Mar 16, 2012

Ira Glass on his nervous pitch to monologist Mike Daisey

Current's Feb. 27 story on This American Life's recent breakthroughs with enterprise reporting describes the inspiration behind "Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory," the story on Apple factories in China that was later retracted.

Glass tells Current that after seeing Daisey's monologue last October, he was already “editing the radio version in my head” as he left the theater.

“I thought [Daisey] was doing something remarkable,” said Glass, “which is taking a fact that we all already know — that these devices we love are made in China in conditions that are probably not so wonderful, and he makes us feel something about it.”

Glass invited Daisey to lunch, and he recalls feeling nervous when they met Nov. 16. “I came with a whole big speech on why he should do it,” said Glass. “My fear was he wouldn’t want to do anything while the play was still up.”

But Daisey, 37, loved the idea. He wanted his material published as broadly as possible.

Scripps Howard Awards include pubmedia journalists

Several public-media reporters are winners of the annual Scripps Howard Awards, recognizing excellence across multiple platforms. Journalists from California Watch and the Center for Investigative Reporting won the Roy W. Howard Award for public service reporting, and $10,000, for "On Shaky Ground," a 19-month investigation exposing flaws in seismic safety compliance and oversight at public schools; Paul Kiel and Olga Pierce of ProPublica won the William Brewster Styles Award for business and economics reporting, along with $10,000, for exposing the failure of industry and government responses to the foreclosure crisis; and Dan Grech and Kenny Malone of WLRN and The Miami Herald won the Jack R. Howard Award for radio reporting and $10,000 for "Neglected to Death," a series that uncovered abuse and neglect within Florida's assisted living industry. A list of all winners is here.

OPB nearly got to star in "Daily Show" mock-debate sketch

The cancellation of the GOP presidential debate set for Monday at Oregon Public Broadcasting may have disappointed a lot of people, but the writers at The Daily Show with Jon Stewart saw it as an opportunity for a wacky segment playing up Portland's offbeat reputation.

Earlier this week, OPB President Steve Bass heard from the show, which originally wanted to cover the debate. But after the event was canceled on Thursday, they still wanted to come — to use the studio set for a segment.

What they were planning "actually sounded pretty funny," Bass said. The concept: Portland was so disappointed that the event wasn't happening that a Make-a-Wish Foundation-style organization comes in to grant the city's wish for a debate. In the sketch, The Daily Show Correspondent Aasif Mandvi would interview Bass and Allen Alley, chair of the Oregon Republican Party, a debate co-sponsor. "They wanted me to be the straight man," Bass said. "That I could perfectly understand."

The whole thing sounded like a lot of fun, but ultimately proved problematic given The Daily Show's notorious comedic edge. With a Portlandia-style sketch, "I could just picture a guy with a bone through his nose playing Newt Gingrich," Bass said. "If we're making fun of the debate process, that's okay, it's not okay to make fun of the candidates," given that OPB is a news organization.

So, alas, in addition to the debate that never was, the segment remains The Daily Show gag that never was.

The debate set will get a send-off on Monday, when OPB staff and others in the community involved in planning the event gather in the OPB studio for a farewell lunch.

UPDATE: WMFE-TV holding out for more lucrative offer

The Orlando Sentinel is reporting that the sale of WMFE-TV in Orlando, in the works for more than a year, has been canceled. “Due to the protracted approval process at the FCC and changes within the broadcast market, WMFE has voluntarily opted out of its current proposed deal to sell WMFE-TV to Community Educators of Orlando, Inc.,” WMFE President Jose Fajardo said in an email to the paper. “WMFE is currently pursuing new options that will prove to be more beneficial to WMFE and to the Central Florida community.” The pending sale, to a local group representing religious broadcaster Daystar, created a scramble for a new primary in the Orlando market last spring (Current, April 18, 2011).

UPDATE: Fajardo says the station is opting to await a better offer than the $3 million offered by Daystar. "The market conditions have changed in a favorable way to be able to pursue other options for WMFE," he tells the Sentinel.

