundraising, and in their communities.”

The process, which will unfold over the next few months, will result in “a modern vision of public service,” says Arthur Cohen, president of PRPD. Programmers are encouraged to submit their ideas to Israel Smith, who is leading the project for PRPD, at

New America to convene panel on public interest and new technologies May 23

Tomorrow the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C., will host “From Broadcast to Broadband: New Theories of the Public Interest in Wireless.” In two panel discussions, running from 9:30 a.m to noon Eastern time, communications wonks will discuss the role of the public interest in broadband and wireless technologies. Panelists will include Joaquin Alvarado, formerly the senior v.p. for digital innovation at American Public Media, and Andy Schwartzman, senior v.p. and policy director for the Media Access Project. New America will provide a live web stream on the event’s web page and an archived video after the panel concludes.

Ford Foundation provides $1 million grant to Los Angeles Times

The Ford Foundation, a longtime supporter of public broadcasting, has given a grant of $1 million to the Los Angeles Times, which will expand its coverage of beats including immigration and ethnic communities in Southern California, the southwest U.S. border and Brazil. A Ford Foundation spokesman told the newspaper that as media organizations face challenges funding reporting through traditional means, “we and many other funders are experimenting with new approaches to preserve and advance high-quality journalism.”

In a column on the announcement, Adam Clayton Powell, senior fellow at the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy notes that Ford used to give NPR "six and seven-figure grants each year for international news coverage and reporting of certain topics." But that has changed: While last year Ford continued to support certain pubcasting projects, Powell writes, the foundation's grants database does not include any grants to NPR, or PBS, in 2010 or 2011.

Patient Harm Community Facebook page now online, from ProPublica

ProPublica, the nonprofit investigative reporting newsroom, has established a Facebook page for people affected by errors, injuries or infection while undergoing medical treatment. The page is moderated by ProPublica reporters Marshall Allen, who has covered the topic since 2006 and won a Goldsmith Award at the Las Vegas Sun for his series "Do No Harm: Hospital Care in Las Vegas," and Olga Pierce, who covers health policy, insurance issues and data journalism. ProPublica's plans for the online community include Q&A's with experts and links to the latest reports, research and policy proposals.

May 21, 2012

Cato Institute analyst lays out case for defunding pubcasting

Public broadcasting "suffers the main downside of public funding — political influence and control — yet enjoys little of the upside — a significant taxpayer contribution that would relieve it of the need to seek corporate underwriting and listener donations," writes Trevor Burrus, a legal associate at the Cato Institute's Center for Constitutional Studies, in his policy analysis released today (May 21) titled, "If You Love Something Set It Free: A Case for Defunding Public Broadcasting."

Burrus writes that PBS and NPR "produce some excellent programming." However, he believes a government-funded institution should be necessary, prudent, and, most important, "authorized by our Constitution. Public broadcasting fails all three tests."

The analysis is available free for download here.

The Cato Institute is a libertarian think tank based in Washington, D.C., which supports individual liberties and limited government.

St. Louis Public Radio will take over Illinois station

The University of Missouri St. Louis announced last week that it will acquire WQUB-FM in Quincy, Ill., from owner Quincy University. After the sale is completed in the next few months, UMSL’s St. Louis Public Radio will take over operations at WQUB, and the station will be renamed Quincy Public Radio.

Quincy University President Robert Gervasi said in 2009 that the university was having trouble contributing about $235,000 a year to run WQUB, according to the Quincy Herald-Whig. That amounted to about 55 percent of the station’s annual operating costs. Gervasi had sought additional financial support from prospects in Quincy, and the university transferred operations of WQUB to an local NBC affiliate, which resulted in layoffs.

Public Radio Capital represented UMSL in the deal with Quincy University.

May 17, 2012

APTS President Pat Butler pushes pubmedia consolidation in Media Institute speech

Speaking at The Media Institute today, Patrick Butler, president of the Association of Public Television Stations, reiterated his opposition to defunding public media at the federal level, recently pushed in letters by Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) and Sen. James DeMint (R-S.C.). Butler also reached out to commercial media executives, and suggested ways public broadcasters could consolidate without sacrificing the quality of their product, according to John Eggerton of Broadcasting & Cable.

The Media Institute is a nonprofit First Amendment think tank (based near Washington, D.C. in Arlington, Va.) supported by major media companies, foundations, associations and individuals. Many commercial media execs were in attendance for Butler's speech, Eggerton said.

According to Eggerton, commercial and noncommercial media alike share the same pressure to give up spectrum for wireless broadband. Butler pointed out that both have to be more efficient and effective with the spectrum that they have in order to preserve it.

On consolidation: "We're trying to do this work [entertain and educate] more efficiently," Butler said. "We are pursuing such initiatives as joint master control rooms, consolidated back-office operations, channel sharing, spectrum leasing, fee-for-service data and content management, and other innovations that may help us improve our service without increasing our costs."

On the value of public broadcasting: "[We are] the civilizing force in American society, the preserver of the national memory, the greatest classroom, the grandest stage, the community center and the champion of good citizenship...Oscar Wilde once said that America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between. This is manifestly untrue, but it is important that we never sacrifice civilization for commercialization," said Butler.

KCUR picks new G.M.

