Feb 2, 2012

KUHT-TV in Houston lays off 12 employees across five departments

As part of an ongoing reorganization, KUHT-TV in Houston has laid off 12 staffers. The Houston Chronicle describes it as "part of a cost-cutting move by the new general manager." Personnel were cut in production, programming, development, technology and administration. Lisa Trapani Shumate, executive director and g.m. of Houston Public Media, said reductions were made "to bring expenses into alignment with revenue."

“You cannot build an organization when you are not operating from a strong financial position," she told the paper. "We wanted to get things into alignment and build on our plan to achieve our objectives and provide the new media offerings we are going to have.”

Also, Debra Fraser, currently station manager on the radio side, will now be in charge of news programming, engineering and technical operations for all three stations — KUHT-TV, KUHF-FM and KUHA-FM — as director of operations and station manager.

Top managers John Proffitt of KUHF-FM and John Hesse of KUHT-TV departed in December 2011.

Mississippi Public Broadcasting honored for Freedom Ride interstitials

An informative series of 40 interstitials on the Freedom Riders has won Mississippi Public Broadcasting and its Assistant Director of Production Edie Greene a 2012 Public Humanities Award from the Mississippi Humanities Council, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, for preserving the state's culture. The 30-second interstitials tell personal pieces of the larger story of the Freedom Rides, the 1961 civil-rights protest that challenged segregation in the deep South. The bus journeys culminated in Jackson, Miss., where hundreds of the activists were jailed.

Greene told Current that initially MPB was considering producing a film, but soon favored the interstitial approach. "Basically, in an age of Tweets, we micro-messaged a documentary," she said. "By doing this, we had the flexibility of airing each interstitial several times, we put them on our YouTube channel and we put them on radio. We are confident that we reached many, many more Mississippians with our approach."

"We deliberately went low-key in our telling of the Freedom Ride story," she added. "Instead, we let the faces of the riders and the facts of the time be both humanizing and horrifying."

The interstitial project may be viewed here. Greene will receive the Public Humanities Award at a banquet Feb. 24 at the Hilton in Jackson.

Bay Area nonprofit news organizations discussing merger

Two prominent nonprofit news organizations, The Bay Citizen, based in San Francisco, and the Center for Investigative Reporting, based in nearby Berkeley, are in merger talks, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The paper quoted Robert Rosenthal, executive director of the Center for Investigative Reporting,as saying, "There's been no decisions made and it's unclear where the conversations will lead, if anywhere."

The Bay Citizen produces news for its own website, but also provides San Francisco-area coverage for The New York Times. The Center for Investigative Reporting partners with major news media outlets, including public broadcasters such as Frontline and NPR.

The merger discussions follow the December death of Warren Hellman, the San Francisco investor and philanthropist who originally donated $5 million to launch the two-year-old Bay Citizen and continued to play a role in its development. The Journal also reported that the news site's chief executive, Lisa Frazier, and its interim editor-in-chief, Steve Fainaru, would be leaving next week. No reasons were cited for the departures.

Citing unnamed sources, the Journal said it was unclear whether the two nonprofits would continue to operate as separate brands in the event of a merger. Sources also told the paper that Phil Bronstein, the former editor of the San Francisco Chronicle and current president of the Center for Investigative Reporting's board, has been in talks about taking an "editorial leadership position" in any combined organization.

WTVI-TV in Charlotte could partner with local community college

Community licensee WTVI-TV in Charlotte, N.C., is in early merger talks with Central Piedmont Community College to keep the pubcaster on the air, reports the Charlotte Observer. WTVI President Elsie Garner and CPCC President Tony Zeiss met with Mecklenburg County Manager Harry Jones last week to see if the county would underwrite transition costs for a merger, the paper said. But Commissioner Bill James referred to the plans as "a little PBSkull-duggery," and added: "We have defunded our PBS affiliate. Ever since then, they've been trying to figure out a way to get back on the government dole."

Last June, Garner asked Mecklenburg County to restore a total of $1 million in funding that was cut in recent years, saying that the station wasn't in immediate danger of shutting down but "if you keep bleeding money, after awhile, yeah that's the logical thing." Last year WTVI ran a deficit of about $300,000 on a budget of $3.2 million, and at the midpoint of this fiscal year fundraising is off by several hundred thousand dollars, Garner told the paper.

Garner said talks with CPCC were in preliminary stages. "We've had conversations with other organizations and educational institutions," she said. "We're still looking for the perfect 'ah-ha' moment.'"

James said WTVI is not financially viable because Charlotte audiences already receive two other PBS member stations, UNC-TV in Chapel Hill and SCETV in Columbia.

"Marketplace," KQED spanked for phony commentary by war veteran

Marketplace retracted a commentary by Leo Webb, an Occupy Oakland protester who described himself as an Iraqi War veteran struggling to recover from his experience as an Army sniper, after bloggers at This Ain't Hell did some basic fact-checking and labelled his story "BS."

After looking into Webb's story themselves, editors at Marketplace agreed. They replaced the commentary with an Editor's note that read, in part, "Marketplace has an obligation to provide accurate information. That was not met in this commentary. It has been retracted and the text and audio have been removed from the web site."

Webb's commentary was an installment of "My Life is True," a series of first-person narratives by people living on the edges of the economy. It was produced through an experimental project of the New America Foundation, and first aired on KQED in San Francisco.

Marketplace deserves credit for bringing more voices into its coverage of the economy, writes Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple, but its handling of the commentary and the reaction to it reveal laziness in fact-checking and a disregard for standards of transparency in web publishing.

Wemple credits bloggers of This Ain't Hell for investigating Webb's claims, and for preserving a digital record of his account. The blog, written by military veterans, specializes in critiquing media coverage of veterans returning to civilian life, among other war-related topics. Yesterday they commended Marketplace for coming "clean" on Webb's story, but described the reactions of KQED's editors as "bullshit deception."

"And . . . they wonder why we want to defund NPR with taxpayer dollars," they wrote, without realizing, or fact-checking, a basic fact about who produces Marketplace. It's American Public Media, not National Public Radio.

Hinojosa, WBEZ's Mitchell to receive Studs Terkel awards

Two pubradio broadcasters are among this year’s recipients of the Studs Terkel Community Media Awards, reports Robert Feder, media writer for Time Out Chicago. Honored at March 14 ceremonies in Chicago will be Maria Hinojosa, host of  NPR's Latino USA, and Chip Mitchell, a reporter for WBEZ-FM. The third recipient is Mick Dumke, political reporter for the Chicago Reader. The annual honors are presented by the nonprofit Community Media Workshop, a resource and advocate for grassroots local journalism that Terkel helped found in 1989. This year the awards commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Terkel, a writer famed for his oral histories of working-class Americans and a broadcaster known for his Studs Terkel Program, which aired on pubradio WFMT in Chicago from 1952 to 1997; Best of Studs Terkel still airs on the station. The awards recognize journalists who report news "from the people who made Chicago, news that’s bottom up rather than up, down,” Terkel said at the 2007 ceremony. “That’s what this is all about.”