Kartemquin Films asks indie fans to protest PBS's move of shows

Kartemquin Films, a nonprofit Chicago production company that's home to such films as The Interrupters and Hoop Dreams, is asking independent filmmakers and pubmedia fans to sign an open letter to PBS protesting the network's decision to move indie showcases Independent Lens and P.O.V. from their longtime Tuesday night spot to Thursdays, often used by stations for local programming (Current, March 12, 2012).

The letter says that independent films "serve a critical function in the public broadcasting ecology. They serve the democratic mission of public broadcasting."

"Public television is not just a popularity contest, or a ratings game," it says. "Taxpayers support public broadcasting because democracy needs more than commercial media’s business models can provide.  PBS’ programming decision makes a statement about PBS’ commitment to the mission of public broadcasting." 

It concludes: "We are deeply concerned that PBS’ poorly-considered decision could jeopardize both the meeting of public broadcasting’s mission and also stifle the innovation that is crucial to the future of public broadcasting."

UPDATE: Gordon Quinn, artistic director and co-founder of Kartemquin, told Current that as talks at PBS on the future of the two series move forward, "we'd like to be kept in the loop and become part of the discussion." The independent filmmaking community is "very concerned" about both shows, he said, not only because they carry so much of their work but also because "they are really a vital part of attracting diverse and younger audiences to PBS."

Marketplace reporter uncovers fabrications in TAL broadcast on Apple factory

This American Life retracted "Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory," its Jan. 6 broadcast that adapted theater monologist Mike Daisey's stage play about working conditions in Apple manufacturing plants in China.

"Daisey lied to me and to This American Life producer Brian Reed during the fact checking we did on the story, before it was broadcast," said TAL host and creator Ira Glass, in a statement. "That doesn't excuse the fact that we never should've put this on the air. In the end, this was our mistake."

When adapting Daisey's play, "The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs," for broadcast on TAL, producers attempted to confirm key elements of the story, but Daisey refused to provide contact information for the interpreter who helped him research the piece.

"At that point, we should've killed the story," Glass said. "But other things Daisey told us about Apple's operations in China checked out, and we saw no reason to doubt him. We didn't think that he was lying to us and to audiences about the details of his story. That was a mistake."

Rob Schmitz, China correspondent for American Public Media's Marketplace, independently contacted the interpreter, who disputed details of Daisey's account. His scoop will run on this evening's edition of Marketplace. This American Life will devote all of this weekend's broadcast to the errors in its original show.

Glass and company had put Daisey's material through a fact-checking process, as Current reported in February.

Daisey stands by his work. "My show is a theatrical piece whose goal is to create a human connection between our gorgeous devices and the brutal circumstances from which they emerge," he said in a statement. "It uses a combination of fact, memoir, and dramatic license to tell its story, and I believe it does so with integrity."

"What I do is not journalism," Daisey said. "The tools of the theater are not the same as the tools of journalism."

"Women, War and Peace" recognized as "Television with a Conscience"

The PBS miniseries Women, War and Peace is one of seven programs receiving Television Academy Honors. The awards were established by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences to recognize “Television with a Conscience," the programming that inspires, informs, motivates and has the power to change lives.

In the announcement, the Academy said that the five-part Women, War and Peace "challenges the conventional wisdom that war and peace are a man’s domain. Women embroiled in the midst of today’s conflicts bring viewers inside their lives, forever changing the way we look at war." The programs were produced by Thirteen and Fork Films in association with WNET and ITVS.

The fifth-annual honors will be presented May 2 in Beverly Hills.

Thirteen's Celebration of Teaching & Learning starts today

WNET/Thirteen's two-day Celebration of Teaching & Learning kicks off today (March 16) in New York City. Some 10,000 educators are expected to participate. It's the seventh annual event, which this year expands into a global conference, with officials, advocates and experts from around the world tackling pressing issues surrounding education.