Nico Leone. Photo courtesy KCUR.
KCUR-FM, Kansas City's flagship NPR station, announced today that Nico Leone would succeed veteran general manager Patricia Cahill starting on Aug. 1.

Cahill, who has run the station since 1987, initially reported her intent to retire on Sep. 22, 2011.

Leone comes from St. Louis' KDHX, a not-for-profit community station, where he was co-executive director. After a nationwide search process, Leone was selected by a ten-member search committee that included representatives from KCUR staff, the community advisory board, the NPR board, donors and volunteers.

David Warm, chair of the search committee, said that, “Nico is exactly what we need to extend the excellence of KCUR into the future...Patty Cahill is leaving some big shoes to fill, and Nico will come as close as anyone can to matching her legacy.”

Lakeland Public TV gets $3 million in state bonds for new building

After 32 years, Lakeland Public TV in Bemidji, Minn., will be moving to a new facility, reports the Bemidji Pioneer. “The reality is we’re really, really squeezed here,” Bill Sanford, c.e.o., said during the announcement at the station, on the campus of Bemidji State University. The newspaper noted: "Workspaces are set up wherever space is available; some are next to the drum room, so when practice is in session, it can be difficult to simply make a phone call."

The pubcaster secured $3 million in state bonds, and now has a total of $3.6 million toward the $4.2 million building project. Construction is set to begin in spring 2013.

Indie pubcaster KCET secures national distribution deal with APT

KCET, the L.A. pubcasting titan that split from PBS on Jan. 1, 2011 (Current, Oct. 18, 2010), has just inked its first large-scale national distribution initiative since achieving independence.

KCET signed the syndication deal with American Public Television for Your Turn To Care, an original series which delves into the multifarious challenges faced by the Baby Boomer generation in caring for their aging parents and loved ones.

The series is hosted by actress and writer Holly Robinson Peete, and features a wide variety of Hollywood actors, media figures, medical professionals, and academics dispensing advice and sharing personal care-taking stories

The series can be seen on public television stations starting on July 1, 2012. KCET reports that over 70 pubTV stations have already placed the series in their schedules.

NPR facing $2.6 million budget deficit

Five months into his tenure as NPR president, Gary Knell is grappling with a looming budget shortfall, according to the Washington Post. Corporate underwriting income has fallen off sharply and fundraising for major gifts and foundation grants has been slowed by the departures of two top staffers.

The revenue shortfalls added up to a $2.6 million deficit through March, the half-way point of NPR's fiscal year. 

In a meeting with staff this week, Knell said he wanted to avoid cutting jobs or programs. "That's the last thing I want to do," he told the Post's Paul Farhi.

But Farhi picked up word that program cancellations are being contemplated. Citing anonymous sources, he reports that "there have been internal discussions about dropping Tell Me More," a weekday program hosted by Michel Martin that's aimed at minority listeners [PDF].

The loss of Tell Me More would be a major setback to public radio's long running efforts to develop more programs for minority audiences. The field has lost three series developed for African American listeners since 2009, when a $23 million budget shortfall prompted cancellation of News and Notes. Two programs launched independently by the African American Programming Consortium had short runs on minority-controlled public radio stations in 2009. Earlier this year, the Michael Eric Dyson Show, which launched with CPB backing in 2010, ended production.

May 16, 2012

Round 2 of Knight News Challenge: Data

The Knight News Challenge, an international media innovation contest, revealed today that the second round of competition (with submissions accepted from May 31 to June 20), will be centered on the theme of Data.

Photo via cip_sb on Flickr.
The contest, which is part of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation's $100 million plus "Media Innovation Initiative," is split into three rounds this year. The first round (Feb. 27 — Mar. 17) featured the theme of Networks and received 1,078 applications. The field has since been winnowed to 52 finalists, and only 4 to 6 entries will be brought before the Knight Foundation trustees for consideration in mid-June. Winners of Round 1 will be announced on June 18.

John Bracken, director of digital media at the Knight Foundation, writes that, for Round 2, "...we’ll be looking for ideas that help unlock the power of data, by collecting, processing, visualizing or otherwise making it available, understandable and actionable."

Anyone can enter the contest, and applications should be submitted via the Knight Foundation's website.

Feature Story News to open four new bureaus

Simon Marks
Feature Story News, an independent TV news agency that works closely with many pubTV outlets, announced the opening of four new bureaus in Miami, San Francisco, Houston, and Los Angeles today at the PBS Annual Meeting in Denver, Colo.

FSN is helmed by Simon Marks, a former president of MacNeil/Lehrer Productions.

The Houston bureau will be based in the TV/radio newsroom of Houston Public Media, the Miami bureau will be based at WPBT-TV, the Los Angeles bureau will be based at PBS SoCal, and the San Francisco bureau will be based at KMVT-TV 15.

Each bureau will be a two-person operation, with each staffed by an on-air correspondent and a video journalist.

Marks said the small bureaus will be funded entirely by FSN's existing business. FSN already has several two to four person bureaus across the globe, and a more sizable eight-person bureau in Washington, D.C.

Once the four planned bureaus are open and an additional bureau in South Africa actualizes, FSN will have 13 bureaus worldwide.

Actress Meg Ryan lends star power to "Half the Sky," and PBS Annual Meeting

DENVER, Colo. — At the PBS Annual Meeting, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof interviewed actress Meg Ryan during a luncheon presentation on Half the Sky. The Independent Lens two-part documentary, coming in October, is based on the book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, by Kristof and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn. Ryan was one of several celebrity activists who traveled overseas with filmmakers and interacted with women bravely facing — and overcoming — horrendous conditions due to forced prostitution, gender-based violence and maternal mortality. The documentary is part of ITVS's Women and Girls Lead initiative. (Photo: Martin Allred/PBS)

WTTW's local and national production departments to merge

WTTW in Chicago is merging its national and local production departments, reports Time Out Chicago media writer Robert Feder. Over the years, WTTW National Productions has produced popular titles including Soundstage, Sneak Previews, The Frugal Gourmet and The McLaughlin Group; WTTW11 Local Productions handles shows such as Check, Please! and Chicago Tonight.

Dan Schmidt, president of parent company Window to the World Communications, wrote in a memo to staff: “With this new focus, we are better able to leverage the creativity, experience and expertise of our existing staff to develop programming that appeals to local, national and international audiences.”

Leading the combined WTTW Production division will be Parke Richeson, s.v.p. of WTTW National Productions, and Dan Soles, s.v.p. and chief television content officer, Schmidt said in the memo. The consolidation is effective this month.

May 15, 2012

Pubcasting support letter in Senate has GOP signatures for first time in six years

DENVER, Colo. — For the first time since 2006, a "Dear Colleague" letter to U.S. Senators requesting continued federal funding for pubcasting has Republican signatures, Pat Butler, president of the Association of Public Television Stations, told attendees at the PBS Annual Meeting.

The letter, addressed to the Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee led by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), has 39 signatures including three Republicans. On the House side, a similar letter to the Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee led by Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) has 116 signatures that include six Republicans.

"We're taking that as a sign of progress in rebuilding a bipartisan consensus for public broadcasting," Butler said. "It's trench warfare. Every hill is hard fought, and hard won."

Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts joined his Republican colleagues from Maine, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, in signing the Senate letter. House Republicans expressing support for CPB funding were: Reps. Dave Reichert of Washington State, Howard Coble of North Carolina, Leonard Lance of New Jersey,  Don Young of Alaska, and Chris Gibson and Richard Hanna of New York. 

Butler also said he hopes to meet, possibly as soon as next week, with Republican presidential hopeful and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who said on the campaign trail that public television needs to accept advertising to support itself. "Massachusetts was never a funder of public television," Butler said, so Romney "operates from lack of experience with the public broadcasting system. He's a smart, decent guy, I think he’ll listen to reason. It's important to get the facts in front of him."

Montclair State University to become NJPR News headquarters

New York Public Radio (which comprises WNYC-FM and WQXR-FM), announced today a new partnership with New Jersey's Montclair State University, whose broadcast studios and production facilites will be the new home of New Jersey Public Radio's news division.

The managing editor of NJPR News is Peabody Award-winning journalist Nancy Solomon, and the newsroom will cover New Jersey news, politics, and public affairs.

NJPR (owned by NYPR) was created in 2011 when NYPR purchased four defunct NJN stations from the state after Gov. Chris Christie axed NJN. The MSU news bureau will produce content for NJPR, WYNC, and other outlets throughout New Jersey. The joint initiative is also partially funded by the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.

In Nov. 2011, New Jersey Television (NJTV), the state's pubTV network, also moved its headquarters to MSU's campus. NJTV is operated by New York's WNET, through a subsidiary nonprofit, Public Media NJ.

MSU created a new school of Media and Communication and Media last December, and is trying to expand its media footprint in the state. Just last night, NJTV broadcast a debate between U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman and U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell from its MSU studios.

Though press releases emphasized NJTV and NJPR's commitment to New Jersey despite being owned by New York media outlets, N.J. lawmakers characterized NJTV as a "Jersey Joke" earlier this year.

Former NPR deputy managing editor hired by CIR

Susanne Reber, who had left her position as deputy managing editor of investigations at NPR last week, was hired by the California-based Center for Investigative Reporting, CIR announced today.

Reber built and led pioneering investigative units at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (2003-2009) and NPR (Jan. 2010 until last week).

Reber will serve as the senior coordinating editor for multiplatform projects and investigations at CIR. Reber’s reporting team will produce work for all of CIR’s branded products, including The Bay Citizen and California Watch.

Reber will start at her new position in June.

PBS stations need to "become YouTube of local community," Seiken says

DENVER, Colo. — Jason Seiken, PBS Interactive chief, told a packed audience at the PBS Annual Meeting that “a magical opportunity will slip through our fingers if we don’t have the courage to change” and fully embrace the potential that video presents to public TV.

"We are in the early stages of a two- to five-year land grab that will reshape the video industry in a way not seen since Hollywood in the early 20th century," he said. "For media organizations, this video revolution will determine who wins, who merely survives, and who perishes." Some 100 million Americans watch videos online daily; last year, YouTube had 1 trillion views, Seiken noted — and that number is doubling every two years. Next year, more than half the televisions in the country will be tethered to the Internet.

Each PBS station, with the help of PBS Interactive, needs to become "the YouTube of its local community, the go-to place for video about that community."

Seiken's vision involves using PBS national platforms as a distribution vehicle not only for national presentations but also for local content, creating a "frictionless flow" between the two on the web, smart TVs, Android, iPhone and iPad apps. "Regardless of platform," he said, "national builds it at scale, local populates it with content, and the audience sees content from both national and local." The crowd liked that notion, stopping Seiken with applause.

He said stations need to "massively expand their video footprint" within their communities, and PBS Interactive is exploring tools and techniques for low-cost, high-quality production. Seiken cited the Off Book project as one early example. The 13-part web series on experimental and nontraditional art forms on launched last July and costs just $600 a minute to produce, he said. It’s averaging 70,000 video views per episode, "which is more than most primetime episodes."

Such innovation "is public TV's birthright," he told the crowd. "It's something we were created to do but never had resources to accomplish. Now the world has changed, and production costs are plummeting. We have the brands. We have the video pedigree. This is our moment."

But there is another future, he said, which is "frankly, more likely. It's easier to just embrace what we humans love best — the status quo."

"In half time it took public television to debate the Prosper [online national fundraising] project," Seiken said, "a startup company called Burbn was conceived, built, launched, failed, pivoted to an entirely different name and product, built the product, launched the product — called Instagram — grew to 30 million users, and was sold for 1 billion dollars."

"Forty years ago our predecessors sat in rooms like this and invented the future – because they acted as entrepreneurs," he said. "We have it in our power to invent a new golden age of public television, but to do so requires us to reactivate our entrepreneurial DNA." (Photo: Martin Allred/PBS)

This fall, Sunday 8 p.m. slot goes to BBC hit, "Call the Midwife"

DENVER, Colo. — At the PBS Annual Meeting today (May 15), Chief Programmer John Wilson answered a question many programmers had been asking lately: What are PBS's plans for 8 p.m. Sundays?

Beginning in September, that spot will go to a Brit hit, Call the Midwife, a BBC drama based on memoirs of a young midwife in London's East End in the 1950s. Wilson noted that when the show premiered in Britain in January, it scored higher audience numbers than Downton Abbey.

Wilson also had good news regarding overall pledge proceeds so far this year, up 2.7 percent systemwide over fiscal 2011. (Total number of pledges was down 1.5 percent, minutes spent pledging were up 1.6 percent.)

PBS President Paula Kerger (right) welcomed more than 800 attendees to the Mile High City with more numbers. Nova has nearly doubled its audience on Wednesday nights compared with last year, up 700,000 viewers. On the digital side, three years ago, users watched 2 million PBS videos online a month; this March, PBS web and mobile platforms received some 140 million streams. Also in March, visits to the PBS Kids site were up 34 percent over one year ago.

The meeting continues through Thursday. (Photo: Martin Allred/PBS)

"Radio Ambulante" steers Spanish-language pubradio in new direction

"Radio Ambulante," an ambitious monthly radio show and podcast which hopes to revolutionize Spanish-language radio, launched its pilot episode today.

Radio Ambulante (which roughly translates to "radio on the move") is the brainchild of acclaimed Peruvian-American writer Daniel Alarcón, whose novel Lost City Radio, was named Best Novel of the Year by the San Francisco Chronicle and the Washington Post, also claiming the 2009 International Literature Prize. 

Also on the Radio Ambulante team are Martina Castro (managing editor of KALW News), Mandalit del Barco (general assignment correspondent at NPR West), entrepreneur Carolina Guererro, and journalist Annie Correal, whose work has aired on NPR, WNYC and This American Life.

The show is based out of KALW-FM in San Francisco, and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting serves as the program's 501(c)3 fiscal sponsor.

The pilot episode, "Moving: Migration, Exile, and Travel," weaves together four stories centered around "moving," a thematic structure similar to that of This American Life. Unlike TAL, however, the stories are aimed at a Spanish-speaking audience, produced by a Spanish-speaking reporting team, and are told entirely in Spanish. Stories in the pilot come from Peru, Spain, Mexico, Honduras and the United States.

As the "Feet In Two Worlds" podcast described it, "Instead of the pop-songs, evangelists and sports that dominate the airwaves en español, Radio Ambulante...will tell sound rich first-person stories from Latin America and Hispanic communities in the US. Think This American Life, in Spanish."

In this video, Alarcón and the reporting team describe the genesis of Radio Ambulante, their rationale for having the program entirely in Spanish, and what they hope to accomplish.

For now, the pilot is only available on the Radio Ambulante website, but will soon be available on iTunes. The website says that the program is currently "...creating partnerships with radio stations in Latin America and the U.S. in order to reach the broadest possible Spanish-speaking audience."

Radio Ambulante's pilot episode. Screenshot by Rhys Heyden.

May 14, 2012

CBC Radio introduces 40 new web, mobile stations

According to a report in Radio World, CBC Radio, Canada's public broadcaster, has just launched a full slate of free online radio stations in an effort to diversify its online music offerings.

The 40 stations are organized by genre (classical, jazz, hip hop, aboriginal) and are available to stream in both the U.S. and Canada 24/7 at

CBC Radio's online music portal. Screenshot by Rhys Heyden.

Though the music is predominantly Canadian, and the stations are aimed at the Canadian market, U.S. radio fans can also listen in.

Steve Pratt, CBC's director of digital music, told Radio World that the stations attracted more than 200,000 unique hits in their first week of existence, also racking up 1 million page views and 600,000 audio streams.

CBC Radio already offered music on its "Radio 2" and "Radio 3" channels, but " serve Canadians properly we need more bandwidth than Radios 2 and 3 can offer," said Pratt.

Fallout of Apple controversy on "This American Life": Sedaris now under scrutiny

In the wake of problems with Mike Daisey's Apple factory stories on This American Life, the work of author David Sedaris on the show "is undergoing new scrutiny," reports the Washington Post.

"The immediate question," notes writer Paul Farhi, "is whether Sedaris’s stories are, strictly speaking, true — an important consideration for journalistic organizations such as NPR and programs such as This American Life. A secondary consideration is what, if any, kind of disclosure such programs owe their listeners when broadcasting Sedaris’s brand of humor."

Ira Glass told the Post that no one at TAL was concerned about Sedaris before the problems with Daisey's reporting. “We just assumed the audience was sophisticated enough to tell that this guy is making jokes and that there was a different level of journalistic scrutiny that we and they should apply,” he said.

But now, Glass said three responses are being considered: fact-checking each of Sedaris’s segments, informing the audience that the stories contain “exaggerations,” or doing nothing.

Edward Schumacher-Matos, NPR ombudsman, told the newspaper he supports informing the audience. “When you have so much questioning of what’s real, fair, subjective and accurate in the news media, it doesn’t help to have [a segment] on a news program that gives no indication that some liberties have been taken,” he said. “I do think some kind of flag or label or introduction would be appropriate.”

Voice of San Diego membership model "more of a formal relationship"

Here's a look at the Voice of San Diego's innovative membership program, "a unique model that raises community engagement to a new level while helping to bring in a different revenue source to the news organization," according to The Hub, an online resource for nonprofit journalism from the Investigative News Network.

Members select one of four levels, each with a different set of benefits such as invitations to member coffees. The program is now in its fifth week and has 1,172 members, with a goal of 5,000 by the end of the year.

“It’s a little bit more aggressive than traditional public radio’s definition of members," said Scott Lewis, c.e.o. of Voice of San Diego. "Except at the higher levels, they [public radio] have rarely outlined the kind of events and benefits that come from being a member other than the producer’s club level. I think our model is similar to a museum or zoo in the sense that it’s a more formal relationship with members. It’s something I have been working on for years where membership is a mission-based curriculum as opposed to benefits being ancillary or not associated to the membership like a tote bag.”

May 11, 2012

Terry Gross gets funny in "2 FRESH, 2 FURIOUS" video

As part of This American Life's live show last night, comedian and frequent TAL contributor Mike Birbiglia wrote and directed a 6-minute comedic short film featuring Fresh Air's Terry Gross.

The film — "Fresh Air 2: 2 FRESH, 2 FURIOUS" — stars Gross, parodying her hyper-formal interviewing style to great comedic effect. Ira Glass is a producer of the short, and Glass has also collaborated with Birbiglia on the upcoming film "Sleepwalk With Me."

Incidentally, today marks the 25th anniversary of the day Fresh Air became a daily national NPR program.

APTS President Pat Butler responds to Cap Hill letters to defund pubcasting

Here is the letter from Patrick Butler, president of the Association of Public Television Stations, to members of Congress in response to letters circulating in the House and Senate to defund public broadcasting, from Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) and Sen. James DeMint (R-S.C.):

I thought it might be a good time to bring you briefly up to date on what public broadcasters are doing in service to their communities and your constituents, and what we’re doing to perform these services more efficiently and comprehensively with the help of advances in technology, business practice and community partnerships.

In the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik in 1957, President Eisenhower had a vision of public broadcasting as “educational television,” enriching the understanding of America’s students in many academic disciplines, with a particular emphasis on engaging students in science, technology, engineering and math to meet the challenges of the space race and the Cold War.

The President saw public television, in effect, as an element of America’s national defense (in the same way he saw the interstate highway system), and 55 years later it remains just so.

Through PBS Learning Media, the National Learning Registry, Sesame Workshop, and dozens of local and statewide educational initiatives undertaken by public television stations nationwide, public broadcasters constitute America’s largest classroom.

Our work in early childhood education and development is well known, with dozens of peer-reviewed studies demonstrating how we help millions of pre-school children, particularly in inner cities and rural areas, get ready to learn and succeed in an academic environment.

With the nearly 20,000 interactive, standards-based, curriculum-aligned digital learning objects we’ve created from the best of public television programming over the last 40 years — as well as top-quality content from the Library of Congress, the National Archives, NASA, the National Science Foundation and other federal agencies — we are now helping to revolutionize the teaching and learning experience in K-12 classrooms across the country.

We bring world-class professors to the most remote schools in the country through “virtual high schools” we operate across the United States.

We run the most comprehensive GED program for hundreds of thousands of people whose high school education was interrupted prior to completion.

We create educational video games like “Lure of the Labyrinth” with universities like Johns Hopkins and MIT to teach kids algebra while they think they’re having fun.

The long-time Superintendent of Education in Maryland has credited Maryland Public Television’s Thinkport online learning platform with helping raise Maryland public school students’ scholastic achievement to the highest in the country for the past four consecutive years.

As former Governor Jeb Bush, one of the nation’s most authoritative voices on education reform, told me last fall, our educational content, deployed with the latest in learning technology, can be the “tip of the spear” in educational reform to help improve the academic achievement of millions of American students.

Governor Dave Heineman of Nebraska, chairman of the National Governors Association, praised our work in education at our Public Media Summit in February.

These examples only scratch the surface of what we’re doing in education, and education is only one of the essential public services we’re performing for the American people.

Public television spectrum provides the backbone for emergency alert, public safety and homeland security services in States across the country. We’re the “C-SPAN” of many State governments. We’re the biggest job trainer in Nevada.

And we’re at the center of hundreds of community partnerships addressing issues ranging from gangs to obesity, from the challenges of Native Americans and recent immigrants to the service of veterans and military families.

This is not work typically associated with media enterprises, and our colleagues in commercial media have their own business missions and models to pursue. Our mission is to be public service media, to provide these services for free to everyone, everywhere, every day.

We’re also trying to do this work more efficiently, and we are pursuing such initiatives as joint master control rooms, consolidated back-office operations, channel sharing, spectrum leasing and other innovations that may help us improve our service without increasing our costs.

And what is the cost to the federal taxpayer for all these local services and the works of Ken Burns, Sesame Street, Great Performances, American Experience, A Capitol Fourth, Nova, Nature, Masterpiece’s dramatization of the complete works of Jane Austen, and so much more, to say nothing of the extraordinary news coverage and cultural contributions of NPR?

It is $1.35 per citizen. In Japan, it’s $63. In Great Britain, $84. We can provide these services at such low cost to taxpayers because for every dollar in federal funding we receive, we generate $6 in non-federal contributions from foundations, corporations, State and local governments, and “viewers like you.”

This is the largest and most successful public-private partnership in the United States. And it is one of the reasons President Reagan changed his mind about federal funding of public broadcasting during a conversation with Ken Burns while Ken was completing his masterpiece, The Civil War.

The President told Ken the public-private funding model was exactly right for the American approach to public broadcasting, and he expressed great gratitude to Ken for “preserving the national memory” — yet another mission central to public television’s public service.

170 million Americans regularly rely on the public service media I’ve described here. Public opinion surveys routinely rank the news and public affairs programming of public broadcasting as the most trusted in the nation.

Nearly 70 percent, across the political spectrum, support continued federal funding — including 50 percent of self-identified Tea Party advocates.

And for nine years in a row, since the question was first asked, Americans have said that public broadcasting is the second best investment of federal funds, after national defense alone.

This investment has been reduced by over $50 million — about 13 percent of our overall federal funding — over the past two fiscal years, in response to the budget and deficit challenges facing our country. Our core Corporation for Public Broadcasting funding has been flat, and level funding is all we’re requesting for the foreseeable future.

In a 2007 study — before the economy collapsed — the GAO concluded that federal funding is essential to the operation of public broadcasting, as none of our other funders supports the station operations, infrastructure needs, universal service requirements, educational missions and other special circumstances of non-commercial, non-profit public broadcasting.

We’re trying to do very important things on a remarkably modest budget. Our mission is to create a well-educated, well-informed, cultured and civil society capable of performing the duties of self-government in the world’s greatest democracy.

We believe there’s nothing more important to American society, and we believe this is work worthy of federal support, as bipartisan majorities of Congress and Presidents of both parties have agreed for four decades.

Eliminating federal funding for public broadcasting would reduce the federal budget by one-hundredth of one percent. But it would have a devastating effect on all the good work we’re trying to do for the American people.

I’d be very grateful for consideration of these facts while making a decision about whether or not to support Senator DeMint’s proposal, and my colleagues here at the Association of Public Television Stations and I would be delighted to elaborate on any of the points I’ve tried to make here.


Connecticut PTV to air WNBA's Connecticut Sun games

The Women's NBA team the Connecticut Sun has signed a broadcast deal with Connecticut Public Television, which earlier this week lost an 18-year agreement to air University of Connecticut women's basketball games. The Boston Globe is reporting that CPTV will air 23 Sun games this season. Financial terms were not disclosed.

May 10, 2012

Congressman cites "generous" pubmedia executive salaries in letter to defund CPB

Current has obtained a copy of the letter from Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) seeking to defund CPB, now circulating in the House for signatures of support. It is addressed to Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.), chair of the Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies; and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), the subcommittee's ranking member. Sen. James DeMint (R-S.C.) has authored a similar letter in the Senate.

May 9, 2012

Dear Chairman Rehberg and Ranking Member DeLauro,

It has come to my attention that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) is requesting a $445 million advance appropriation for FY2015. This is an enormous sum of money, especially considering that President Obama’s 2010 bipartisan deficit reduction commission recommended funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting be eliminated completely.

CPB’s requested appropriation represents no reduction from its prior year appropriation level. While so many Americans are making sacrifices around the country to make ends meet, CPB appears unwilling to do the same. Even though media and information have become more accessible than ever, funding for CPB has exploded. Between 2001 and 2012, the CPB’s appropriated funding increased by nearly 31 percent, from $340 million to $444.1 million.

As you know, the country is more than $15 trillion in debt, and at the end of this year the government is expected to reach its legal borrowing limit once again.

We simply cannot afford to continue funding all of the programs that we have in the past. Significant spending cuts must be made in order to put the government on a path towards balancing its budget.

We face many hard choices ahead, but defunding the Corporation for Public Broadcasting should be one of the easier decisions to make. The FY 2013 appropriations bill that funds CPB has not yet been completed and I urge you to join me in working to permanently defund CPB.

As you know, last year’s appropriation bill instructed CPB to report to Congress about alternative sources of funding for public media by June 20, 2012. I look forward to that date and learning about how public media can use private sources of funding in the near future, as the overwhelming majority of their competitors in the media marketplace already do. No one is advocating that CPB stop operating, just that it stand on its own two feet when it comes to funding.

We are fortunate that in today’s media landscape, consumers have many news and entertainment choices, unlike when the 1967 Public Broadcasting Act to create and fund CPB was passed. And, public media outlets are thriving.

Federal funding for CPB’s highest-profile grant recipients, National Public Radio and Public Broadcasting Service, represent only a small portion of their overall budgets. NPR receives about 2 percent of its operating funds from CPB and federal funding for the Public Broadcasting Service represents about 15 percent of its system’s revenue.

According to its most recently available tax filings, Director and President Paula Kerger received $603,403 in reportable compensation in 2010. Former NPR CEO Vivian Schiller, who was forced to resign after the controversial firing of longtime analyst Juan Williams, was received [sic] $479,011 in compensation in 2011. Certainly, thriving media entities that can afford to pay their executives such generous salaries should not be asking taxpayers to subsidize them.

A vibrant, free, and independent press is essential to this country’s freedom. We are fortunate that Americans now have thousands of news, entertainment, and educational programs to choose from that are widely available on countless television, web, and radio outlets.

Now is the appropriate and necessary time for the government to end taxpayer subsidies for CPB.


Rep. Doug Lamborn
Member of Congress

PBS nominations dominate several Daytime Emmy categories

Programs airing on PBS received 51 Daytime Emmy nominations, second only to ABC, the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences announced on Wednesday (May 9). PBS received 37 nods; APT and NETA shows, 14. Among multiple nominees were Sesame Street with 16; Electric Company, six; and Curious George and Design Squad, two each. PBS programs dominated Outstanding Children’s Animated Program, Outstanding Performer in a Children’s Series, Outstanding Directing in a Children’s Series and Outstanding Writing in a Children’s Series, and PBS swept all four nominations in the New Approaches — Daytime Children’s Award category. The Daytime Emmy Awards will be presented on June 23 from the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles. The Daytime Entertainment Creative Arts Emmy Awards gala, honoring work behind the camera, will be on June 17 at the Westin Bonaventure, also in Los Angeles.

Local Orlando group incorporates to purchase WMFE-TV

Dick Batchelor, a former Florida state representative, has incorporated Orlando Community Television Corp. to partner with Independent Public Media in the purchase of WMFE-TV, according to the Orlando Sentinel. Batchelor declined to name other individuals involved because a deal has yet to be finalized. He owns the Dick Batchelor Management Group consulting firm, is a political analyst on local television and describes himself as "a very big fan of PBS." IPM, formed to purchase struggling pubTV stations in order to save the noncom spectrum, has made a bid on WMFE-TV, which has been for sale for a year.

May 9, 2012

Two congressmen asking for support on letters to defund CPB

Sen. James DeMint (R-S.C.) and Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) are collecting signatures from colleagues on Capitol Hill on letters asking Congressional leaders to defund CPB, reports Broadcasting & Cable. Both have previously sponsored bills to end CPB support. "As you know, our country is more than $15 trillion in debt," the letter says. "We simply cannot afford to continue funding all of the programs that we have in the past."

Despite his longtime opposition to federal pubcasting funding, Lamborn last year appeared in a fundraising video for Rocky Mountain PBS.

After negotiations, PBS moves "Independent Lens," "POV" to Mondays

Independent Lens and POV, the PBS series at the center at a dispute about public TV's commitment to independent film, are moving to Monday nights, PBS's highest-rated evening.

The schedule change, which takes effect Oct. 29, will be the second in a year for the documentary showcases. After PBS uprooted the indie film series from their longtime Tuesday timeslot last October, station carriage and viewing audiences dropped in the new Thursday-night slot  (Current, March 12).

This latest move to Mondays at 10 p.m. (Eastern) will position the shows to begin winning viewers back. Ratings powerhouse Antiques Roadshow leads PBS primetime on Mondays, and PBS will be putting a lot of promotional power behind Market Warriors, a new series slated for 9 p.m. that will become the lead-in for indie films.

Ratings for Mondays in Nielsen metered markets scored 42 percent above the PBS primetime average of 1.09 last fall, according to audience analysis firm TRAC Media Service. Thursday nights, by contrast, scored 24 percent below average. Independent Lens has languished in its Thursday timeslot, its ratings plunging at one point more than 40 percent over the previous season.

For the new scheduling plan, PBS and producers agreed to create a multiplatform film festival for mid-2013 to showcase independent filmmakers. “Much like we've done with the PBS Arts Festivals,” said PBS Programmer John Wilson, “we’ll use the film festival to shine a brighter light on independent work.”

“We are thrilled with PBS’s decision to move the programs to Mondays as part of an overall strategy for independent programs,” Simon Kilmurry, executive director of POV, said in a statement from PBS. “Filmmakers and viewers will benefit from a public television experience that fully embraces the power and impact of independent documentaries.”

Sally Jo Fifer, ITVS president, said: “By broadcasting indies’ mission-focused stories on Monday nights, we hope that more PBS viewers will have the opportunity to engage in the community and educational activities that independent films inspire.”

The scheduling outcome is the result of months of high-level negotiations among representatives from PBS; POV; and the Independent Television Service, producers of Independent Lens. Talks intensified after Chicago documentary house Kartemquin Films (Hoop Dreams, Interrupters) posted an online open letter to PBS expressing concern over the Thursday timeslot; among more than 1,000 signatories were veteran newsman Bill Moyers, activist Michael Moore and Oscar winners Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side) and Barbara Kopple (Harlan County). Drawing on that support, Kartemquin established a permanent PBS Needs Indies Steering Committee, in partnership with the International Documentary Association, to work as a liaison between filmmakers and PBS.

Gordon Quinn, a founder of Kartemquin, reacted to the new schedule in the statement from PBS: “We are happy that PBS has chosen this exciting way forward and we stand ready to support the new strategy and PBS in every way we can.”

See the next issue of Current, coming May 14, for further coverage.

Yuki Noguchi?

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton?

Mandalit del Barco?

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson?

Douali Xaykaothao?

Help decide the best name in public radio.

KCET production partner Eyetronics struggling, Los Angeles Times reports

Eyetronics Media & Studios, which last year announced a $50 million production deal with KCET in Los Angeles, "has been reduced to a tiny operation that has been late on some of its bills," the Los Angeles Times is reporting. Four people who worked for the Encino, Calif.-based firm told the newspaper that they and others had gone without pay for as long as six weeks during the last year. And a representative for the landlord said owner Dominique Bigle owes several months' back rent. Bigle's attorney denied some of the claims to the newspaper, saying that employees "have been fully compensated," that Eyetronics is "unaware of any ongoing disputes or claims" and that any rent owed is due to the landlord's failure to properly maintain the building and provide security.

Current reported in August 2011 that the production deal was for at least five original series. So far one, the retro Classic Cool Theater, has made it to air; Bigle had told Current the show was based on titles from his own extensive film library of some 3,000 titles including historical footage, newsreels, old serials, documentaries and TV movies. But three people familiar with Eyetronics told the Times that parts of Classic Cool episodes have simply been "ripped" from DVDs the company bought from sources like Amazon.

KCET Board Chair Channing D. Johnson told the Times that "the financial status of Eyetronics is not relevant to KCET, period. As long as Dominique Bigle delivers the content he has indicated that he will, then we are fine." He added that Bigle "is not a crucial part of the KCET business plan. He is one content provider. He is the icing on the cake, not crucial to the cake."

Poggioli, covering "everything from politics to pasta, Britain to Berlusconi"

Here's a lyrical look at NPR Senior European Correspondent Silva Poggioli's everyday life in Rome, from the Boston Globe: "In Rome, NPR’s Sylvia Poggioli covers crises and eats well." And what a life it is! "Campo de’ Fiori is still Poggioli’s favorite place to shop," the Globe reports. "On a sunny spring day, a street musician tightens his bow, a small group of nuns floats by in their gray habits, and Poggioli, in a long cardigan in hues of garnet and orange, with a scarf casually wrapped around her neck, heads for a vendor she knows well. Claudio Zampa, co-owner with his brother, Massimo, of Da Claudio a Campo de’ Fiori, greets Poggioli with a warm 'Carissima!' They banter in Italian. Poggioli notes that the Zampa brothers’ market was in a scene in Woody Allen’s new film, To Rome With Love."

Admit it: That's just what you expected, right?

It's the 90th anniversary for WOSU, and WBAA

WOSU in Columbus, Ohio, is marking quite the milestone this year: 90 years on the air, reports The Lantern, the college paper of licensee Ohio State University. Tom Rieland, g.m., said the former WEAO (Willing Eager Athletic Ohio) was one of only a few pioneering educational radio stations in the country. “The programming was almost all live and included broadcast of lessons by faculty at Ohio State, farm news and musical concerts,” Rieland said. Now there's WOSU-TV, a PBS member station, and two radio stations, 89.7 NPR News and Classical 101. In 2010 the station moved its full-time news service to 89.7 after its all-news AM station failed to attract listeners (Current, Aug. 9, 2010).

Rieland said that because the station had a large celebration for its 75th anniversary, the 100th will be quieter: a lunch for staff and volunteers, and tours of the station for OSU faculty, staff and students.

UPDATE: And thanks for the heads-up from WBAA at Purdue University, also celebrating its big 9-0 this year!